3 Flicks You Won’t See at the Sonoma International Film Festival

On the heels of next Tuesday’s April Fool’s Day is the April 2 kickoff of the 17th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival. Though tempted, I’ll avoid cinematic satire and direct readers to the 2014 Festival Preview Guide, which can be downloaded at SonomaFilmFest.org.

For your convenience, certain omissions to the guide are included below for your viewing pleasure. Please feel free to clip, print, forward and share these additions with out-of-town visitors who don’t know any better. Especially if they’re celebrities. And have a wonderful film festival experience!

Cat-tastrophe, USA, 247 min., Dirs. Mick Robbins, Henri Moreau

Just when you thought the Internet’s feline fixation had finally ebbed, a pair of local filmmakers decided to finally finish their opus, “Cat-tastrophe,” comprised entirely of cat videos ripped from YouTube. Let’s not ponder the inspiration for the endeavor (marijuana) but champion the perseverance of the filmmakers, who spent seven years assembling their film from over 750 individual cat clips. The result is the cinematic equivalent of coughing up a four-hour fur ball for four hours. Not since T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and its infernal musical adaptation (memories!), has such a wuvable wasteland filled your mental litterbox with so little. Expect an endless barrage of purrfect puns to emanate from our local newsrooms, headlining editorials about a spaying and neutering filmmakers.

Dry, USA, 16 min., Dir. Kyle Rice

The SIFF has long supported student films, and the privileged young visionaries whose parents pay for them. Hailing from this year’s student category is local Sonoma State University film student Kyle Rice’s short film, “Dry,” which is comprised of a single shot of a freshly painted lavender-hued wall. “Dry” was intended as a statement about the banality of student film work but turned out quite the opposite after Rice set up his camera, hit record and left only to return to a hole kicked through his main subject. In his absence, Rice’s camera captured the daring escape of a bound and gagged kidnap victim from the apartment next door. The young woman busted through the sheetrock with her feet, writhed through the resulting hole and eventually managed to wriggle her hands free and ungag herself, at which point she looked into the camera and apologized for destroying the wall. Though critically heralded for the “breakthrough performance,” in class, the film received a D for defying its original premise and being interesting.

Theseus’ Ship Redux, Sweden, 122 min., Dir. Buntel Eriksson

A highlight of this year’s fest is a fully-restored, digitally-remastered edition of Swedish filmmaker Buntel Eriksson’s “Theseus’ Ship,” which boasts a complete reconception of the story matter (less love triangle, more bikini-clad espionage), re-shot scenes featuring an entirely new cast (middle-aged musings on mortality have been upgraded to the moral anxiety of juggling multiple sexual partners during Spring Break) and the swapping of the solo nyckelharpa soundtrack for a pulsing electronica score created by Euro-Pop phenom Ch3mTrailz. In fact, this release of the 1966 Eriksson classic is so utterly transformed it resembles the original version only in title, at least to the “redux” part. It begs the question, is it even the same film? An emphatic “Yes!” insist the film’s producers, who dismiss any suggestion that their version of the film is merely a remake posing as the original to avoid paying royalties. “We replaced every frame in an effort to preserve the integrity of Eriksson’s vision. So, yeah, it’s the same film, just totally different.”

For My Wife on Her [Redacted] Birthday

Mentioning my wife’s age is verboten. Especially now that the square root of her age is more than the years our kid has lived on earth. So, even though today is her birthday, I can’t say her age. Be it here, there, in pixel or print – the surest way for me to wind up mummified in her precious Coyuchi sheets is to spell it out.
Suffice to say, her age ends in a zero. It’s always the ages that end in zero that cause the most anxiety. What’s odd is that the first two times this happens – 10 and 20 – it’s exciting. Graduating into double digits and later cresting adulthood is the whole goal of childhood, right? Thereafter the zeroes absorb youth and dreams with the voracity of a black hole.

Of course, this all changes when you acquire a second zero and turn 100. Then you’re some kind of hero. Perhaps more so if you drank and smoked the whole way there. When it comes to longevity, some find bucking conventional wisdom assuring, even forgiving. Others just like to drink and smoke. Be assured, centenarians who’ve avoided being killed by their vices haven’t reached a truce with them, they’re just dying of something else.

