Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Gaz Howards of San Francisco

A few days ago I attended an art opening in San Francisco. Great and iconoclastic visual artists have come out of San Francisco, but nevertheless, art openings in San Francisco are not what they are in New York or London. Much of the crowd, and what passes for galleries, can usually be described in one of four ways: catering-to-tourists, young-DIY-art-students, Valencia hipsters, or residue-of-some-old-clique.

The opening I attended fell squarely into the last category, peppered with veterans of the mid-90s San Francisco underground performing arts scene, many of them still active with their endeavors.

One such performer whom I’d not seen in years approached me, all wide eyes and smiles, and immediately began to talk about himself. Something along the lines of, “Why haven’t you seen my show?” What a way to reanimate that old cliché, “But enough about me, what do you think about me?”

The other thing it brought to mind was the Gaz Howard character from HP Mendoza’s musical film, Fruitfly. I had just seen Fruitfly for a second time when I was at image+nation in Montréal. (My own film Dan’s Big Hands was the opening short. “But enough about me…”) I found I enjoyed Fruitfly much more the second time.

Gaz Howard is a locally successful performing artist (magician) who rapturously talks about himself at every opportunity, and always turns the conversation back to his own work, events, talent, and importance.

In a similar fashion, back at the gallery opening, once that performer was done hawking his show, there was nothing else to talk about and the conversation was over.

There seems to be too much of this attitude and approach in San Francisco. I always think it’s better to have other people talk about you, rather than talking about yourself. I wonder, is this unique to San Francisco? Does it happen everywhere? Is there something about San Francisco, the narrow confines of the city, the limited possibilities, and the suffocating compression of a small but ambitious art scene that fosters such a self-centered attitude?

Fruitfly received much criticism for its lack of plot and direction. Variety said the film has “low narrative drive” andplotwise, little happens, and once introduced, subsidiary strands … are simply neglected.”

I would suggest that, in Gaz Howard, Mendoza had the perfect villain in his lap. It was only a missed opportunity. Gaz Howard could have really given the film a powerful climax, as opposed to being a loose thread in an otherwise fine tapestry. After Gaz gets the theatre instead of Beth, Gaz disappears and that plotline fizzles. From there it could have gone to another, higher, more dramatic level. I’m not going to suggest an alternate ending, other than to say that instead of having Gaz disappear, his character and all he represents could have played a major role in the film’s ending.

While Fruitfly seems to be about Beth and Windy, Hag and Fag, it is Gaz who supplies the most dramatic tension. And rightfully so. Windy is on Beth’s side. They may have misunderstandings and adventures together, but Gaz is evil lurking in disguise beneath a smiling exterior. We never see that evil fully realized, unleashed, and combated. I’m not suggesting who would triumph, or what the denouement might be. I am just saying, there’s your story. Gaz Howard v. Beth. Gaz could have amusingly been connected to some of the other evils presented as well. After all, San Francisco is a small town with many tangled webs.

Which returns me to gallery opening, which made me realize what a brilliant take on San Francisco life and culture Fruitfly is. Gaz brilliant caricatures many artists and scenesters.

Why are people like that? Does it make me want to go see their show? Is this personality type a natural breed or is it a result of the lack of appreciation for the arts? So many people run around screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” If I dwell on it, I think, am I like that, too?

But enough about me. What do you think of me? Oh yes, and why haven’t you seen my show?

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