Page Two: Scratching the Surface

Festival films, the Austin Music Awards, and the truth about South by Southwest

Page Two


To post and to blog is to be. The cacophony of voices available online is informative and refreshing, though, depressingly, two of the main (and by no means mutually exclusive or standardized) tones used – unimaginative shrillness and the lame, condescending dismissal of just about everything – simply reinforce the worst stereotypes of bloggers and posters. I'll address this at length in just a bit, but first some advertisements.


South by Southwest is about one week away, and this year should be great. Matt Dentler and the whole SXSW Film crew have again done an outstanding job with the Film Conference and Festival. Film passes are currently for sale exclusively at Waterloo Video.

The South by Southwest Film Festival runs nine nights: Friday, March 9-Saturday, March 17. There will be around 200 films shown. A SXSW Film pass – for Film only – is $65.

As usual, noting even some of the films is to do an injustice to all the others, because there are so many wonderful films.

Some of note are Bob Ray's Hell on Wheels, produced by Werner Campbell, about the recent history of women's Roller Derby in Austin. It is one of those films in which the real story is more dramatic than many fictional narratives. Manufacturing Dissent turns into a very critical look at Michael Moore, from Canadian documentary filmmakers who started out intending to celebrate him. Crazy Sexy Cancer is a funny, personal look at the filmmaker's struggle with cancer. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but many love it (see Dave Marsh's piece next issue). The 40 Year-Old Virgin – and, more importantly Freaks and Geeks – creator Judd Apatow's Knocked Up is about the consequences of a one-night stand.

There are many new works from any number of interesting filmmakers, including Gregg Araki's Smiley Face, Judith Helfand's Everything's Cool, Hal Hartley's Fay Grim, and Sarah Kelly's The Lather Effect. Oldboy director Chan-wook Park's new film, I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK, is also scheduled, as is Johnnie To's Exiled. What Would Jesus Buy? is produced by Morgan Spurlock, the Super Size Me filmmaker. The newest effort from Austin's Burnt Orange Productions, Elvis & Annabelle, will premiere. Truth in Terms of Beauty is a documentary on the brilliant photographer Herman Leonard, whose photos are jazz iconography.

Texas films include Laura Dunn's Barton Springs documentary, The Unforeseen, which got raves at Sundance; Marcy Garriott's Inside the Circle; and ¡Ya Basta!, Ricardo Ainslie's powerful record of kidnappings in Mexico City. Andrew Garrison's new film, Third Ward TX, will show at the Festival, while a selection from the East Austin Stories series will be screened at the Carver Center.

This list doesn't even scratch the surface. Other films include a remake of Sisters, American Zombie, Fish Kill Flea, James Blunt: Return to Kosovo, and The Last Days of Left Eye.

The retrospective this year celebrates music documentaries. Included are new prints of Bruce Weber's film on Chet Baker, Let's Get Lost, and D.A. Pennebaker's seminal music documentary, Monterey Pop. Especially worth noting is a fully restored print of a film by our beloved friend and an Austin favorite, Canadian documentary filmmaker Ron Mann's Imagine the Sound.

Another restored film featured is Eagle Pennell's legendary classic, The Whole Shootin' Match, a pioneering regional film that had a profound influence on the idea and geography of independent film – not the least of which was that it was directly responsible for Robert Redford creating the Sundance Film Festival. "I thought a real service to the [motion picture] industry would be to provide a guy like [Pennell] with a place to train, a place to go where he could develop his skills," is how Redford put it.

As a regional film, it was among the first to get national reviews. The Whole Shootin' Match had been a "lost" film for years, until producer Mark Rance tracked down a near-mint film print and digitally transferred it.

There will also be a special film, music, and performance piece at the Hideout: "Another Tack" (2007), a 20-minute series of songs and animated loops with words and art by Emily Hubley and music by Sue Garner. Emily's sister, Georgia, is in Yo La Tengo; her parents, the late John and Faith Hubley, are among the giants of American animated film (everything from Academy Award winners to creators of the Mapo commercials, as well as Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoingBoing). Ten animated loops by Emily Hubley are accompanied by original music by Sue Garner, performed by Garner with Meagan Reilly, Angel Dean, and Doug Wieselman.

A Film pass gets you all of this and so much more for just $65, exclusively at Waterloo Video.

