Page Two: Let's Get Lost
An invocation on the eve of South by Southwest
Everything I do now, everything I've done, every place I've passed through, and anything I've achieved started with film. Walking across my grandmother's bedroom to go out to the back porch of her home in Lakewood, N.J., I noticed this movie that was on TV. (Having no idea how old I was, I usually say I was 9 at the time, but accuracy on that one is lost to memory.) Crawling into her bed, I watched Frank Capra's Lost Horizon. I didn't know it then, but everything changed.
I remember thinking the film had already started when I came upon it, although the first scene I saw was the opening scene of the film. Later, when I learned that Capra had junked the original first two reels of the film because Lost Horizon wasn't working at press screenings, I wondered.
Since then, there has been much in my life: interests and obsessions, travels and adventures, music, comic books, politics and love, marriage and a child. Films have anchored me throughout. They are where I go when I need to go away. Hunters, campers, sport fanatics, hikers, mountain climbers, swimmers, cross country skiers, bicyclists, balloonists, sailors, and pilots might find it predictably dull that, when I most want to be alone and with myself yet also to confront life and think about it I don't venture forth. The outside and the active I find unbearably distracting. I rarely walk and think, especially with others who are addicted to pace.
Work is fun; there is almost nothing I do that isn't close to my heart and driven by my desire. Writing excites me as much as anything else I do. After only three or four decades, I finally feel as though I have some control in my writing. No longer do pressure and fear wrap around me, ever-tightening, until all is cut off. South by Southwest is my favorite time of the year. I am so proud of the paper, largely because of the extraordinary current staff, which is so passionately committed and does such an outstanding job. And it's free!
Still, sometimes I drift off course; it's like driving a car and forgetting where you are, only to wake up confused, unmoored, and lost at mundane times, my grip slips. There is none of the intensity and uncontrollable passion of the past; these moments are much more genteel. Still, when you leave the day-to-day for the sharp black or sharp white of wandering alive and awake without consciousness, you need some salve.
Often, the only course that works is watching movies. Sometimes I have to watch films I know, sometimes films I've never seen, and sometimes it just doesn't matter.
But, when all is said and done, films are at my core.
Susan Moffat has been my friend for more than 30 years and is Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro's wife. Her father was one of the great competitive glider pilots of his time, winning both international and national competitions. Sailing, he once told me, was his great passion. He had entered a sailing race once. As far as I know, he never entered one again. He told me he wanted something apart, something that was his: concentration, skill, and relaxation, independent of competition.
Film is that for me, though I've been so lucky that I've also managed to incorporate some of it into my professional life.
But this is why I get so excited when SXSW Film is close, and this is why I'm so grateful to and appreciative of Matt Dentler, who runs SXSW Film. I'm appreciative and grateful as well to the team he leads: Jarod Neece, Lya Guerra, Stephanie Noone, Wendy Cummings, Hiliary Kerby, and everyone else who helps put on SXSW Film and all of SXSW. There are too many SXSW staff members who contribute to the Film Festival, regardless of their positions, to name here.
It is also why I am grateful to and honored to have The Austin Chronicle Film staff working for us. While so much of media has resorted to punchy, short, meaningless reviews, this gang still goes out suited up to play across the entire field. And, of course, there are my deep feelings for the whole Chronicle staff and, always, for Barbaro and SXSW co-founder and managing director Roland Swenson. About Annie and Eli, my wife and son, I am beyond knowing the right words.
Think of this as my personal prayer before SXSW begins, though not one as sweaty and hysterical as they were in the early years.
Given that I was in a bit of an online hot spot last week, some might be wondering why I don't address those issues here. Trying to answer unarticulated complaints, accusations ungrounded by any reality, and statements dripping of sarcastic condescension from folks imitating others is stupid. Any explanation will be denounced, denied, disregarded, and mocked. Clearly, the operative desire is not for dialogue but for personal expression and self-celebration. I do have thin skin, because I am passionate about and believe in just about everything I do. This leaves one completely open and vulnerable if, naively, one tries to engage openly with those addicted to contempt, who cherish hostility and despise reason.
I love the Web because it is so democratic: It invites all voices, and it lets me encounter so many voices I would otherwise not encounter. Still, it does not legitimate every and any voice; it does not elevate vituperative foolishness to wisdom; it can't mutate dumb, self-satisfying hatred into a more coherent and respectful critique.
