Page Two: Wild & Free
Surveying the SXSW landscape
SXSW Music Festival wristbands are no longer on sale. This is so SXSW staff can try to gauge overall club capacities, number of badges, and logistics. More SXSW Music wristbands will be put on sale once we have figured out a reasonable number we can sell and still have them be effective at getting folks into shows. (Full disclosure: Roland Swenson is the managing director of SXSW; Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro and I are co-directors.)
SXSW Film Festival passes are on sale at Waterloo Records and at area Alamo Drafthouse box offices.
One of the great pleasures of living in Austin was getting to know Doug Sahm. I became a fan when I first heard "Mendocino" (only later hearing "She's About a Mover"). I remember many a snowed-in night in Vermont when we'd listen to Together After Five and Doug Sahm and Band.
When we lost him, as with so many, many other people dear to us in Austin, I was devastated. I remember later watching a blazing-hot set at Antone's; I stood off to the side, listening next to Clifford Antone. When the band onstage hit the searing level, Clifford turned to me and pointed up to the rafters over the stage, saying: "You know Doug is right up there watching. He just loves the music."
This year, the Chronicle's Austin Music Awards show, presented on Wednesday evening, March 18, is a tribute to Doug Sahm, and the musical lineup is truly outstanding. Given its diversity, it does Sir Doug proud.
I work on the show, but it is Margaret Moser who books it. She consults with Music Editor Raoul Hernandez, me, and others, but ultimately she is the booker. When she has an idea that has me going, "No! No! No way! That won't work!" she gets this sly Margaret smile, and I know I should just shut up right there because, regardless of what I say, it is going to happen. If she wasn't always right, it would improve my negotiating position.
The lineup includes David Yow with the Dicks, Roky Erickson with the Black Angels, Bob Schneider with the Fireants, and Suzanna Choffel, Ruthie Foster, and Carolyn Wonderland. Playing in tribute to Doug Sahm will be his son Shawn Sahm; the pounding, driving keyboard master Augie Meyers; and Alejandro Escovedo. And "oh baby it just don't matter 'cause it will be a night of hot, hot music while we all feel the vibrations in this Groover's Paradise." (Advance tickets on sale at Waterloo Records.)
SXSW has always offered free events so that everyone, especially Austinites, has open access to some of the Festival. This year, SXSW Cruise Director John Rodriguez has organized SXSW FREE, featuring all the free events (and adding some new ones). The most complete information is available at www.sxsw.com/free.
• South Buy Sell Trade is open to all, without charge, at the Austin Convention Center on Saturday, March 21, and Sunday, March 22, 10am-6pm. Featured events are:
• The Austin Record Convention brings together dealers from around the world, offering material from the 1930s on, including countless 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, cassettes, eight-tracks, posters, and collectibles.
• The Texas Guitar Show is a true buy/sell/trade event featuring an awe-inspiring amount of music gear and instruments – new, used, and vintage – including guitars, amps, banjos, mandolins, effects, memorabilia, sound gear, parts, drums, violins, books, and accessories. Bring your musical instruments to sell, trade, or have appraised.
• The Flatstock 20 Poster Show (note special hours: 11am-6pm): More than 100 American and international poster artists will be selling and displaying their posters, with a heavy emphasis on music-related material (this show will also be open free to the public at the Austin Convention Center Thursday-Sunday, March 19-22).
• The Free Concert Series at Auditorium Shores is, as always, three nights of free concerts at the SXSW Auditorium Shores Stage on Lady Bird Lake in Downtown Austin: Thursday & Friday, March 19 & 20, 6-9pm, and Saturday, March 21, noon-9pm. During the day on Saturday, there's a family-friendly lineup, including the Biscuit Brothers and more! (The full lineup for all three days is listed in this issue's South by Southwest insert.)
• ScreenBurn at SXSW Interactive: The ScreenBurn Arcade is the ultimate hands-on video-game play space – and it's totally free and open to the public. Located on the first floor of the Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 13, 2-6pm; Saturday, March 14, noon-6pm; and Sunday, March 15, noon-6pm. For more details, visit www.screenburnfest.com.