Austin Music Awards

The music bill that Margaret Moser put together for this year's Austin Music Awards is amazing (but it plays to my taste). The awards will be on Wednesday, March 14, at the Austin Music Hall Ballroom in the Convention Center (Ballroom A). The reason for the venue change is that the Austin Music Hall is undergoing renovations. Andy Langer takes over from the almost saintly Paul Ray, who performed those duties for years – more than one would have reasonably expected. It's pretty much an all-star lineup: Bobby Whitlock, CoCo Carmel, and Stephen Bruton will play. Last issue's cover girl, Barbara Kooyman, heads up the Unstrung Heroes of Texamericana, which includes Carrie Rodriguez and Michelle Shocked. Paying tribute to the late, great Ronnie Lane will be Ian McLagan & the Bump Band. The Tex-Mex Experience will perform with the Texas Tornados and Sam the Sham ("Wooly Bully"). Finally, there will be a "Six Strings Down" Clifford Antone tribute, with Derek O'Brien, Gary Clark Jr., and more. Showtime is 7:55pm sharp, March 14. Tickets on sale Thursday at Waterloo Records, $15 each.

Playing the Villain

Back to the beginning. Writers, staff, and others frequently ask me about reader reaction to a certain article or whole issue. I always give an answer, although I honestly have no idea. The truth is that, in the course of most weeks, I socialize very little – and, even when I do, it's mostly with a handful of people – so I have no real idea as to what most people think. In the past, my name was almost never recognized, maybe once a year, so there really was no feedback that way. Now I get recognized a lot more – okay, actually responded to – whether in Austin or elsewhere. "Louis Black," folks say. "You know, there's a comedian with that name."

Readers' online comments on stories or in forums have changed that, adding a lot more voices to the mix. Blogs and posts also provide a revealing look at how people think about the Chronicle. Realizing that people are most likely to write after they are pissed off, I don't regard this as a representative sample of our readers, but it is still interesting.

One of the things I've affirmed, as I expected, is that I'm pretty much a villain – a role I was born to play. Now, I would point out that many of the things attributed to me are actually the creative contribution or under the control of others, but in this context it would just look like I was trying to shift the blame.

As interesting as it is to have the dialogue opened up, there are also serious drawbacks. Assumptions, unaccompanied by even the most rudimentary research, are as facts. Even when such statements are clearly put forth as merely conjecture, the writers frequently respect and accept their own authority – so, in the course of their post, any qualifications are removed.

I responded to one online thread in which there were a number of posts offering vile attacks on SXSW while decorating me with such accolades as "fat & happy," "smug, neurotic, and narcissistic," "juvenile smug jackass," and "egocentric asshole." This is not a wounded complaint; there were as many, if not more, posts defending SXSW or at least chiding the whiners. I admitted to every charge and suggested some of my hideous actions that they seemed to have missed. My post was followed by a discussion as to whether or not I had written it.

In the course of confessing my sins, I did point out that SXSW had many free shows and ones with cover charges that were only $5. One of the following posts disputed my assertion, insisting, "I believe Beerland is the ONLY place that has one or two of those cover charges." Notice the construction: an almost hesitant "I believe," followed by an authoritative, all-caps ONLY. I guess we are supposed to believe in his belief by guessing he went around to all 60-plus clubs every evening to check. As one who attends many long, long meetings in which matters such as this are discussed, I can safely say there were almost two dozen $5 covers, at eight to 10 different venues, during SXSW Music 06.

One of my favorite "insights" was offered in an entirely different post. The writer assured his readers that SXSW was publicly subsidized. He implied this money came from a number of places, including the city of Austin. This is one of the most ironic assertions, because until Toby Futrell became city manager, the city caused many of the most difficult situations and biggest problems SXSW faced each year. Whenever any of the SXSW staff traveled around the country, someone was sure to say, "The city must love South by Southwest." You would think so, but almost the opposite is true. Not only did the city not provide any kind of support or aid, but they aggressively created problems. SXSW is very much Austin, but it exists despite, not because of, the city government.

Toby Futrell changed the situation dramatically, improving things not only for SXSW, but for many local businesses as well. In meetings between city officials and SXSW staff, the goal was not only to make everything easier for both the city and SXSW, but also to address overall safety and traffic-flow concerns. We're not talking special treatment, backroom deals, or any kind of enormous cash subsidies. Instead, for the first time since the beginning, SXSW got the city's cooperation. Just talking among those involved on all sides made a world of difference.

More on blogs, City Manager Toby Futrell, city staff, Austin, SXSW, dancing cigs, and my balls next week. Especially my balls. end story

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