Also, they’re all single. That’s the part that no one talks about. One of the secrets of living a long life might be to go it alone. Drink, smoke, be single and live forever? Tempting isn’t it? Let us assume it’s lonely at the top of the longevity ladder lest we go mad with envy.

There must be dividends to growing old with someone, like, you know, always having someone with whom to marvel at the increasingly rapid passage of time. Ask any pair of octogenarians what it’s like to grow old together and they’ll just stare at you. Their enfeebled minds aren’t groping for an answer, but rather, their perception of time looks like “Koyaanisqatsi,” the time-lapse flick with day and night flicking off and on like a strobe light. You’re hardly a blip in their experience, a speck of dust on a single frame of film, which is whooshing by like so many clouds. How could they possibly stop that kind of ride?

That said, any old person will tell you that their self-image isn’t old at all – that they feel young on the inside and are often mystified by their wizened reflections in the mirror. In a recent kitchen conversation with my wife, a gaggle of her friends and at least one sister, the notion of one’s “internal age” came up. Mine is 19, my wife’s was somewhere in her 20s. This is good since one of us should at least be able to buy alcohol, if only metaphysically speaking.

Some of the other women claimed their internal age was actually older than their present age. This is the type of chatter that once led to our received notions of “old souls” and those who are “young at heart.” Sometimes there are variations – I once knew a guy who was “old at heart” as well as a “young soul.” Consequently, he didn’t date much, which means he’ll probably live to be 100, as long as he takes up drinking and smoking.

This is not the first time my wife has acquired a zero on her ever-increasing dance through the digits, though it is the first time I’ve been around to witness it. So, that’s something – the square root of her age is less than the years we’ve been married, which just means we got married relatively recently, or really late. I proposed to her in my column because I’m clever like that. Since then, I’ve published sundry valentines and sappy whatnots, but not until today, when the run date and my wife’s birthday coincided, have I penned her a birthday wish in the paper. So here goes:

Happy Birthday, April. I know you hate the number you’ve just reached but the fact of the matter is you’ve merely acquired a zero, which can neither add nor subtract from the awesome, beguiling totality of you. I’d rather watch clouds with you than ever see 100. With love, DH.

Via SonomaNews

The Lair of the White Worm Car & Arguing with Jimmy Schow

I?ve had snakes on the brain. While researching this year?s St. Patty?s-themed column, everything I read was trying to convince me that St. Patrick single-handedly drove the snakes from Ireland. He didn?t. Patrick drove out paganism, which scholars say the snakes symbolized. Since there aren?t any pagans or snakes in Ireland, it looks good for Pat. Of course, there never were any native snakes on the isle, apart from perhaps the slow-worm, which isn?t a snake so much as a legless lizard. The slow-worm apparently didn?t represent pagans ? just lame reptiles ? so it got to stay. Sl?inte!

Snakes on a Wane

According to my research, the only time a snake and an Irishman crossed paths was when Ireland?s own Bram Stoker of Dracula fame published The Lair of the White Worm in 1911. I first became familiar with the work in a rarely seen film adaptation, which I saw with Jimmy Schow at Petaluma?s Plaza Theatre, circa ?88.

In a nutshell:

Lair of the White Worm

When Scottish archaeologist Angus Flint (pre-In the Loop Peter Capaldi) excavates a large reptilian skull in the ruins of a convent, he unwittingly draws the wrath of the mysterious Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who not only reveals herself to be a murdering seductress but the sole cheerleader for a snake worshipping cult that seeks to raise the D?Ampton Worm, a legendary paleolithic serpent, from the depths of the earth. The snake was thought to have been slayed by ancestors of Lord James D?Ampton (an impossibly young and tweee Hugh Grant) but Together, with a pair of virginal sisters, the Angus and James set upon destroying the worm before Lady Sylvia can release it. And probably mate with it.

