Page Two

Page Two
The thick heat of an early summer highlighted by the surrealistic haze has made May the strangest month. Literally, this is no poetic metaphor being spun. As someone just back from Los Angeles commented to me, they had gone there for the fresh air. Last night, there must have been a stunning rain; even inside its plastic sleeve the morning newspaper was drenched. I rarely sleep through a rain, especially an intense one, but I must have been really out of it. That evening, my wife had gone to the movies and my son and I ate dinner, watched TV, and read. Later, after everyone was asleep, I had stayed up far too late finishing John Irving's new novel A Widow for One Year, reading the last 200 pages or so into Wednesday morning. Once, what now passed for "late" would have been early. But the days of staying up all night until it became the next morning, then going to work and partying afterwards, are long gone. Staying up reading in the sleeping house was especially sweet because we're producing this issue in two days instead of the usual three (we were closed Memorial Day). It had taken most of Tuesday for everybody at the paper to stop feeling like it was Monday and Wednesday was going to be tough. Thus, it was somewhat lunatic to be going to bed that late so early in the morning, which made it even more private.

No review of the Irving book here - he was a college creative writing professor of mine so I'm biased - but there's nothing like being in the grip and sway of a great story while the house is asleep. The many threads of the plot, the diversity and depth of characters race you along, pushing you forward into the story. There is a sense of hope and an air of possibility in reading a great novel. Regardless of the turns the plot takes, you, the reader, are alive, deep in the author's imagination and the book's world. This grips one's own imagination, expands it and sends it spinning. Reading time is your own time, not the family's time, not work time, not some machine's (car or computer) time. Reading can be pure swinging into the dense space of your own self. Late Tuesday night, a few hours before the rain, I was there.

Fifteen years ago, if you talked about a film community in Austin, you were probably daydreaming. There was a community of brilliant independent writers - William Wittliff, Bud Shrake, Warren Skaaren, with Bill Broyles sometimes passing through. Defined by a strong sense of regional identity, these writers did great work but they still had to look to Hollywood for work. Looking to Hollywood for work is a direction that hasn't changed much, but, inspired by the creative standards of that older generation, Austin has birthed its own film community. The nationally recognized directors who live in town, the documentary film community centered around UT's RTF department, the growing number of independent filmmakers, and the remarkably deep community of screenwriters all interact here in the best tradition of Austin creative communities. (I'm not even going to get into festivals, the Austin Film Society, other organizations, and Harry Knowles. Our cup runneth over.)

This bounty was brought home over the last couple of weeks with visits to the set of both Mike Judge's and Robert Rodriguez's (produced by the truly extraordinary Elizabeth Avellán) new movies. The most impressive aspect was the amount of Austin and Texas talent working on each shoot. The visits were made with Richard Linklater - on both sets different members of the crew kept coming up and saying hello to Rick, one after another, many having worked on The Newton Boys.

UT's College of Communications and the Austin Chamber of Commerce sponsored a meeting recently to talk about how this community could better support filmmaking. Judge and Rodriguez were working and Linklater thought it would be ludicrous to attend such a discussion at the university, which had closed the Texas Union Theater. Still, a cross-section of the local film community turned out to talk. During the discussion it was pointed out how crucial the incredible crew talent in this area was.

Linklater and company get press all the time, but one of the things that makes this area unique is as a great resource for film crews. Currently, there are three films shooting, all with significant Austin and Texas crews. Considering we are not on the coast but deep in the heart of Texas, this is outstanding. One of the reasons talents like Linklater, Judge, and Rodriguez can live and shoot here is because of the quality of filmmaking crews they can put together. Visiting those sets, watching Linklater greet all those familiar faces, all busy working away on one film or the other, really brought this home. They may be behind the scenes, but they're the ones who make the films.

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