zerode – a sensibility


film, music, text, city, spectacle, pleasure

SF Films: Freebie and the Bean (1974)


Viewing Notes

An early buddy cop movie. And very explicitly so, as the poster makes clear: “above all, it’s a love story” between the two feuding, fighting partners. I’m not sure the whole buddy cop dynamic has ever be spelled out as explicitly and up front.

All the elements are here—the feuding, the style and ethnic/racial differences, the insecurities addressed in their dynamic, the tender final moment… and if you want to talk about a sexual or homoerotic component, you don’t have far to look. The pair spend a lot of times in toilets; there’s a scene with a young gay guy taking a bath; concerns about Bean’s wife having an affair form a major subplot; and so on.

Given how strongly all the key elements of the buddy cop film are present, and its year of release, a case could be made for Freebie and the Bean as the very first in the genre. In an interview in Spectacular Optical, Richard Rush, who directed and developed the original treatment, certainly makes this claim and I think it’s spot on:

a movie  that dealt with two cops, one moral and one not, who rode around together in a police car and quarreled with each other like an old married couple. It was a good idea. It was a new one, never done before, regardless of how many times you have seen it since, through the franchises it has spawned. It started the genre of ‘The Buddy Cop Picture’.

Source: CUNNING STUNTS: A Q&A with Richard Rush « Spectacular Optical

It’s weird watching old cop movies like this: the casual brutality against a nobody crook is striking enough, but using the threat of sexual assault to get someone to squeal is really shocking. Things like this still happen in movies, but they need much more context and justification—here, it’s basically just part of the schtick, the style and wacky interplay of Freebie and the Bean. Likewise, Freebie’s persistent racially-themed needling of Bean (Alan Arkin) who’s Mexican-American (though not particularly believably).

One of the treats—for me, anyway—of watching older movies set in San Francisco is simply the street scenes. Seeing old joints like Omar Khayyam’s, the Sutter Cinema (an ‘adult’ theatre near Union Square) or even the demolished bits of the Central Freeway and Embarcadero Freeway… though for some reason a surprising amount of it seems to have been shot in and around the Transamerica Pyramid—including the final crash, even though it is supposed to be an ambulance driving to a hospital from the ‘Stick.

1974 Freebie and The Bean Alan Arkin James Caan Chuck Bail

The chases—car, motorcycle, and foot—and attendant crashes are worthy of The Blues Brothers—with the one where their car ends up in a 3rd floor apartment being particular memorable. I was surprised to see a car crash that looks to have been actually staged in the Broadway Tunnel. There’s a crash involving a truckload of live chickens. The easy excuse for all the crashes is that Freebie (James Caan) is both a reckless and bad driver. The chase in and around the Gateway Plaza / Embarcadero Center area is a whopper, ending with a fight in a kitchen that covers Bean and the bad guy in a huge pot of marinara sauce.

The screenplay is by Robert Kaufman—not a name to conjure with, and his later credits include The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, but he started out as a writer on The Bob Newhart Show and his comedic and dialogue skills are in fine form in Freebie.

Loretta Swit, who played Hot Lips on TV’s M*A*S*H, and Valerie Harper, best know as Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, have minor roles.

“I gotta have a taco.”

For more…

Filed under: Movies, Pop Culture, ,

Hipster Bingo – a social media win

Sightglass Bingo is a cool little app for playing bingo by spotting items at Sightglass Coffee, a hip and popular café and roaster in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. These kind of social bingo jokes seem to pop up pretty regularly (cf Queen’s Speech Bingo, Amnesty’s Human Rights Presidential Debate Bingo), and when they’re done right they can be quite funny. The iPhone app + Twitter aspect is a very nice upgrade, though.

Sightglass Bingo iPhone app screen

Play bingo by spotting items at Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco.Development by David Kasper. Design by Caleb Elston.Built using parse. (via Sightglass Bingo.)

