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Live music. Terrence Malick. Two creative forces that scream Austin and were inevitably going to fuse somehow, and finally did so in 2017’s Song to Song.
It’s a romantic square between Cook (Michael Fassbender), a wealthy music producer living in the Hill Country; BV (Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician; Faye (Rooney Mara), a musician struggling even harder; and Rhonda (Natalie Portman), a struggling ex-teacher making ends meet as a waitress (see, musicians don’t have a lock on struggles in this town). Emotional and professional disaster awaits, all set against the complexities of the local music scene, from big money contracts to unpaid opening slots.
Ethereal, dreamlike, deeply introspective, and filled with as much interior monologue as tunes, it’s a perfect example of recent Malick tone. It’s also a classic example of his “find it in the edit” approach, with an unreal amount of footage and talent that was shot but never made the cut. At least Christian Bale had the comfort of knowing he made it into Malick’s other film constructed in this era, Knight of Cups, but somewhere on the cutting room floor is footage of Haley Bennett, Benicio del Toro, Arcade Fire, Iron & Wine, Fleet Foxes, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, and Angela Bettis, plus Malick et al. were definitely filming more footage at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2012 than was used in the film (Gosling spent a lot of time around the metal/punk-centric Black Stage, boosting his already sky-high cred).
It’s a deeply Malickian rumination on the clash between creativity, commerce, and emotional lives. As a portrait of Austin’s music scene, well, just ask your musician friends, because they all have opinions that they will unleash at the drop of a (hi-)hat. But for all its odd detachment from its subject material, this is a deeply Austin film, avoiding the obvious locations and feeling like a much deeper cut. Plus, Val Kilmer going hog wild onstage with the Black Lips and a chainsaw is still an all-time great Austin set.
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