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Drugs In the Tenderloin Screening ft. Director Robert Zagone

Join us for a rare opportunity to see Robert Zagone's guerilla-style documentary that captures the Tenderloin transforming into a center for young queers and drug users. Premiered on KQED in 1966, this visceral flick wasn't shown again in public until 2015 when it was rediscovered by the Tenderloin Museum. Zagone's footage is a revealing time-capsule of '60s SF, and his camerawork gives a whole new meaning to "eyes on the street." The intimacy and intensity with which Drugs in the Tenderloin paints its subjects transports viewers to a time and place on the edge. The film is one of the few records of the TL’s marginalized communities during one of the pivotal moments in the neighborhood’s history. One description of the film reads:

"a stark and often harrowing look into the life of the street denizens of the notorious San Francisco district which was a haven for junkies, prostitutes, and pushers during the Sixties... it takes a real gutter-level look at its subject, the grainy night photography capturing beehive-haired hookers and turtle-necked dope dealers plying their trade against a smoky backdrop of seedy neon, while meth users pontificate about their high, and a youth worker takes a couple of shocked city officials on a walking tour of the area, pointing out such lurid landmarks as Market Street, known in the area as the 'Meat Rack' thanks to the male hustlers who ply their trade there."

One of Drugs in the Tenderloin most characteristic features is its evocative lighting, that “grainy night photography” lit by the “smoky backdrop of seedy neon.” Over the Tenderloin Museum’s summer full of neon-related programing, Drugs in the Tenderloin emerged as a crucial document for preservationists, searching for evidence of original business signs and architectural details. In addition to its transfixing human portrayals, the film depicts a zone of the built environment that, in spite of its dark and underground reputation, is illuminated by warm, colorful neon. What’s more, the film provides an important record: the only known glimpses of several historic signs in color!

On Thursday, August 30th, we’ll revisit this essential piece of Tenderloin cinema and are incredibly fortunate to have the director, Robert Zagone, introduce the film and answer questions following the screening. Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna of SF Neon will provide historical context for the film’s bygone neon landscapes and discuss the Tenderloin’s rich collection of surviving neon signs with an eye to restoration. Drugs In the Tenderloin is not streaming or available commercially--your chance to peek into SF’s underground of yore is at the Tenderloin Museum!

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