Category Archives: Arts

Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Pearl Button’

Print Friendly

Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman prefers pondering the big questions. In his 2011 feature Nostalgia for the Light, he combined rumination on the legacy of Augusto Pinochet with the sciences of archaeology and radio-astronomy, creating a thought-provoking cinematic stew set amid the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert.

Guzman’s new film El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 4) begins roughly where Nostalgia for the Light left off: with a 3,000-year-old block of quartz found in the Atacama. Within this quartz, paradoxically, exists a single drop of water, a rarity in a region where less than a tenth of an inch of rain falls each year.

There’s uncertainty about how Earth became such a moist planet, but the general consensus is that water travelled here through the cosmos via asteroid or comet. However it got here, this cosmic gift became an essential ingredient for all life on the planet – and The Pearl Button’s focal point. … Continue reading »

Tagged , ,

How Quirky is Berkeley? Eugene Tssui’s Fish House, Part 1

Quirky Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., is seen on Thursday,  June 20th, 2013.
Print Friendly

The “Fish House” at 2747 Mathews St. in Berkeley, designed by Emeryville’s Eugene Tssui, is the least-expected and probably the most-photographed architectural design in Berkeley.

Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Giving thanks for Laurie Lewis, playing Berkeley Saturday

The Right Hands, left to right, Patrick Sauber. Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum , Tatiana Hargreaves, and Todd Phillips
Print Friendly

Laurie Lewis has a long list of musicians she’s grateful for, and somewhere near the top are Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, bluegrass music’s foremost foremothers. The longtime Berkeleyan gives a sneak peak at her upcoming album The Hazel and Alice Sessions at Freight & Salvage on Saturday with her band The Right Hands featuring her partner in twang Tom Rozum (mandolin, mandola, and guitar), Patrick Sauber (banjo), Todd Phillips (bassist extraordinaire), and Tatiana Hargreaves (fiddle).

“Tatiana is just amazing,” says Lewis, 65, noting that she’s the younger sister of fiddle star Alex Hargreaves. “I’ve known her since she was seven. She’s a little tiny 20-year-old who’s studying at Hampshire College in Amherst. I call her Hoss.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , ,

Unflinching and timely: ‘Disgraced’ at Berkeley Rep

Bernard White (Amir) and Nisi Sturgis (Emily) in Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced at Berkeley Rep.

Photo by Liz Lauren
Print Friendly

The exceptional and intense Pulitzer prize-winning drama, Disgraced, is a timely and unflinching exposition into the power and perils of race and ethnicity in America. Talented novelist (American Dervish) and playwright Ayad Akhtar elegantly communicates these multifaceted concepts using only four main characters, whose lives change over the course of a social dinner.

Amir Kapoor (Bernard White), a Pakistani American corporate lawyer, is hoping to make partner at his predominantly Jewish New York law firm. He claims to be Indian (and therefore Hindu), hoping to hide his less acceptable Muslim background. After all, he has rejected his religion, calling the Koran, “one very long hate mail letter to humanity.”

Living a sophisticated American life is far more significant to Amir than looking backwards at his religion and race. But, as much as he wants to escape his heritage, like a dark enveloping shadow, it hauntingly reappears. As my mother was fond of saying, “If you try to escape your background, people will be glad to remind you of it.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , ,

Wine, wine everywhere, and not a drop to drink

Tangled Vines
Print Friendly

Mal Warwick, who regularly contributes book reviews to Berkeleyside, calls Frances Dinkelspiel’s ‘Tangled Vines’ “a great read,” and “crammed with fascinating characters.” He gives it five stars. 

☆☆☆☆☆ (five out of five)

In Tangled Vines, journalist Frances Dinkelspiel [co-founder of Berkeleyside] tells the colorful story of California’s wine industry, enriching our understanding of the state’s history — and she makes it read like a thriller.

Tangled Vines recounts the 18th-century origins of the state’s wine industry in the rising demand for sacramental wine for use in the Catholic missions that were the first centers of European settlement in California. For two centuries, Californios (Spanish-speaking settlers) dominated the field until the Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of English-speakers to the state, newcomers who gained the ascendancy through hard work, shrewd investment, as well as fraud and even murder. … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , ,

Fred Randolph: Tales from a busy bassist

A bassist for all occasions (photo by Ruby Ray)
Print Friendly

A consummate musician who can be found playing jazz, salsa, samba, rock, fusion and any number of other styles, Fred Randolph is one of the busiest bassists in the Bay Area. The story of how he attained that enviable status is full of unlikely twists, with several instrumental detours along the way.