Some of the bingo entries are going to be practically automatic, they occur so frequently – “Payment w/Square” – whereas some are going to be pretty tricky, like “TechCrunch Article” or “VC” (presumably Venture Capitalist, given the context, and not Vice Chancellor, which was my first, inappropriate context reading).

I’m not sure if this is still active – the app hasn’t be updated since 2011 and there’s been almost no activity on the associated Twitter account (@SightglassBingo) – but I think it’s a great idea. And if it’s not active, let’s get it going again.

Well, actually, you’ll have to do that without me. I never go to Sightglass. (Long story. Short version: I’ve had to divide up the city with an asshole who can’t stand to be in the same place as me – no, not an ex – and he insisted on Sightglass as part of his domain.)  So I won’t be playing this, but it’s easy to see how this could be extended to pretty much any of the other hip, popular coffee spots without much if any modification.

In fact, it would probably work even better at Four Barrel or Ritual, both on Valencia St. in the Mission (and coffee spots that are in my domain).  A few modifications might be in order, though, to improve game play.  You never see them bagging beans at Ritual, for instance, and the roasters are gone. And obviously, you want to make sure that the “cards” are kept fresh – over time, the selection of what’s hip in clothing could change, you can add in the website of the moment, or the newest smartphone or facial hair style.  But the concept is sound, and a hoot.

Sightglass Bingo for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store.

Sightglass Bingo (SightglassBingo) on Twitter.

Filed under: Coffee, Tech, , , ,

San Francisco Area Classic Films and World Cinema

Quick Note: I have a public Google Calendar that lists upcoming classics of Hollywood and world cinema and events of interest to cinephiles in the San Francisco Bay Area available here: San Francisco Area Classic Films and World Cinema.

A link to this calendar is available in the far right column as well.

Filed under: Movies, ,

The Red Vic Movie House is Closing

Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco to close.
The already endangered repertory movie scene in San Francisco is taking yet another hit.

Later this month, 31 years to the day after it became an instant landmark in the Haight-Ashbury, the Red Vic Movie House will close. (via

On July 25, the Red Vic will show its last movie, bringing to an end a wonderful 30 year run as one of the funnest and funkiest rep movie houses in the land.

All of our friends love to watch movies. So in 1980, a group of us decided to collectively run our own cinema. Hence, the Red Vic Movie House. For almost 10 years, Red Vic’s first home was at the corner of Haight and Belvedere Streets. Here, we introduced our now legendary couches to offer our patrons a funky, yet comfy, place to watch their favorite films.

It’s the end of an era in more ways than one. The Red Vic is one of the last independent neighborhood cinemas in San Francisco. And it is one of the last rep cinemas in the Bay Area – one of the last real movie theaters showing old movies. When it closes, in less than two weeks, there will only be a couple of places left to see classic films as they were meant to be seen – on the big(ish) screen, rather than on DVD and flat screen. And there will be one less place to see films other than big chain multiplexes in malls.

Among its many contributions to film culture in the Bay Area, the Red Vic gave us couches instead of individual seats, long before the lounge-style seating in deluxe theaters. In the original Red Vic, these were literally couches – mostly cast-offs and second hand items scrounged as cheap seating. And there was the popcorn – with real butter, of course, and nutritional yeast as an added topping. If you’ve never tried nutritional yeast on your popcorn, do it now – it’s brilliant.  With a glass of unfiltered apple cider, it made a really tasty and healthy movie treat.  They also had great coffee and brownies. All in all, the best snack food I’ve had at a movie theater.

And to remind you to bus your own damn dishes, they had one of the funniest cinema shorts since the UC’s “no smoking” message with John Waters, featuring one of the Red Vic staffers getting dragged under one of those couches by the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The last three movies showing at the Red Vic are Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, showing Sunday and Monday; one of the greatest rock concert films ever, The Last Waltz, on Tuesday and Wednesday; and lastly Harold and Maude, playing Friday through Monday.

