It All Adds Up 

Hollywood passes in review


Before he fell dead in Sheila Graham's apartment off Sunset Boulevard, frustrated screenwriter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote these words for the narrator of his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon: "You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don't understand ... Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads." Fitzgerald's protagonist Monroe Stahr is generally thought to be based on MGM creative head Irving G. Thalberg, who helped shape the form and language of the Hollywood film, thanks to his ability to balance that complex algorithm of commerce and aesthetics. This "whole equation" is the nebulous subject and title of SF-based film historian David Thomson's new book, as well as the program he hosts this month at the Pacific Film Archive. Kicked off Thursday (7 p.m.) by a lecture, a book signing, and a screening of Elia Kazan's 1976 version of The Last Tycoon (starring Robert De Niro as Stahr), the series proves that in Hollywood, even failure can be evocative. Luckily for us, the rest of the program is rather an introductory course in the arguable glories of Hollywood. Don't miss Greed -- an apt parable for Inauguration Day, as well as a chance to see the ungreedy expanse of pre-IKEA Emeryville -- or The Crowd, both silent masterpieces in whose making Thalberg's role is still hotly disputed.

Also disputable are Thomson's choices for more recent films (Magnolia, Heat). Viewers can evaluate them alongside lesser-known but more interesting works such as Anthony Mann's Men at War and Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful. If this series has a bias, it is toward the "deep" romantic comedy. As Joan Crawford says in her terrific performance in Daisy Kenyon, "I've got to be going somewhere: Can't you understand that? Even if it's to the movies." After all, it's there that everything adds up. -- Frako Loden


Lit Happens

London calling

What if Call of the Wild had been written in iambic pentameter? Jack London yearned to be a poet, so to mark his birthday the Alameda Island Poets Chapter of the California Federation of Chaparral Poets is staging a reading at Spellbinding Tales. Selected passages will be from Cruise of the Dazzler and Tales of the Fish Patrol, recounting London's boyhood adventures sailing a small boat around Bay Farm Island (Wed., 2 p.m.). ... From war-torn Europe to the tropics to the open sea in a boat with three men and a baby, Ros McIntosh's Live, Laugh & Learn recounts the true story of a life broken and rebuilt. She's at her hometown bookshop, Alameda's Spellbinding Tales (Wed., 7 p.m.). ... Who says you can't undress before bedtime? At Lafayette Library's Read Aloud Theatre, teens clad in pajamas are invited to listen to good books with the added attractions of hot cocoa, marshmallows, and door prizes (Wed., 6:30 p.m.). ... Where do you start up a start-up? At Concord Library, of course, where a series of free business workshops focuses on topics of interest to entrepreneurs of every stripe. Tonight's session is an open house previewing the library's business-related resources, with a hands-on demonstration of the brand-new market-research database, ReferenceUSA (Wed., 7 p.m.). ... The biggest publisher of test-prep books, The Princeton Review, presents an SAT workshop for teens in Orinda Public Library's Garden Room, with insider tips on beating the test's authors at their own game. Preregistration is required; for details, call 925-254-2184 (Thu., 7 p.m.). ... Never say never, say the contributors to Roar Softly and Carry a Great Lipstick, a new anthology about women meeting challenges head-on. Meet Stiff author Mary Roach along with fellow contributors Jane Ganahl, Louise Rafkin, Autumn Stephens, Jean Gonick, Laura Fraser, Bonnie Wach, and Cynthia Heimel at A Great Good Place for Books (Sat., 7 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus


Show of Force

As of this writing, the death toll from the earthquake and tsunamis in Southeast Asia has been estimated at 150,000 or more. And though we here outside the danger zone have been inundated with photos of mass graves, distraught mourners, and Sports Illustrated cover girls with broken pelvises, there has been, unsurprisingly, a substantial lack of images of the walls of water themselves. If you're looking to get a better idea of what could cause this kind of devastation, the Chabot Space & Science Center has just opened Forces of Nature, a 45-minute National Geographic film, in its seventy-foot, dome-screen Tien MegaDome Theater. At the Bay Area's lone 70mm auditorium, you can listen to Kevin Bacon narrate while scientists head out into the field to explore the behaviors and origins of volcanoes, earthquakes, and severe weather. Chabot is located at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in Oakland, and the film plays through July 30, 2006. Call 510-336-7300 or visit for showtimes. -- Stefanie Kalem

Sun 1/16


Bridging the gap at the Freight

Never underestimate the power of Jerry Garcia -- that's the message you could glean from Sunday night's meeting of two seemingly polar opposite musical minds at the Freight & Salvage. How else would you explain the collaboration between Henry Kaiser and Eric Thompson? Oakland-born Kaiser is a free improviser whose mastery of North Indian classical, American blues, jazz of all stripes, Hawaiian music, and other styles has gotten him work with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Michael Stipe, and Diamanda Galas. Palo Alto-born Thompson is an old-time music maven whose decades of work with his wife Suzy, David Grisman, and many others have left no doubt that he's a flatpicking maestro. But one of Thompson's first bands was the Black Mountain Boys, with Jerry Garcia; and on a 1995 edition of the West Coast Live radio show, Kaiser called Garcia "one of the greatest musicians, improvisers, composers, songwriters in America," comparing him to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. 8 p.m.; tickets $17.50 in advance, $18.50 at the door. Info: -- Stefanie Kalem


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