Though usually employed as a sideman, he’s released several engaging albums under his own name, most recently Song Without Singing (Creative Spirit Records), a project that showcases his rhythmic range and melodically charged compositional vision. Featuring Berkeley-raised trumpeter Erik Jekabson, pianist Matt Clark, saxophonist Sheldon Brown, and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte, the Fred Randolph Band celebrates the album’s release 8 p.m. Friday Nov. 20 at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists as part of Jazz in the Neighborhood program (pianist Ian McArdle, a former student of Randolph’s, opens the show). He’s joined by the same exceptional cast at the California Jazz Conservatory on January 15. … Continue reading »

Tagged , ,

New museum gets ready to open in the heart of Berkeley

BAMPFA DSR 15-09 5655
Print Friendly

The staff moved in to their offices in September, planning for its inaugural exhibition is well underway, and construction is almost complete on the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), which is set to open in January 2016.

Anyone who passes through downtown regularly will have, over the past months, had the chance to observe the gradual transformation of the Deco Moderne former UC Berkeley printing plant into a striking structure sporting a gleaming silver roof, a cantilevered section that juts out over what will be the museum’s entrance on Center Street, and a gaping rectangular space on the Addison Street side that will soon be a giant canvas for screening images and films.

Read more about the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

The inside of the new museum offers a mix of large white exhibition spaces, several enticing open-plan areas for public events or where visitors can simply hang out, and stairwells and a womb-like café painted a deep shade of chili red. The new building is 20% smaller than it predecessor, the Mario Ciampi-designed concrete structure on Bancroft Way, but it has more usable space. The new building totals 83,000 square feet, with 25,000 square feet of gallery space. The $112 million project was funded through a philanthropic capital campaign and private sources.

Aside from some difficulties with the installation of the distinctive stainless-steel roof (see below), there have been no significant delays on the museum’s timeline, according to the museum’s owners, UC Berkeley. … Continue reading »

Tagged , , ,

Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press marks 20th anniversary

Charlie Winton Photo: Counterpoint Press
Print Friendly

When author Karen Bender shopped around her 2013 novel, A Town of Empty Rooms, she initially had little luck. By the time she sent it to Berkeley-based Counterpoint Press, she had received something like 25 rejections.

At Counterpoint, editor Dan Smetanka immediately took a liking to Bender’s book. The company published it, as well as her latest short story collection, Refund — which is up for a prestigious National Book Award this week. Counterpoint is the only independent publishing house with a nomination.

Counterpoint, whose office is on Ninth Street in West Berkeley, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Its writers praise the company for two decades of a sharp eye for literary talent and genuine support for its authors. … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Architecture and the devil: ‘The Monster-Builder’ at Aurora

Architects Rita (l, Tracy Hazas*) and Gregor (r, Danny Scheie*) have a tête-à-tête in Aurora Theatre Company’s The Monster-Builder
Print Friendly

Although The Monster-Builder is at times captivating, I’m still a bit flummoxed by its construction. It’s mostly a comedy that interlaces cogent comments about post-modern architecture. However, it awkwardly mixes its moods, alternatively presenting satire, farce and sex-capades with observations on building design, but without creating an integrated theatrical experience.

We all can recognize post-modern architecture by our strong reaction to it. Sometimes we are in awe of the creativity and experimentation shown in a startlingly gorgeous building. Other times, we wonder what the architect and client could have been thinking when we notice an odd-shaped building that doesn’t fit its location or purpose. Playwright Amy Freed (Freedomland- 1998 Pulitzer Prize nomination, The Beard of Avon; Still Warm; Restoration Comedy, You, Nero), the daughter of an architect, seems to only express the negative aspects of modern architecture. … Continue reading »

Tagged ,

Dear Prudence: The Beatles’ muse returns to Berkeley

Preudence Farrow with Ringo Starr and the Maharishi The Beatles and their wives at the Rishikesh in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, March 1968. Credit:  Colin Harrison/Avico
Print Friendly

Growing up in the belly of the Hollywood film industry, Prudence Farrow learned early on that meeting stars in the flesh usually led to disappointment. But her fateful encounter with the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Rishikesh ashram in early 1968 left her pleasantly surprised. It also left John Lennon with a song that ended up as the White Album’s second track “Dear Prudence,” which he wrote to coax her out of the room where she retreated for endless hours while seeking solitude and transcendence.