Harold and Maude is an interesting choice for final film. It’s been a cult favorite at rep cinemas in the Bay Area for pretty much as long as I’ve been going to movies. I remember seeing it for the first time at Berkeley’s UC Theater in the late 70s and it was already a cult thing then, only a few year after its release. But I guess if I’d been scheduling things, I’d have been to tempted to go with another cult film, Marat/Sade. This used to sell out pretty regularly at Red Vic, and people would even come in costume – it was one of those “only in San Francisco” experiences. Well, actually everything about the Red Vic was a bit that way.

I’ll see you there tomorrow, and Tuesday and again for Harold and Maude. I’ll be the sad one with the big, big bowl of popcorn with nutritional yeast.

Filed under: Movies, San Francisco, , , , ,

Modern Faerie Fashion outside the Exploratorium

Bordertown is a neighborhood on the edge, in the interstices between our world and the realm of magic, the Elflands – home to the lost, the artists and runaways, queers, rebels and dreamers of two worlds. A mixture of technology and magic, of monsters both human and not, of dreams that become real and reality relaxing its hold. Of elves, home brewers, poets and nightclub owners. Sometimes you can get in and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it is just around the corner. Sometimes you can’t get out. A bohemian enclave for the human and non-human.

San Francisco has always been a bit Bordertown, and this figure sitting on the steps in the Palace of Fine Arts and muttering to himself seemed to have drifted in from one of the stranger areas – where they have kickass hooded leather coats.



The Essential Bordertown by Terri Windling

Bordertown. Once a normal American city, now a perilous nexus between the World and returned Elfland. From the banks of the addictive Mad River to the all-night clublands where young elves and humans fight and play, all the way up to glittering dragon’s Tooth Hill, where high society seals itself away from the street–this is no city to trifle with.

Bordertown. A place of hidden magic, flamboyant artists, runaway teenagers, and pagan motorcycle gangs. The city you always knew was there.

(via Powell’s Books)

Filed under: Fashion, , ,

Computers and Cafes

What do you do at a coffee shop?: So have laptops killed the coffee shop? I can’t go that far. What I will say that it does alter the physical landscape of what a coffee shop looks like, which is that it looks like people are working, which interferes with the idea of the kind of coffee shop people like me see – a place with great mugs, great coffee, friends, or a journal to empty your thoughts… (via Fighting Reality.)

Fighting Reality goes to cafés to read and relax and feels like the preponderance of laptops is a somewhat unwelcome intrusion of the world of work into this space of sociability, pleasure and relaxation. And I sympathize with his/her perspective—it’s certainly not an isolated one.

When the people behind Borderlands Books were opening a café next door, they asked for input from their community of friends and customers on what that café should be like. One of the issues was WiFi (wireless internet access), and the decision was made that WiFi would affect the character of the café in precisely the ways that Fighting Reality raises. They didn’t put in WiFi, so their café would not turn too much into a work space, with a bunch of individuals hunched behind their laptops, beavering away in the digital salt mines of our Web2.0 world. Instead, what they hoped for and largely achieved was a space where people read books (often purchased next door) on the comfy couches or chat with friends at the nice wooden tables.

Just down Valencia Street, the very popular coffee shop Ritual Roasters took a somewhat different approach. They left in their WiFi, but took out almost all of the power outlets. Customers can still surf, tweet, Facebook, but only as long as their batteries last. This approach may perhaps have been motivated more by commercial considerations, pushing for a faster turnover, than at creating a particular ambiance, but in fact it has changed the feel of their space. Before, coming into the café one would be faced by ranked masses of laptops (mostly MacBooks), making the place resemble an open-plan office. Now, there’s less of that, with laptop users mostly clustered around the large communal table in the back, where the few remaining power outlets are. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Coffee, , , ,

Halloween Critical Mass ride in SF (updated)

“Tonight is the night of the annual Halloween Critical Mass in San Francisco…” (via Cycle Chic™ – The Original from Copenhagen.)

