PITCHFORK: Sticks & Stones: Bambi Lake

There’s this song. It’s a piano ballad, one written for the pre-HIV/AIDS era of San Francisco where poverty-stricken street hustlers wandered Polk Street, turning tricks and sharing burgers at the famed Grubstake diner. "I saw the best bodies of my generation sold, bartered, and destroyed by drugs and prostitution," the lyrics go, describing the "dumb men" who paid the rent and the "young men" who loved them. But "The Golden Age of Hustlers" is beautiful, too, a poetic, vivid song for gloomy cabarets and lonely spotlights, an artifact of a not-so-distant era of queer existence on the brink of vanishing entirely. And its author, "the unsinkable" Bambi Lake, lived it all.

A fixture in alt theater and cabaret troupes in 1970s and '80s San Francisco, Bambi enchanted everyone she met. With her wild beauty and pre-punk, theatrical antics, she was a source of both bedlam and irresistible energy, an early member of the Cockettes who was frequently kicked out of venues and arrested by the police. But Bambi endured, putting out a record of cabaret songs laced with glam and punk DNA in 2005, Broadway Hostess. She also never stopped performing those songs, even to this day: Bambi appears now at cabaret nights here and there across San Francisco, an unstoppable artistic force who found solace from the hardships of being a trans woman in America through song, and whose voice and music shaped countless artists coming of age in the embryonic punk and spoken word scenes of the time.

Silas Howard, the former Tribe 8 guitarist turned documentarian and director, was one of those artists. The first time he saw Bambi, she was crashing a Pride parade. "There was this tow truck pulling a fake cop car, and it was surrounded by all these punks and drag queens with baseball bats and high heel shoes smashing the cop car," Howard recalls. "And then in front of it it said ‘NO APOLOGIES, NO REGRETS.’ That was the sort of crew that Bambi was performing with." Through Howard’s time with the groundbreaking, incisive Tribe 8, he ran in the same circles as Bambi, and became enamored with her as a larger-than-life character, a rare older member of the queer artistic circle in a time when tradition and histories were being erased by the generations lost to the AIDS epidemic.

Last year, Howard returned to Polk Street with camera in tow to put Bambi on film. The resulting short documentary, Sticks & Stones: Bambi Lake, takes a stroll with Bambi as she points out old haunts and dishes on her past, intercut with interviews with longtime creative partner Birdie Bob and archival footage of Bambi performing at San Francisco clubs. The doc is a glimpse into Bambi’s art and life, while also serving as a time capsule of a fringe artist pushed to the margins of history and a San Francisco in the thick of gentrification.

Without question, Bambi’s influence has persisted. Justin Vivian Bond, the NYC-based cabaret legend and trans activist, still performs "The Golden Age of Hustlers" in their live shows, and even sang it in a tender music video that Howard and Erin Ereenwell directed last spring. Filled with a crop of current drag queens and performance artists, the video captured the impact that fringe artists like Bambi have had on current generations of outré artists. But her impact extends even further: just last month, teen fanzine Teenage News tracked her down and interviewed her.

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HAMMER MUSEUM: Sticks & Stones Bambi Lake

Untitled, Expanded continues the discourse about power, gender, desire, repression, diversity, art, society, culture, and identity begun four years ago with Jim Hodges’ collaborative film project, Untitled. While Untitled juxtaposed archival footage, mainstream network news broadcasts, artists’ documentation, and popular TV, film, and music for a reflection on the personal and the political, Untitled, Expanded presents features, documentaries, and short films that explore related themes by filmmakers past and present from all over the world.

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OUTFEST: Sticks & Stones Bambi Lake

Shorts Programs
(USA, 2013, 9min)
Directed By: Silas Howard

A portrait of Bambi Lake, a legendary and notorious San Francisco transgender performer who takes us on a stroll down Polk Street, sharing anecdotes behind her song "Golden Age of Hustlers," written about her time as a street hustler in the mid-70s.

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OUT MAGAZINE: Golden Age of Hustlers

The video for "Golden Age of Hustlers" is a 21st-century queer masterpiece and, according to Silas Howard, "an archival, inter-generational, collaborative labor of love." He should know, he co-directed the video with director Erin Greenwell (My Best Day, Sundance 2012) and, not only does the heartfelt video include many Downtown darlings and icons—such as Kate Bornstein, Merrie Cherry, Untitled Queen—it features singer Justin Vivian Bond front and center.

Howard explains that the the song and video is meant as a "queer time capsule set in the 1970s gay hustler scene on Polk Street in San Francisco."