Prudence Farrow Bruns returns to Berkeley, where she spent years studying at Cal, and eventually earned a PhD in South Asian Studies, to talk about her recent memoir Tuesday at Northbrae Community Church at 7 p.m. Titled (what else?) Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song, the self-published book details how and why she ended up in India at the height of the tumultuous ‘60s, starting with her family life as the fifth of seven children by Irish-born MGM star Maureen O’Sullivan and Australian-born film director John Farrow.

“At seven I was crazy about Mario Lanza and had all of his records,” says Bruns, 67, her voice a dead ringer for her older sister, Mia Farrow. “My mother took me to spend a whole day with him and his family and he was a drinker. Starting from that day, I never wanted to meet anyone I admired. So I was not looking forward to meeting the Beatles, and I was pleasantly surprised.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , ,

The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Caribbean Allstars
Print Friendly

CARIBBEAN ALLSTARS The Caribbean Allstars, pioneers on the Bay Area reggae scene, return to Ashkenaz on Saturday Nov. 14 at 9:30 p.m. The ensemble, whose geographical roots range from Jamaica and South America to West Africa and the U.S., began joining together their musical forces and international backgrounds during the early 1970s. Not only do the Caribbean Allstars play Jamaican reggae with a traditional electric bass-drums-guitars-keyboards lineup, they also add steel drums to bring in South Caribbean calypso and soca styles of Trinidad and Tobago, producing rhythms that drive listeners to the dance floor. Tickets: $15 ($10 for students). More info at Ashkenaz. … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Exuberant send-up of ‘Pirates of Penzance’ at the Rep

Matt Kahler as the Major-General and the cast of The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance entertain the crowd at Berkeley Rep with their immersive rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s topsy-turvy world.

Photo courtesy of
Print Friendly

The Hypocrites, an ebullient, talented young musical troupe from Chicago is storming the beaches of Berkeley Rep (and Penzance) in their loving send-up of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. These performers are so gifted in both voice and acting that they could probably perform the operetta Pirates of Penzance as written by Gilbert and Sullivan in 1879. Instead, director and adapter Sean Graney with co-adapter Kevin O’Donnell have spoofed, shortened (to 80 minutes) and transformed it into a modern musical version, using many of the melodies and lyrics of the original songs.

Upon entering the Rep’s new Osher Studio on Center Street, one is immersed in the joyous, colorful, tuneful, noisy world of the Hypocrites. Each member of the cast wears a silly costume, and sings, jumps, grins, claps, throws beach balls, engages the audience and plays an instrument (including banjos, guitars, clarinet and a saw). If you have booked “promenade seating,” you may be sitting on a bench or in the kiddie pools with the yellow rubber duckies. And be alert, you may be asked to move out of the way when the players need your seat during the performance. All part of the fun. … Continue reading »

Tagged , ,

Accordion time traveling with Rob Reich in Berkeley

By Eddy Joaquim
Print Friendly

Some of the musicians featured at the recently launched Bands at Brower series approached the performance like any other gig, presenting their usual material. But for Rob Reich the David Brower Center’s ecological mission is a feature not a bug, and he’s designed an immersive multimedia event that explores the way music and natural settings can alter our consciousness.

This Friday’s Bands at Brower show introduces Reich’s new project Thymesia, which he describes as “a meditation on time and memory. I think most people have had the experience of music warping their experience of time. I want to tap into this powerful quality.”

Playing by candlelight to create the feeling of “an autumnal meditation,” Reich says the music will be accompanied by original abstract video projections by local video artists Thomas Bates, Ben Flax, and Brett Stillo. It’s just the latest musical sojourn by an artist who can always be found keeping interesting company, like an event next year with two other Bay Area luminaries who share his name, Cal’s Robert Reich and Stanford poli sci professor Rob Reich (the debut of new Rob Reich Trio?). … Continue reading »

Tagged , , ,