Let me just say that I laid the bait upon the waters. They came up to it. While munching, they commented on how I need therapy, to relax, to have less of a thin skin, to stop answering with such apoplectic rage.
I put out more bait. They came again. If you don't like something on TV, change the channel. If you don't like a radio station, switch the dial. If you don't like a Web site, don't check it. If you don't like the Chronicle, don't read it. And if you don't like SXSW, just stay away. Now, if you don't like me or what I have to say, live with it or ignore it. Don't expect much in the way of changes.
SXSW starts tonight. SXSW wristbands are sold out; if we think we can safely sell more, they will be available at the doors of some clubs.
SXSW Film passes are $65 at Waterloo Video. There are too many great movies, shows, activities, and parties to list them all.
Some events of note:
The Festival runs nine nights: Friday, March 9-Saturday, March 17. There will be around 200 films shown.
There are too many films to cover them all. A few of note are:
Crazy Sexy Cancer: An irreverent and uplifting documentary about a young woman looking for a cure and finding her life. Taking a seemingly tragic situation and turning it into creative expression, the filmmaker shares her wild journey with exuberance, humor, and sass.
Arranged: Two young women one an Orthodox Jew, the other Muslim meet and become friends as first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. Over the course of the year, they learn they share much in common, not least of which is that they are both going through arranged marriages.
Maybe Baby: An intimate documentary that takes a new look at the emotional and physiological journeys of six women in their 30s and 40s as they pursue pregnancy through assisted reproductive technology, a multibillion-dollar industry.
The Devil Came on Horseback: A politically charged documentary look at the conflict in Darfur through the eyes and camera of one disillusioned American.
Some noteworthy films I commented on in last week's issue:
Bob Ray tells the story of Austin women's Roller Derby in Hell on Wheels; Manufacturing Dissent critiques Michael Moore; Freaks and Geeks creator Judd Apatow's Knocked Up; Gregg Araki's Smiley Face; Judith Helfand's Everything's Cool; Hal Hartley's Fay Grim; Sarah Kelly's The Lather Effect; Oldboy director Chan-wook Park's new film, I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK; Johnnie To's Exiled; What Would Jesus Buy?, produced by Morgan Spurlock; Austin's Burnt Orange's Elvis & Annabelle; Truth in Terms of Beauty, a documentary about Herman Leonard; Laura Dunn's Barton Springs documentary, The Unforeseen; Marcy Garriott's Inside the Circle; ¡Ya Basta!, a film by Ricardo Ainslie; Andrew Garrison's Third Ward TX; a remake of Sisters; American Zombie; Fish Kill Flea; James Blunt: Return to Kosovo; and The Last Days of Left Eye.
The retrospective includes new prints of Bruce Weber's Chet Baker film, Let's Get Lost; D.A. Pennebaker's seminal music documentary Monterey Pop; and Canadian documentary filmmaker Ron Mann's Imagine the Sound. Another restored film, Eagle Pennell's legendary classic The Whole Shootin' Match, was a pioneering regional film that had a profound and lasting influence, including inspiring Robert Redford to start the Sundance Institute. 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 Theatre: "Another Tack," a 20-minute series of songs and animated loops with words and art by Emily Hubley and music by Sue Garner. There will also be performances by Megan Reilly and by Angel Dean and Garner, as well as Hubley's animated short, "Pigeon Within" (2000).
A Film pass gets you all of this, and so much more, for just $65, exclusively at Waterloo Video.
Austin Music Awards
This year's Austin Music Awards show lineup is amazing. The awards show will be on Wednesday, March 14, at the Austin Music Hall Ballroom in the Convention Center (Ballroom A) because the Music Hall is undergoing renovations. Andy Langer is the emcee. Bobby Whitlock, CoCo Carmel, and Stephen Bruton will play. Chronicle cover girl Barbara Kooyman heads up the Unstrung Heroes of Texamericana, which includes Carrie Rodriguez and Michelle Shocked. There will be a Ronnie Lane tribute by Ian McLagan & the Bump Band. The Tex Mex Experience, with the Texas Tornados and Sam the Sham ("Wooly Bully"), should really be something else. Finally, there will be Six Strings Down, a Clifford Antone tribute, with Derek O'Brien, Gary Clark Jr., and more. Showtime is 7:55pm sharp, March 14. Tickets go on sale Thursday at Waterloo Records, $15 each.
There are going to be more free events than ever this year. Check ads in the Chronicle. Go to SXSW, participate, and enjoy! Don't go, and enjoy that!