The film was directed by none other than Ken Russell whose growing oeuvre included, among dozens of other titles, the rock opera Tommy, sci-fi freak fest Altered States and Gothic, a movie mash note to Byron and the Shelleys. Jimmy and I didn?t realize at the time that one man was responsible for all these films, which were required viewing in post-punk Petaluma of the 80s. In fact, we?d only seen Gothic the year before because Julian Sands, our hero from A Room With aView (who famously smooched our perma-crush Helena Bonham Carter), played Percy Bysshe Shelley. I wouldn?t read up on Shelley until college and by then it was too late ? Shelley would always be Sands and Sands, who had since moved on to a dreadful supernatural franchise, would always be Warlock. Hence, Shelley = Warlock.?All the resources of SF State couldn?t change this annoying association for me, so I finally decided to just change my major.

Lair of the White Worm Car

I recently streamed The Lair of the White Worm, from some (illegal?) site and found that upon the silver anniversary of its release, it still holds up. Albeit, it?s far campier than I was able to appreciate at the time ? I took its cartoonish sexuality (which was entirely intentional on the part of the filmmaker) at face value. And why wouldn?t I, having witnessed the vampish Donohoe seduce a boy scout who snake-charmed her with a harmonica (sales of mouth harps subsequently spiked at down the street at Tall Toad Music).

1966 Jaguar XKE

Alfa RomeoNaturally, I fell in love with Donohoe?s Lady Sylvia. In keeping with his burgeoning car fetishism, Jimmy fell in love with her 1966 Jaguar XKE. The car was ?cast,? if you will, for what we can pretend was its serpentine coach design, not to mention the fact that it was white. Jimmy, however, thought Russell had missed an opportunity ? that the car should have been an Alfa Romeo since the company?s logo features the Biscione, a.k.a, the Vipera, a heraldic image depicting a large serpent swallowing a boy.

I cannot recall which Alfa he suggested to replace the Jag (Spider, Giulietta?) but Jimmy was adamant that it should not have been a Jaguar, even one as beautiful as that year of XKE. We disagreed and argued, as always, until he got bored and went home.

Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio_Badge_0001a

Jimmy persisted in his love of cars until his death in a rally race accident 20 years ago this March. I suppose this is why it isn?t odd that I should be thinking about him and this business about serpents and Alfa Romeos near St. Patrick?s Day. You see, while Googling Alpha hood ornaments to see if, after 25 years, maybe Jimmy was right and Ken Russell should?ve taken advantage of the Biscione, I learned that Alfa Romeo has another emblem. It?s been used on their racecars since the early 1920s, the so-called ?Quadrifoglio,? which is a four-leaf clover.

I?m not one for sentimental synchronicities, nor do I deny that search engine algorithms can be serendipity-machines if you sprinkle enough fairy dust. But I do like it when one stumbles upon, if not meaning, a sense of metaphysical coherence to random recollections of a lost friend. Perhaps finding a four-leaf clover at the end of one?s reverie is the snake eating its own tale. I prefer to think that I?ve just been lucky.

Related: Roman Mars riffs on The Fancy Shape, a.ka. the “quatrefoil,” on?99% Invisible.

Move to Petaluma

The Miwok called it “P?ta L?uma.” The Spanish reduced it to “Petaluma.” I tried to get “Lumaville” to stick when “P-Town” seemed to be gaining ground, only to have the annual bumper crop of teens rechristen it “Deadaluma,” just like always. Now, if anecdotal reports prove true, a sizable influx of thirty- to forty-somethings from San Francisco and the East Bay are moving to Petaluma who simply call it “home.”

“I hear the story almost every day,” says Natasha Juliana, owner of?WORK, a co-working space?in the city’s downtown. “It’s gotten comical. Especially young families with young kids and parents in their 30s and 40s. They’re coming from San Francisco, the East Bay, and even farther away, like New York and Chicago,” she says. “And then we also see a lot of people who grew up here, went away for a long time, had children and have moved back.”

What Juliana hasn’t seen are people younger than 30 moving to Petaluma. “There are very few twenty-somethings,” she observes. This stands to reason, since it’s traditionally the twenty-somethings, like my younger self, that flee the suburbs and head straight for the cities.

I split from my native Petaluma 15 years ago on a self-imposed exile to pursue big-city ambitions, only to ultimately wish I hadn’t. When my wife was enticed to leave her natural foods company marketing position in the East Bay to take one in Sonoma County, it meant we could move to Petaluma. I could repatriate to my home town. But, as anyone with any years on them will tell you, where you grow up is a time, not a place. Petaluma is barely recognizable to me. Now it’s so much cooler than when I was an angry young man?or at least I’m finally able to get over myself and enjoy Petaluma on its own terms.

