Page Two: It Was Thirty Years and a Day and a Half Ago
It's hard to get unstuck from the past when it's still so present
I'm determined that this column not get lost in the past, and yet there is not a lot of traction to getting out of there.
I want to weigh in on the everyday, week after week Chronicle that you hold in your hands. About how and why I don't support boycotts ever, which takes a lot of explaining and making moral arguments that I'm not entirely sure about. About Bernie Sanders on guns, because if you ever lived in Vermont you understand that he really couldn't be who he is and have any other position. The ongoing lack of common decency in the public dialogue that we all participate in. The great democratic experiment of the web, which should be bringing us all closer together, that is in so many ways bringing us closer together, allows for an ugliness that was once restricted and not so publicly shared. This week's column was once about Alex Jones, who disdains decency almost as aggressively as he has no use for honest dialogue but who himself as well as his followers are convinced they are the greatest patriots. When I suspect they are not patriots at all. But even there am I participating in what I'm railing against? There is principled disagreement and even impassioned argument, but when do they cross the line? And they do cross that line, to dismissive dehumanizing of those you disagree with, allowing them to represent "bad" and "evil" rather than differing ideas. All that and more I was writing about.
But this morning I awoke to a Facebook post by Brecht Andersch, one of the group that founded the Austin Film Society, inadvertently (or maybe absolutely deliberately) launching the extraordinary ongoing Austin film scene.
Brecht wrote, "Thirty years and a day and a half ago, I was a young pup recently turned 19, who'd spent the last few years cramming down as much cinema knowledge as my gullet could stand. I'd also recently moved to the Austin vicinity from the Bay Area, arriving a day or two before my b-day. I was working as an apprentice union carpenter, and was pretty damned lonely. ... I was very excited one Wed, however, when perusing Louis Black's Austin Chronicle, to discover that a film show entitled SEXUALITY AND BLASPHEMY IN THE AVANT GARDE was to play at the Dobie that Fri thru Sun. Just my kinda meat, I thought, and never have I been more right. ... The show was packed, the atmosphere electric. At the bottom of the program was an invitation to participate in the creation of a film organization. There was a phone number, and the names Rick and Lee. I called Rick that Sun and we talked about Fassbinder. The following Fri, at a screening of Anthony Mann's RAW DEAL, I was introduced to Rick and Lee ...."
And from this meeting and others like it came the Austin Film Society. And from that came Slacker. And on and on. This was October 1985. Sometime that month Laguna Gloria art museum and SWAMP presented Independent Images, a film conference. Featured were Jonathan Demme, already a friend, and John Sayles and Maggie Renzi, who became the closest of friends. There was softball and smoking pot and a magnificent dinner at David and Sandy Boone's.
But as Marjorie Baumgarten reminded me, on Oct. 13, a few days before the screening, Ed Lowry died.
As the years go by I think I talk of this more often, not less. Perhaps because once it was so hard to talk of at all.
Ed was that important. Director and editor of CinemaTexas, first editor of the Chronicle, brilliant film writer and our teacher in every way, our inspired and inspiring teacher. You reading this don't know it but you see his fingerprints everywhere, the great-grandchildren of his thoughts, the ongoing force of his influence, not just in Austin but in film. Because Ed is still alive in so many hearts.
And that month, and I never think about this, I turned 35. It was my birthday. I've never been a big fan of birthdays, used to turn snarling vicious at the mention of mine. Now I think that was cheap affectation as much as anything, or the gyroscopic determining despair at self that has always been at the core of my being.
I bring this up now because the widow of David Boone, Sandy, now my love and my partner, has decided to celebrate my 65th birthday this Friday. Long ago I learned never to stand in the path of natural forces – well, never to stand in their path trying to stop them, maybe to try to run with them. I run with Sandy every day.
This Friday there will be a grand party, a smash grab of an event at the Palm Door on Sixth Street. Friends I haven't seen in years are coming to town, and those I see every day will be there. My cup will truly runneth over.
But at the heart, burning like an eternal flame, will be the glowing love we share for Ed Lowry. But something more than that, as Brecht's Facebook post reminded me.
Almost four decades along, so many chances that so many of us took together now seem to have been sure things pre-ordained to succeed. Nothing was ever certain, none of them were ever sure. It was always a plunge into the unknown. And sometimes we sank. But when we floated we just used that as another point to jump off into the dark again. We were driven. Truly by holy, if secular, visions.
Rick and Lee running an ad in the Chronicle and Brecht attending the show and later hooking up with them and the Chronicle crowd hanging with Demme and meeting Sayles and Renzi .... The three decades of Chronicle since – the hundreds of movies made and the thousands and thousands of movies viewed, the music and art and theatre, the posters and fanzines and comic books and games, not to mention the chorus of sad souls wandering the empty streets at dawn searching for an angry fix while loudly moaning songs of love and lust, of loss and betrayal – are all of a single hand.
The children of Marx and Coca-Cola, of passion and Robin Wood, of Time Out and Film Comment, of Eagle Pennell and Tobe Hooper, of Sams Fuller and Peckinpah, of Godard, Sturges, Fassbinder, Ford, Hawks, and Welles, of Deren, Varda, and Arzner, of Dylan, Erickson, Van Zandt, Wills, Williams, and Rogers, of Linklater, Rodriguez, Demme, Sayles, Judge, Stekler, and Galán, of Baumgarten, Jones, and Savlov writing as though our lives somehow depended on how movies were reviewed. Of writers telling the stories of our past, not to cement us there but to thrust us courageously into the future.
It is the same old story. Not about just love and glory. But about passion and community, about conviction and camaraderie, about dreaming audacious dreams and doing everything possible to make them happen.
A couple of years ago I gave a speech. I talked about October 1985. Eli, my son, concerned because he knows how easily I let my emotions overwhelm me, asked if I was going to tear up.
Of course! I'm crying as I write this.
Let us celebrate the birth of the Austin Film Society this month and the planting of a seed that would later hybrid into SXSW Film, and the lives of dozens and hundreds and maybe thousands that didn't just make a difference but still do on an ongoing basis. Of those legionnaires who wake up and walk out in the world every morning determined to do battle, to raise the standard higher, to make the world better. Embracing passion and decency, community and cooperation, collaboration and expression.
Friday is my birthday, and yes, the hoopla is a little embarrassing, but I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge there is also no small amount of joy. And yes, even pride. Not just of what I've done but of the extraordinary people with whom I've done it.
But know this, as we have every day since October 1985, we'll raise a glass to Ed Lowry. Along the way we have never stopped asking his blessings for what we were doing and why, as he has always guided our hearts (and for those of you who did not know him be aware that this was not a simple thing, this was not a man easily pleased or given to empty hyperbole). We will thank him so much that we have gotten to be who we are, done the things we've done, and hope he would be proud beyond measure at the world we've built. It may be my 65th birthday, but as with so much else, it's Ed Lowry we celebrate.