Backing 'Bernie'

A pro-Texas crowd cheers Rick Linklater's latest

Last night's screening of Richard Linklater’s new movie, Bernie, at the Paramount Theatre was, in addition to being a major SXSW 2012 moment, also a raucous celebration of all things Texas.

Before a decidedly pro-Linklater, pro-Texas crowd, the director introduced the film with two of his stars, Austin native Matthew McConaughey and Austin visitor Jack Black. Recognizing that he was the only non-Texan onstage, Black did his best to ingratiate himself with the partisan crowd.

“I was walking around downtown last night, drinking my fill, and it was so cool, and I was asking myself, ‘Why don’t I live here?’” Black said, causing the crowd to burst into cheers. “And if that sounds like I’m pandering … I am.” He needn’t have bothered; the crowd was on board with Black and the movie before the lights had even gone down.

Bernie, which is based on a Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth (and co-written by him), is about an assistant funeral director named Bernie Tiede who killed a wealthy old woman in the small town of Carthage in 1996. It’s three-quarters good-natured comedy, one-quarter good-natured ethics debate, and all light as a feather. It’s also arguably the perfect SXSW movie, seeing as it’s directed by a Texan, written and directed by Texans, set in Texas, and filled with enough Texas accents, folksy witticisms, inside jokes, and regional references to keep even the most chauvinistic native son contented. Bernie,is a movie drenched in Texas-ness, the same way The Godfather is drenched in new world Italian-ness or Fargo is drenched in Minnesota-ness. Whether the regional charms of Bernie translate to “outsider” audiences the way those movies did is anyone’s guess, although the movie did garner positive reviews at its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival last summer.

During a brief Q&A following the screening, Linklater told the crowd that the real Bernie Tiede, who is currently serving a long sentence in a maximum-security prison, had given his blessing to the movie but wasn’t holding out hope that he would ever see it.

“He isn’t really confident he’s ever going to see the film,” Linklater said. “The only way guys see movies at the prison are on televisions.” Still, Linklater is hopeful: “I talked to the warden; she was pretty cool. I’m hoping Tim League and the Alamo can arrange a screening in the prison yard. It’s a hard-core maximum-security prison, but, you know, they can give seats to the best 500 inmates.”

Black waited for the laughter to die down before jumping in: “That’s gonna be a heck of a Q&A,” he said.

Bernie opens nationally next month. For more photos from last night's red carpet, go here.

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SXSW, Bernie, Jack Black, Richard Linklater, Matthew McConaughey, Skip Hollandsworth

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