Influenced: Marc Capelle (left), Mark Eitzel and Gena Rowlands share a moment at Tosca. (Photo by JD Beltran)

SFIFF52 Blogs: Mission, Midnight and Under the Influence

Marc Capelle April 28, 2009

"Through the window, the warm summer air does a two-step/I wish I could think of some way I could keep it/And clear away the Mission Street in my head….The world is held together by the wind that blows through Gena Rowlands’ hair." ("What Holds The World Together," American Music Club/Mark Eitzel, from the 1994 record San Francisco)

The sad sweet lilt of the waltz of "What Holds the World Together" was on my mind as I sat Sunday night with Mark Eitzel at the far inside corner of the Tosca bar, waiting for Gena Rowlands to arrive at post-screening party for John Cassavete’s 1974 masterpiece A Woman Under The Influence at the SF International. The crowd at the reception was dreamy and all over the city map, David Munro and Xandra Castleton, the Honorable Willie Brown, Eleanor Coppola, Kitchen Sister Davia Nelson, chanteuse Veronica Klaus, music writer Michael Azerrad, and a warm reasonable bunch of dancers, writers, film and society mavens and mavericks, donors and drinkers, all enjoying the passed foods, the White Nuns, Anchor Steams, cocktails and lively company.

While waiting for Ms. Rowlands I met Bo Harwood, a composer, sound person, sound mixer, and recordist, who worked with on all of Cassavete’s films from 1974 to 1984. Harwood, a rock guitarist who had to learn the piano to write and perform the score for A Woman Under the Influence has no formal music training. While the film was being made, he used the piano in Peter Falk’s office to write and practice the score. Also, Harwood did the sound for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Six Feet Under, and has consistently worked as a live musician.

Harwood chatted with me briefly about his work with the Bay Area’s Booker T. Jones on the score for Opening Night. Booker T. arranged and conducted the orchestra for that score, and Harwood recalled sitting with Booker T. working out music with two men at two pianos.

I also asked him if there was any hope of hearing some of any of the Cassavetes’ soundtracks being released on CD at some point in the future (none of Casavette’s film scores are currently available as audio recordings). Harwood told me has 15 hours of taped discussions with Cassavetes on music and film that he is hoping to get edited published and released, and that indeed there is hope someday to release the film’s soundtracks.

Until then as a taster, here is brief theme from A Woman Under the Influence

Later that night, through the good graces of photographer/artist JD Beltran, I found myself sitting at a corner banquettes covered with drinks and sweets chatting with the Film Society’s Steven Jenkins, Eitzel, Rowlands, along with her friends and husband. Ms. Rowlands was friendly, receptive and wry. She let Eitzel know that she had first heard of his song while during an interview in England and was happy to meet him. Eitzel began to recite a few of the lines from the tune and a floaty smile came across her lovely face. She let Mark know that she was excited to hear a recorded version of the song—and arrangements were made to get the song to her. Just as we are finishing up the chat, photo smiles, thank yous, etc., Jeannette Etheredge and Stanlee Gatti walked over and and half joking explained to us that we were sitting in the booth where the very dark and heavy people sit. Confused at even the thought of darkness and heaviness, and feeling I had bathed in a marvelous light, I headed out in to the night and back to the Mission.

The Mission is where I work, play, and live with my family and friends. The soundtrack for Peter Bratt’s beautifully emotional La Mission which opened the festival Thursday hits me right in the soul. From the opening shots that roll out to Curtis Mayfield’s "Kung Fu," and later scenes accompanied by William DeVaughn’s " Be Thankful For What You Got," and Marvin Gaye’s "Got to Give It Up," these neoclassical soul hits bring out the wild traditionalism and permanent 1974ness of a very specific and neighborhood culture. Praise has to be given as well to the fine detail of the production design. The paleta/helado carts with their bells, the standard issue SF General metal cane, chain link basketball nets, low top black Chuck, buttoned at the top/unbutton at the bottom plaid Pendletons, Spitfire skateboard stickers on a bedroom door, and aged anti war picket signs for Dolores Park rallies tucked to the side of a York St. garage. All this fine right-on detail raised collectives mmm hmms and uh huhs from an audience that was heavy on folks from the South side of Market Street.

While films like 1973’s The Laughing Policeman, which has a great Water Matthau and Bruce Dern scene at the Mexicatessan on Florida Street, and Louis Malle’s Crackers, whose exteriors were, for the most part, shot on a single block of 24th St., give hints of the beauty and texture of the neighborhood, Bratt’s film brings us outside, inside and through the day-to-day struggles and blessings that define the Mission.

The Midnight Awards, the SF Film Society’s tribute to Elijah Wood and Evan Rachel Wood on Saturday night at the W Hotel was (simply put) a blast. The event featured a relaxed sit-down discussion of the two young actors’ careers hilariously and solidly hosted by our beloved Beth Lisick. As well as an unfettered and refreshingly candid three-way chat, there was a Q&A with the audience as well as highlight reels/retrospectives of the two actors that were well edited, hilarious and marvelous summations of their young but long and varied careers. The marvel was the remarkable humility of the whole thing, which made much more of a night full candor and laughs.

Between the awarding and chat there was music from a nine piece band I was lucky enough to lead. We felt that the last thing a tribute to young stars needed was smooth jazz or anything that made chimey or tinkling sounds. We went for tunes we thought would move the actors, the hosts and the audience. We rocked and grooved and swayed and jumped as hard as we could. Playing flutes, trombones guitars, pianos, organs big drums a sort of vast choir of voices percussion instruments and outfits. We played Beatles and Apples In Stereo songs, El Chicano and Iggy Pop jams, and a particularly funky version of "Theme From A Midnight Cowboy." The band, down to the last member, all wore tight pants, matching leather jackets, and hair extensions. There was a wealth of tambourines. That’s all I can tell you.

At the end of the night I rolled my piano from the ballroom down through the lobby bar of the W—an entirely different scene. From the best I could tell there had been a hot life dance/explosion of some sort from which just a few folks were left standing.

All around the night was unfurling and winding down. Woman were one-by-one stepping out of their heels. Off to the side of the back lobby Elijah Wood was in a long deep hug with his girlfriend, by the elevator bank. Filmmaker and winemaker Owsley Brown III was talking about meditation. As I went through the door, Evan Rachel Wood, even prettier off the screen, passed, turning, talking, smiling.

(Photo by JD Beltran)