• SXSW Events at George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center: In conjunction with the Austin Parks & Recreation Department, SXSW Music, Film, and Interactive Festival will present a series of events at the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center on Friday-Sunday, March 13-15. The Carver Center is located at 1165 Angelina (974-4926).
• Along with other events, SXSW and the Austin School of Film present a free Youth Filmmaking Workshop on Stop Motion Animation on Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15, 9am-5pm at the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center.
Some Recommended SXSW Films and Events
Sunshine. People sometimes ask me to read scripts or view films in progress. When I focus on a film, I figure my comments must be at least a little helpful, as people keep asking. Sunshine, a documentary by Karen Skloss, will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival (Saturday, March 14, 3pm, at the Alamo Ritz; check www.sxsw.com for other screenings). I looked at an early, work-in-progress cut of this film. Later, Karen gave me a DVD of a much more polished version, asking me to comment on it. I never did.
As the film's support material says: "It all starts with getting knocked up. An unplanned pregnancy for an unplanned girl sets off Sunshine, a ... self-portrait of an adopted woman driven to search for answers through reconnection with her biological mother. Woven together from over 10 years of super 8 and video home movies, intimate family interviews, shimmering dance sequences and stylized reenactments." The film is not an overly indulgent mess but rather evokes a wide range of feelings about families, mothers, fathers, and babies. Karen loves her adoptive parents – the people who raised her – and when she meets her birth mother, they get along quite well. Certainly not one bound by convention, she even charms her very conservative grandfather.
I can't quite figure out why this film so overwhelmed me that I felt an inability to comment on it. There have been movies much more connected to me emotionally that didn't affect me this way.
The Best of Trailers From Hell With Joe Dante. I spend a lot of time writing about film, though for what purpose I'm sometimes unsure. Upon much reflection, I have developed a revisionist historical opinion of the studio system. Yes, films were turned out much like any assembly-line product. The system crushed some, stereotyped many others (putting actors into the same kind of vehicle film after film, the same with writers and directors), and even damaged some irreparably. The bottom line is that it kept them working. A director would finish a film on a Friday and start on a new one the following Monday. Now creative talent spends much more time trying to get a motion-picture project green-lit than making movies.
I bring this up because one director who I wish had gotten to make a whole lot more films is Joe Dante (who is still very much working and, I hope, will turn out many more movies). Among the many terrific movies directed by Dante are Hollywood Boulevard, Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins, Explorers, Matinee, the grievously underappreciated Small Soldiers, and the absolutely brilliant episode of Masters of Horror "Homecoming."
Actually, he co-directed Hollywood Boulevard with his longtime pal, director Allan Arkush. Now, the way I've always heard the story is that when he was directing Rock 'n' Roll High School, Arkush had a heart attack, so Dante finished the film.
Though it would be thrilling to premiere a new Dante-directed film, he will be hostingthe Best of Trailers From Hell, bringing a live version of his wonderful TrailersFromHell.com website/series. Afterward, he'll be doing a Q&A.
Okay now quickly some other recommendations. On Saturday, March 21, at the Paramount will be the premiere of Neil Young Trunk Show, Jonathan Demme's new Neil Young performance film. Gabriel Sunday's electric, playful, and intense My Suicide just took a prize at the Berlin Film Festival. You'll have to figure out for yourselves what Saint Misbehavin': The Life & Time of Wavy Gravy is about.
There's a documentary on Blaze Foley that I haven't seen yet, but let me plug writer Sybil Rosen's poetic, evocative memoir Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley one more time, because it is damn wonderful. The SX Global program is bringing a large number of international films to SXSW. R: A Remix Manifesto is already generating the kind of controversy to be expected. Lesbian Vampire Killers speaks for itself. And there are so many more great films being shown at SXSW 2009 Film Festival!!