Actually, make that its?new?terms.

Move to Petaluma ? while you can.

While showing us our future home, the woman showing the house namedropped critically lauded singer-songwriter Sean Hayes, who had moved with his young family to Petaluma only months prior. I’d known and appreciated his work in the city and found his presence on the block somehow assuring. Could the ‘burbs be cool?

“Why Petaluma?” asks Hayes, who had lived in San Francisco for 20 years. “Intuition. Mostly my wife’s. We were living in a small one bedroom in the Mission in San Francisco. We knew we were going to have a second baby. Decided north. We’ve been very happy up here?great town.”

The Hayeses aren’t the only ones who have “decided north” in recent months. Dozens upon dozens of mostly creative professionals, many of whom have young children, are moving to Petaluma. Albeit, all evidence of this migration is unsubstantiated; there is no hard data?yet?just observations made by myself and others. For example, a new preschool opened in Petaluma last fall in which every single student is the child of a transplanted family that moved from the East Bay or San Francisco, mostly in the last year. And this kind of situation arises again and again in local conversations.

Who are these people and why are they moving to Petaluma?

The reasons are myriad but cluster around three primary themes: economic pressures in the surrounding cities driving up the cost of housing; a desire for a community-centric creative and sustainable lifestyle with a bucolic backdrop; and the need to accommodate the spate of kids everyone had when they panicked and realized they were staring down the barrel at 40.

Speaking with some newly minted Petalumans is a bit like watching a supercut of theManchurian Candidate: “Petaluma is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful small town I’ve ever known in my life.” I’ve heard the same breathless sentiment coming from my own mouth when asked why I moved here. It’s all true, but hearing it aloud helps me believe it, helps me believe that ditching a hip neighborhood in Oakland for the comparatively staid environs of Sonoma County was the right decision. Sure it was, because (a) I always felt 15 years too old for it anyway, and (b) where the hell else could I go to feel even vaguely relevant?

Try as I might to find a Petaluma naysayer for a reality check, none would go on record. They fear, I surmise, as I do, that we might become the twist in a Shirley Jackson story wherein the townsfolk stone us to death. (And not in the “Sonoma Coma” kind of way.)

Prior to moving back, I clued into certain cultural indicators that the city had changed from one groping for an identity (saddled as it was between Sonoma’s wine trade and Marin’s cultural clinch on what many imagined Northern California to be) to one that’s rapidly redefining the potential for a small town to support creativity, entrepreneurism and sustainability in an affordable and family-friendly package.

Take, for example, WORK, where entrepreneurs and freelancers of various stripes get the job done in the heart of downtown?finally, a place where building one’s own personal empire is embraced and encouraged. Across the street is Acre Coffee, where one can get single-origin, direct-trade, French-pressed drinks, just as one would at the cafe’s San Francisco location. There are three wine bars within staggering distance of each other. The?New York Times?recently fawned over the city’s restaurants. Even the cows and their pervasive stink contribute to the local charm?and you can have them delivered to your door as organic steaks through a community-supported agriculture service. For that matter, food?especially locally cultivated grub?is a big draw.

“It’s nicely located, and centrally located. Have you seen the restaurants?” says Don Frances over mason jars of beer from Petaluma’s own?Lagunitas Brewing Company?at Ray’s Tavern. The neighborhood hub, with weekly live music and a menu rife with specialty sammies boasting local street names (the Western Avenue BLT is self-explanatory), has evolved from family-owned corner store into microbrew mecca and artisanal sandwich shop.

Frances and his family moved from Davis to Petaluma when he was appointed news editor of the?Sonoma Index-Tribune?last February. “I want that nice blend of city and country, and we have got it. I like a city that ends?meaning you get to the actual end of it?and this is one,” he says. “There aren’t that many, especially if you want a city that’s worth a damn as a city but not part of some megalopolis that never really ends.”

But are we all drinking the Pinot-flavored Kool-Aid and calling it Lagunitas? With its hands on the spigot is the city itself, which has made a concerted effort to market Petaluma and its various attractions to businesses seeking to employ “knowledge workers.”