Update: Now over, obviously, since San Francisco’s “Critical Mass” bike ride is always held on Friday evening.

Demotix – the website that distributes photo journalism by amateur photographers from all over the world – has a wonderful collection of images from last night’s ride by Steve Rhodes:

Halloween Critical Mass in San Francisco |

More photos, and some video, are available from Indybay a “non-commercial, democratic collective of bay area independent media makers and media outlets,” part of the IndyMedia network:

Thousands Ride in Halloween Critical Mass in San Francisco, 10/30/09 : Indybay

For more…

Filed under: Events, , ,

Song of the Day: Leopold and His Fiction, “Ain’t No Surprise”

At my cafe in the Haight-Ashbury this morning, this was playing:

Leopold and His Fiction, “Ain’t No Surprise” – from the album of the same name (2009)

When this song first started penetrating my as yet uncaffeinated consciousness, I thought it was Bob Dylan – the verse sections with tambourine in particular reminded me of “Tombstone Blues” – but it turns out it’s a local band, which is always nice, and one I’d never heard of before, which is also nice, but usually just underlines how hopelessly unhip and out of touch I am.

Here’s some more: Leopold and His Fiction – “Golden Friends”

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Waking from a Magic Sleep, in a Golden Land now Ruled by Fear

For the last 30 years, I have travelled away from and returned to San Francisco more times that I care to contemplate—to Australia, to Europe, to Michigan, and back, returning at least once a year (a necessity for maintaining my immigrant status).

Each time, it is like waking from a heavy, dream-ridden sleep. At first, you’re groggy, moving slowly and blinking around uncertainly, trying to figure out, to remember where you are. But very quickly, your consciousness shifts back into the realm of the waking, and the dream fades, disappears.

That’s what it’s like for me coming back to San Francisco. At first I’m a bit shell-shocked, hesitant, trying to get my balance, but soon it’s almost as if I never left, and the previous six months or a year is just a fading dream, unreal, a wisp blowing away in the breeze off the Bay.

This time, I feel a bit like Sleeping Beauty or Rip Van Winkle, slumbering for years, enchanted, under the spell of a evil sorceress (hi, sweetie). And now that her spell has melted and I have awoken, I find that I am older than I was and life has gone on around me, without me. My world, my home is still recognizable, still itself, but some things have changed or are gone—some people are gone, too, and I missed these passings, the chance to say goodbye, to mourn with the rest. A lot of life passed me by, my family is gone, my job is gone, my home is gone (you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?) and I have to start over, from well behind the pack.

And the kingdom in which I have awoken is suffering under a great evil. But I’m no fairy tale hero, and the evil that is crushing the kingdom isn’t some dragon or cruel tyrant—globalization and neoliberalism, and the terrible plague of the global financial crisis that they helped spawn, are not going to succumb to a well-placed thrust of a shining sword or a spell of vanquishing. I wish.

And anyway, even if it were as easy as that, as finding the one vulnerable spot in the dragon’s armored hide, I’m not that guy, not the hero. I’ll always be the hobbit, and even then more Merry or Pippin than Frodo or Sam. Steadfast in friendship, willing to love and follow, and to respond to the demands of the moment, to rise to the challenge of an heroic act if it is thrust on me, but I won’t be the one looking for battle, and choosing to walk alone and unaided into the darkness to vanquish evil. I’ll be the one looking for the comfy chair by the fire and a pint of ale…

We are all still waiting for the hero, the knight in shining armor who will slay the dragon, and rescue our jobs and bring back our savings and pension plans and underwater mortgages from whatever stolen horde of loot they have ended up in…

Meanwhile, I’m staying in my mom’s guest bedroom and lamenting the fact that my useless family lost the cool bike I left with them (a Surly Long Haul Trucker) , and I can’t even afford a fucking bus pass—I need to save my small stash of cash to “rent” a table and internet time in a cafe for my job hunting… Where is the hero we need? Where’s my ale and mushroom pie?

