Few recent mayors have so galvanized the city as Kirk Watson. Our mayor and his fellow councilmembers not only offer a coherent vision for the city of Austin and its future, but damn if they aren't going after it, full speed ahead. This week, Kayte VanScoy takes the mayor on a walking tour of downtown Austin and asks him exactly what his vision is in the most concrete terms. Compact city or no compact city, downtown is going to grow and how it goes, goes the soul of this city. (Coincidence? Watson was on the cover of issue #5 in 1997. Wagering begins now for who will be on the cover of #5 next year.)
The "Best of Austin" fallout seemed surprisingly light this year, only a few corrections and hardly any angry phone calls. Next week we'll print all of our collected corrections.
It is surprising how much is going on in the Austin film community right now, the highlight this week being the Austin Heart of Film Conference and Festival. One of the film events of this year will be the screening of a new cut of Joel and Ethan Coen's delightfully twisted black comedy/neo-Hitchcock Blood Simple. Shot in Austin, the film is a classic of the new American independent cinema and it is terrific that the new version is having its world premiere here in Austin. The Coens are extraordinary American filmmakers (I'll even happily defend The Hudsucker Proxy alongside such less controversial Coen greats as Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski). The film is showing this Saturday night at the Paramount as part of the Festival, which kicks off tonight (Thursday) and runs through next Thursday. Other highlights include Debra Hill presenting Halloween, the extraordinary Penelope Spheeris presenting TheDecline of Western Civilization III, John Landis presenting Animal House, Paul Schrader presenting his new film Affliction as well as Light Sleeper, and Apt Pupil presented by Bryan Singer. Of special interest is the James Whale (director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, among others) biopic Gods & Monsters, presented by local hero Harry Knowles. A complete schedule of films and times is in this week's "Screens" section. And that's just the film festival. The conference portion -- the first screenwriters' conference and still one of the most important -- begins Thursday. The amazing lineup of guests includes directors Paul Schrader, Whit Stillman, and John Landis, plus screenwriters Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), and Randall Wallace (Braveheart).
Other exciting film events pile up, including the Ida Lupino series at the Dobie (Oct. 8-Nov. 12, Thursdays at 7pm). The great actress (They Drive by Night, On Dangerous Ground, Road House, High Sierra, and The Hard Way) was also the only major woman director working in Hollywood in the Fifties. The series includes four films she starred in plus three she directed, Outrage, Not Wanted, and Hard, Fast and Beautiful. (See "Screens" for more on Lupino).
Next week we'll talk about the East Meets West show hosted by Robert Rodriguez at the Alamo Drafthouse on October 10, the KLRU show celebrating Austin Filmmakers on October 11, and the next Texas Documentary Tour featuring Allie Light and Irving Saraf, who will introduce their new film Rachel's Daughters.
This week we lose a friend. Two weeks ago, Michael Ventura harshly criticized Jack Jackson's new graphic novel Lost Cause. Jackson, who has been a friend of this paper since its inception, strongly objected to the review and sent us a 13-page, handwritten, point-by-point rebuttal, asking us to publish it. Before he sent it, we told him we wouldn't publish it, that we would let him go long if he wanted to write a letter, but no rebuttal.
Every week we publish reviews of books, films, music, restaurants, art, theatre, and more. If we allowed everyone who disagreed with a review of their art to rebut it, we would have room for little else. In his letter asking us to consider publishing his response he wrote:
"I certainly didn't expect to be blindsided like this by the Chronicle. We all go back together a long time on the Austin scene. I don't know why you want to hold me up to public ridicule and try to damage my reputation, both personally and professionally. It boggles my mind that you would allow Ventura to piss on me in this fashion, even if you didn't like the book yourself."
When I received Jack Jackson's Lost Cause, I found it troubling. Jack Jackson is an artist and historian I tremendously admire, and I look forward eagerly to any new work of his. I was troubled by this one and thus drafted the two most obvious reviewers -- Michael Ventura, who had co-written a never-produced screenplay on John Wesley Hardin, and Jesse Sublett, who knows as much about Western and Texas history as anyone I know and more than anyone I can think of. Sublett offered that he didn't want to review it but provide an historical and bibliographic context; Ventura reviewed it. He found the book wanting in several ways. The most significant to Jackson were that he questioned Jackson's historical accuracy (Jackson is an award-winning historian) and that he labeled the work racist. This is the label Jack Jackson objects to most strongly.
The historical dispute revolves around a rifle shown in one scene. Jackson defends the rifle he depicts, and Ventura maintains it wasn't historically accurate. This is the kind of detail that a letter can address. But there is also the bigger issue of racism. We treated this book with the utmost respect, but Ventura disliked it intensely. He thought it was racist. Jackson disagrees. Unfortunately, Ventura wasn't reviewing Jackson or his stellar artistic history (groundbreaking underground comix, excellent graphic novels on Quanah Parker and Juan Seguin), he was reviewing Lost Cause. In printing this review, our relationship with Jackson was irrelevant.
At some point, you put your work of art out there and it must speak for itself. Ventura didn't like the book and felt Jackson was racist. He made his points clearly and well. We couldn't and wouldn't suppress this review because we respect Jackson. We do respect Jackson and his unhappy reaction breaks our heart. But we also respect Michael Ventura and stand by his review.
The Austin Chronicle office will close at 3pm on Friday, October 16. We will reopen for business at 9am Monday, October 19.