A letter from Mayor David Glass, printed in an advertising supplement circulated last October, declares that “Petaluma has been a center of industry and innovation in the Bay Area for 150 years. Today it’s the corporate home of global brands like Lagunitas, CamelBak, Traditional Medicinals, Enphase and Athleta.”

The approach dovetails nicely with a larger county-wide effort to attract businesses in fields populated by creative professionals, which the Sonoma County Economic Development Board broadly defines as those working in science and engineering, architecture and design, management and finance, education, the arts, and music and entertainment.

Last month the EDB convened a “Creative Arts Focus Group” to assess how it might help this “cluster” become a steady economic driver.

Participants were asked to break into groups and answer questions like “what are the three biggest opportunities for growing/sustaining your business in the next three to seven years?” A consistent theme, writ large on the groups’ self-adhesive flipcharts, was the notion of attracting and retaining talent through Sonoma County’s copious lifestyle offerings. After all, we’re “America’s premier wine, spa and coastal destination,” as our tourism bureau happily reminds. And, as the southernmost tip of the county, Petaluma is the gateway to this Xanadu.

“I do not have any specific statistics that would allow me to confirm your observations about creative professionals moving to Petaluma,” says Ingrid Alverde, the city of Petaluma’s economic development manager, via email. “That said, I, too, have met many creative professionals in my work with the city. I can say that Petaluma’s quality of life is unmatched in the Bay Area because of its affordable living, mixed with its great location and its historic downtown. Petaluma also has a strong sense of community and many venues for art, music and theater.”

The G-Word

Notions of gentrification arise every time a demographic shift occurs in a specific locale. Is that what’s happening here? By the strictest definition, no. It was already like this when we got here.

“It feels more real and it doesn’t feel so suburban. It’s not like suburban sprawl,” says WORK’s Juliana. “[I can go] four minutes outside of town and be in real working farmland. There’s a quality to Petaluma that’s really authentic, partly just because of the history and the agricultural history. It has a diversity of people still living here. It’s not Mill Valley.”

The Mill Valley factor has long loomed over Petaluma. In the ’80s there was a palpable sense of Marin County envy?we were so close yet so far away from the money, hot tubs, Beemers and?cocaine. The ’90s did no favors for Petaluma, resulting in a decade of “alternative” self-deceptions and dotcom dilettantism that made us look like Marin’s self-mutilating younger sibling.

It wasn’t until this century that Petaluma realized the intrinsic lifestyle value of its rural village roots and embraced it wholly. Couple this with Sonoma County’s upgrade from “Redwood Empire” to “Wine Country,” and suddenly we’re trendsetters. But does influence necessarily lead to affluence, specifically of the kind that would make Petaluma fear it was turning into Mill Valley?

“I have a lot of friends who worry about that,” observes Juliana, who is confident Petaluma will maintain its community-driven values. “But you also have to evolve as a town, otherwise you become a desolate ghost town.”

Anyway, Petaluma tried gentrification before. The results were meh. In the early aughts, plug-‘n’-play developments like the so-called?Theater District?were designed to emulate the urban density of cities?retail and restaurants downstairs, loft-like apartments upstairs. It’s urban design by way of a pr?t-?-porter mentality, and may attract a certain kind of Pr?t-?-luman, but by and large the recent arrivals are specifically attracted to the older (by a century) west-side architecture and a decidedly small-town way of life.

More to the point, the families moving to Petaluma are not gentrifiers themselves so much as the fallout from the latest waves of gentrification occurring in the urban neighborhoods they departed. Demand for real estate in San Francisco has driven the market into the stratosphere. A three-bedroom fixer-upper in the Glen Park neighborhood near Noe Valley recently sold for $1.425 million. Homes in Petaluma can be had for one-third as much, though this is likely to change as inventory decreases.

“Homes are selling as soon as they come on the market,” says Martha O’Hayer, a realtor at the Petaluma branch of Coldwell Banker. “Savvy investors are buying their homes now, renting them until they are ready to leave the City and East Bay with the intention of heading here when they are ready for a lifestyle change.”