Filed under: Autobiography, ,

Song of the Day: Ray Scott, The Prayer

Ray Scott, “The Prayer” – from Change Is Gonna Come: The Voice Of Black America 1963-1973

I first heard this track at a now-defunct record store in the Berkeley mudflats. It was one of those places with “listening stations” where one could hear the albums that were “on display”—and any album not featured on one of their listening stations could be taken to the front counter and listened to on headphones there.

These listening stations, which were big for a while here in the States but now seem to be disappearing, were a throwback to the record store experiences of my youth. When I was a kid, living on Potrero Hill, there was a great record store a few blocks from my house, on Connecticut Street. We’d go over there after school pretty regularly and sort through the hits and hot new singles—45rpms in those days. And we’d take a single up to the counter, The Jackson 5’s latest or something from The O’Jays, and the owner would play it for us. And we’d shake our groove things, a little group of black and white kids, friends, dancing in the dusty aisles of a neighborhood record store.

Those days and that record store have other powerful connections to this strange, terrific track. The neighborhood I lived in back then was predominantly African American, poor and working class, a mixture of small, older homes and housing projects, and the church was a powerful center and focus of the African American community in the area. Walking though my neighborhood on a Sunday morning, I would pass families going to church in their Sunday finery, the women in impressive hats, and from the churches would emanate the voice of preachers, call and response, the rhythms and cadence and force that is recreated in “The Prayer.”

Some background

Redd, Ray and Andre’s Prayer: Redd Foxx had a comedy routine called “The Prayer” which found Foxx taking on the tones of a black preacher to wish a litany of disasters upon Alabama governor George Wallace, then one of most prominent faces of segregationism (he of “segregation now, segregation forever” infamy). Legendary singer/songwriter/producer/”Black Godfather” Andre Williams hooked up with comedian/singer Ray Scott to record a version of the routine, in which Scott put all of his fervor into the presentation with appropriate church organ accompaniment and background vocalists adding a “church” feel. The result had a 1970 release as a Checker 45 (backed with the countrified novelty “Lily White Mama, Jet Black Dad”), which led to an LP the following year. (via Get On Down With The Stepfather Of Soul!.)

What is there to say about the song? It’s a superb evocation of the style of preaching in black churches, wildly inventive in the disasters it prays to the Lord to inflict on Wallace. It goes on and on, piling one thing onto the other in an increasingly giddy fashion. The specific details—14 possums, 22 freight trains—are particularly effective and appealing. But while it may raise a smile, it never exactly becomes funny. The anger is always right there on the surface.

The greatest moment in the song is the final line: Let him have nappy hair and be black like me. After the stupefying chain of disaster, pain and violence depicted in the song, it ends by saying, if that’s not enough, then make him black. It’s a shock. The song has been so powerful and in its way celebratory up till then—celebrating the anger and sense of purpose and solidarity in the black community. But what that final line says, in a suddenly quieter, no longer preaching voice, is that it is still a matter of violence and suffering to be black in the United States of America. Combined with the immensity of George Wallace’s fear and hated of African Americans, that makes being black the worst fate we could wish for him. It’s bracing.

A number of the cultural texts I’ve looked at recently have a twist at the end, that propels them in a new direction, or changes the way you see everything that has gone before, or introduces some powerful nuance to the discussion: the “long swim” at the end of Dobyn’s “Rain Song” (here) that brings in the seriousness of love at then end of what otherwise seems a lighthearted poem, or the final line of Dar William’s “It Happens Every Day” (here) that finally acknowledges the lost love that has haunted the song all along. It can be very effective, that twist at the end, but I think it can also be an easy way out, a shortcut to producing (a semblance of) profundity, particularly in poems.  But it’s not always the easy way, and sometimes it is completely earned—and it is seldom more powerful than here, where it is like the floor dropping out from underneath you.

For more info…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , ,



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is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.



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