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HUFFINGTON POST: 'Golden Age Of Hustlers' Premieres

From co-directors Silas Howard and Erin Greenwell comes "Golden Age Of Hustlers," a remake of an iconic song written by legendary punk transsexual chanteuse Bambi Lake, about the 1970's gay hustler scene on Polk Street in San Francisco during the pre-HIV/AIDS era.

Featuring Tony award-winning artist and performer Justin Vivian Bond, the song and video aim to give the viewer an insider's perspective of this important moment within the timeline of queer history.

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Frameline Announces Grants for Seven LGBTQ Film Projects - Sticks & Stones: Bambi Lake

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Frameline, the nation's only non-profit organization solely dedicated to the funding, exhibition, distribution and promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) media arts, announced on January 30, 2014 the recipients of its annual Frameline Completion Fund.

STICKS AND STONES

Director Silas Howard / (Documentary Short)

“Every street has a story.” STICKS AND STONES is an intimate, short documentary about a song, a street, and a diva. Bambi Lake, a notorious San Francisco transgender performer and entertainer, takes us on a stroll down Polk Street, sharing anecdotes and the history behind her song “Golden Age of Hustlers,” which was written about her time as a street hustler in the mid-70’s.

Now 62, still living near Polk street and performing in small bars, she remains larger than life. Her status as an outsider with a legacy is evidenced by her music, stories and unique perspectives spanning histories of queer/trans people, sex work, rock 'n' roll, and over four decades of underground art/music scenes in San Francisco.

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Beyond Transition: Documentaries Capture Rich, Complex Transgender Lives

Mass media have a history of erasing transgender people's complexities and lived experiences. It happens whenever there's an act of misgendering or misnaming or a reliance on social assumptions that trans existence is essentially tragic or reducible to medical procedures. Thankfully, this year has seen a steady stream of trans-focused independent documentaries to offer a counterpoint, illuminating how nuanced, flawed, individualistic, and human trans lives are.

Silas Howard's inspiration for Sticks and Stones, his new short documentary on transgender performer Bambi Lake, echoes Feder's: "Bambi's story isn't one I've heard yet in film, and [I] feel attached to it personally as a trans person and musician." Howard -- who, as a member of pioneering '90s queercore band Tribe 8, holds a place in queer history in his own right -- feels compelled to preserve Lake's narrative for future generations. "Her story is such a part of my story, one I fear is left out of history far too often," he explains.

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Wellesley College: Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing

My alma mater published a study about the television shows I worke on!

This paper explores how specific media images affect adolescent attitudes and
outcomes. The specific context examined is the widely viewed MTV franchise, 16 and Pregnant,
a series of reality TV shows including the Teen Mom sequels, which follow the lives of pregnant
teenagers during the end of their pregnancy and early days of motherhood. We investigate
whether the show influenced teens’ interest in contraceptive use or abortion, and whether it
ultimately altered teen childbearing outcomes. We use data from Google Trends and Twitter to
document changes in searches and tweets resulting from the show, Nielsen ratings data to
capture geographic variation in viewership, and Vital Statistics birth data to measure changes in
teen birth rates. We find that 16 and Pregnant led to more searches and tweets regarding birth
control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months
following its introduction. This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births
in the United States during that period.

 

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New York Times: MTV’s ‘16 and Pregnant,’ Derided by Some, May Resonate as a Cautionary Tale

Each episode of “16 and Pregnant” follows a different teenager through her pregnancy, delivery and the first weeks of parenthood. Its “Teen Mom” spinoff series, the latest season of which debuts on Jan. 21, follows up with the mothers and their children. The depiction of both joy and hardship is unflinching, with angry parents, medical complications, lost sleep, financial difficulties and fights with absentee boyfriends.

The two shows are both among MTV’s most watched, with some episodes drawing more than three million viewers, many of them young women. But the shows also have critics who say they glamorize teenage parenthood — especially since many of the mothers have become celebrities as a result of the show.

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NEWFEST LINE-UP: Sticks & Stones Bambi Lake

NewFest, New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Film Festival, unveiled details for its 26th edition in July. This year, 16 narrative and five documentaries will screen at the festival, which is a partnership between L.A.'s Outfest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. NewFest showcases work from veteran filmmakers as well as newcomers and supports the mission to celebrate "diverse film communities and voices from around the world."

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Young Filmmaker Discovers Generosity with 'Drop'

Janis Vogel understands how collaborative the process of filmmaking can be. Her short film, Drop, was honored by NextGenNYC, an initiative created by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and IFP to promote emerging filmmakers graduating from CUNY, countless individuals helped her along the way.

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