Homes on Petaluma’s tonier, older west side start at the mid-$300,000s but can reach a cool million in the prestige neighborhoods in the “number and letter” streets. Comparatively, homes east of Highway 101, where track developments limned by strip malls dominate, hover between $300,000 and $500,000.

Seven months ago, therapist Rachael Newman purchased a home with her husband near Petaluma’s downtown. Since the arrival of their son, they were rapidly outgrowing their houseboat in Sausalito. It was time to take the plunge (north?not into the Bay).

“It just felt like the town of Sausalito wasn’t really quite right for ‘forever’ for us,” says Newman. “Petaluma feels like a place where we can really raise our children and grow old.” She adds with a laugh, “We’re a clich? at this point, I guess.”

Juliana puts it this way: “Honestly, this is the first place where I feel really at home. I feel like I fit in.”

I concur completely.?Sweet home Deadaluma, Lord, I’m coming home to you.

Philip Marlowe is from Santa Rosa and So am I

This haunts me ? Philip Marlowe, the hardboiled detective of author Raymond Chandler?s oeuvre is 42-years-old and was born in Santa Rosa, CA. If I wasn?t such a fan, these fictional factoids would be of little interest to me. But I am, so they are and having chanced upon them only recently has caused no end of soul searching this past week. To wit, I?m going to admit something in pixels and print that perhaps I shouldn?t:

Despite bragging hither and yon about being a Petaluman born and bred ? I was actually born in Santa Rosa.

Don?t hate me because I?m mutable. It was just always easier to say ?Petaluma? when asked where it all started since I?ve lived here, off and on, for like 42 percent of a century. And frankly, I never thought claiming a Santa Rosan birthright was worth a damn until last week when I learned that Chandler?s creativity and Marlowe?s nativity coalesced in a suburb just a few miles up the 101.

To fully appreciate this, you must understand the whole journo-P.I. relationship. As I?ve often mused, the type of schmuck attracted to the private eye racket is the same as that for journalism ? it?s a spectrum disorder, with, say, ?merchant marine with a Moleskine? perhaps on the far side and something more genteel like ?newspaper columnist with a hangover? on the nearside. It?s the difference of being possessed of either a wandering soul or a wandering mind.

Private dicks are in the middle and I swear that was going to be my next stop had I not found gainful employment as a public dick stretching my column inches as far as they would take me. Which, at present writing, is right back where I started. In fact, I write for a paper which is now the sister paper of the one at which I began, so I?ve either come-full-circle or am stuck in an enormous rut, treading a rat wheel I?ve mistaken for a career.

Newspapermen vs. Private Eyes

Anyway, I first wrote about this newspaperman-detective-maritime-mercenary continuum thing in my letter of resignation to the Petaluma Argus-Courier. This was when I was getting whimsical about splitting for Hollywood to seek my fame and fortune, only to be defamed and unfortunate enough to return several promising failures later. Had I known I?d spend most of my days squatting an office at Cahuenga and Santa Monica Boulevards I might never have left. The only redeeming part is that it was there that I finally deigned to read genre fiction and discovered the majesty of Chandler and his creation. The fact the fictional Marlowe?s fictional office was also on Cahuenga created an enduring sense of kismet.

So imagine my surprise when a random Wikipedia expedition led to me learn that Marlowe was ?born? in Santa Rosa. If I?d known I shared this creative kinship with a fictional P.I. how would my life be different? I might have been inspired to write detective fiction sooner. My mother, a roll up her sleeves, elbows on the table kind of broad, always pushed me in this direction, which is naturally why I resisted. What do mothers know about literary ambition?

More than I realized. I was a teen then. I?m someone else now. Admittedly, I?m more poached than hardboiled in my proclivities when it comes to genre. Mine is the kind of work you spread on artisanal toast and leave unfinished with a wipe of your iPad. Chandler?s is hot buttered gun metal. One can only aspire. Especially if your life began in Santa Rosa ? you kind of have to.

If death is a fact of life, then life itself is a kind of fiction given the yawning expanse of oblivion on either side of it ? it?s like it never happened anyway. So, the slim fiction I can live with is that I was born in Petaluma, my name is Daedalus Howell and the Marlowe line I recite in the mirror every morning is ?You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you.?

Stay tuned for a new detective fiction series coming soon to a Kindle near you…