KQED, Uncategorized

Is George Harrison at a Concert Near You?

George Harrison died nearly 15 years ago, but you may have spotted him at a show in recent months. From the ethereal glow of illuminated smartphones raised overhead, Harrison’s visage has recently graced concerts from Oakland to Santa Cruz.

I first saw Harrison’s beaming face in April at the Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz. While I waited for electronic musician Panda Bear to take the stage, two young men held up the same close-up candid of Harrison flashing a toothy smile. Before I could process this poor man’s Tupac hologram, four other phones joined with the same image, a legion of Harrisons aloft.

The album cover for Let it Be by The Beatles, courtesy thebeatles.com
The Beatles, Let It Be.

Normally, illuminated screens at a concert invoke nothing but contempt from me, but Harrison’s guileless face seemed to be teleported from a simpler, analog time. And while attempts to replace the lighter of yesteryear with a lit-up phone are largely unsuccessful, this Harrison synchronicity brought the crowd closer to a shared experience.

I soon learned from 23-year-old San Francisco resident Ernie Houk that he had witnessed the same phenomenon at a Tame Impala concert at Oakland’s Fox Theater in November of 2014. “People do a lot of dumb things at concerts to get attention,” explained Houk, but he, too, felt this was different.

Not sure whether it was a meme dug up from “the bowels of Reddit,” Houk was initially confused, and then amused, by the 20 Harrisons popping up around him at the Fox Theater. At the Cocoanut Grove, I was similarly curious, so after the show I made a beeline for the stage to track down the initiator: 19-year-old Russell Cowick.

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Is George Harrison at a Concert Near You?

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KQED, Uncategorized

‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ and his White Friend

If you were at the San Francisco International Film Festival last week, you may have seen the teaser trailer for The Last Black Man in San Francisco. As a part of the festival’s Boomtown: Remaking San Francisco program, this film-in-the-making highlights issues of gentrification through the “fantastical retelling of Jimmie H. Fails’ true-life story.” The narrative focuses on Jimmie’s dream of buying back his childhood home in the Fillmore. While the film is an accurate depiction of Fails’ relationship to a booming San Francisco, it is his real-life friendship with the director, Joe Talbot, that may seem stranger than fiction to some.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” from Joe Talbot on Vimeo.

“When people see us walking down the street together they think we’re an odd pair,” said Talbot of himself and Fails. Fails interjects, “Just because I’m a tall black guy and Joe’s white. Why would that be weird? If you know us, then you know it’s not weird.”

Talbot first recognized Fails’ “natural presence” on film when he was just a kid documenting Bernal Heights goings on with a Hi8 camcorder. Fast-forward 12 years and the duo are still at it with a bigger vision and a deeper friendship.

It was the long walks Talbot and Fails took through “the roller-coaster hills of Bernal Heights” that inspired this project. As Talbot came to know Fails’ life story — shaped by upheaval throughout San Francisco — the more strongly he felt it needed to be told.

Talbot believes it is precisely because Fails grew up in so many “different worlds” within San Francisco that he is able to have a distinct personality in this film while also speaking to the universal feeling of being an outcast.

A close up the "Where's Jimmie" t-shirt The Last Black Man in San Francisco made for the film's Kickstarter campaign. (Courtesy of Joe Talbot)
A close up the “Where’s Jimmie” t-shirt The Last Black Man in San Francisco made for the film’s Kickstarter campaign. (Courtesy of Joe Talbot)

 

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‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ and his White Friend

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KQED, Uncategorized

Jeffrey Blankfort Celebrates 80th Birthday by Putting His Historic Bay Area Photos Online

“Look at this guy wearing white bucks! He’s got white bucks on and the cops are dragging him away by the leg” exclaims Stephen Ehret, chuckling to himself as he clicks on a photograph of a 1964 San Francisco sit-in. “That’s a great picture. We need to get that up on the website,” Ehret observes.

Jeffrey Blankfort, whose photograph we have been discussing, turns to me and says, “See? This is what happens; there are too many photographs to choose from.”

1964 sit-in at a Cadillac dealer in San Francisco; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort
1964 sit-in at a Cadillac dealer in San Francisco; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort

We’re sitting in Ehret’s Sausalito art studio among large-scale paintings of California landscapes. Ehret uploads scanned images to his friend’s online portfolio, which went live for the first time this year in honor of Blankfort’s 80th birthday.

As Ehret clicks, Blankfort regales me with stories of his photographic adventures, “You’ve got to tell me when to stop, I could go on forever,” Blankfort laughs.

In the early 1960s, “before anybody had long hair,” Blankfort got his start as a photojournalist by documenting San Francisco sit-ins. These NAACP demonstrations, like the one the buck-clad protester attended at the former Cadillac Agency on Van Ness, were a part of a critical effort to end racist hiring practices in the city, not only at car dealerships but also at hotels and restaurants.

“There are kids that go to school in the city and don’t know anything about the sit-ins. It’s a crime,” says Blankfort. This outrage drives Blankfort to share his photographs with the next generation to fill in the gaps in what he calls “sanitized history.”

Since the beginning of his career, Blankfort’s photographs have been shown in galleries and published in periodicals, books and retrospectives around the world. After getting his teaching credential later in life, Blankfort discovered his photographs could take on new significance in the classroom.

At Richmond High School, Blankfort’s pictures of the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets bridged the gap between history and modern struggles for many of his African-American and Latino students.

Brown Berets and Black Panthers in Oakland, 1968; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort
Brown Berets and Black Panthers in Oakland, 1968; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort

Blankfort says, “The black students did not want to hear about Martin Luther King, but when I talked to them about the Black Panthers, some of them had family in the Panthers, and suddenly they wanted to listen. And the attitude of the class changed so much when I would bring my photographs in. They didn’t relate to the South, they related to what went on in the Bay Area.”

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Jeffrey Blankfort Celebrates 80th Birthday by Putting His Historic Bay Area Photos Online

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