Immaculate Film

Musicalia at the SXSW Film Festival

<i>Jerry Wexler: Immaculate Funk</i>
Jerry Wexler: Immaculate Funk

Sight lines at the musical portion of South by Southwest 2000 weren't what they used to be. Getting a clear view of a band meant navigating a field of digital video cameras even more than merely avoiding tall people. And, given the number of raised hands sporting those DV cameras, showcases had an unusual grade-school aesthetic to them. As a consequence, one might think that this year's SXSW Film Festival would be sporting a never-ending slate of homemade docs on SXSW 2000 music. Nope. Guess the budding Buñuels of the world figured they needed permission for the rights to that footage.

Thankfully, that leaves a lot more breadth of subject matter for music-related films in this year's SXSW Film Festival program. Seeing that the styles covered in the features, documentaries, and documentary shorts include opera, conjunto, rock, country, metal, hip-hop, Daniel Johnston, and bluegrass, there's something in the ballpark for just about everyone. And true to form, the most compelling or endearing films seem to be those more closely tied to the obscure than the lavish. Unless of course you like pointless destruction and nudity, in which case you should stick to the metal.

Accordion Dreams

Video, 57 min., 2000

Produced and directed by local documentarian Hector Galan, Accordion Dreams begins by cataloging some younger generation conjuntistas, but instead of following them, like it were treading lightly in the footsteps of the Hoop Dreams doc its title evokes, it turns into a history of the accordion in music -- almost exclusively in conjunto music. There's no through narrative, and instead, Accordion Dreams bounces around while continually returning to those who have found conjunto and favor it over American pop music. Narrated by Tish Hinojosa, Accordion Dreams features appearances and commentary from Flaco Jimenez, Bad Liver Mark Rubin, and conjunto historian David Champion Jr.

Monday, March 12, Alamo, 9:30pm

Wednesday, March 14, Bad Dog Comedy Theater, 10pm

Saturday, March 17, Dobie, 1:15pm

Freestyle

16mm/video, 60 min., 2000

"The rules are this: The shit is freestyle." Those are the first words you hear and that's pretty much what you get. It's a lot of people rhyming off the tops of their heads, or talking about rhyming, or talking about the difference between written raps and freestyle rhymes. It's a vibrant look at both the art form and the subculture, and Freestyle is loaded with great footage of people in action. Scattered throughout is commentary that helps place freestyling in musical and historical context. Dope not whacked.

Monday, March 12, Alamo, 7pm

Thursday, March 15, Alamo, 10pm

Friday, March 16, Dobie 2, 10:30pm

Lilith on Top

35mm, 100 min., 2001

Lilith on Top isn't actually a doc on a day in the life of Sarah MacLachlan's now-defunct female-oriented festival tour, but rather bits and pieces from all three years. Looking back, it's interesting to see the would-be's -- Jewel, Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, Meredith Brooks, Tracy Bonham, Toni Blackman, K's Choice, Victoria Williams -- playing alongside the real pros: Sheryl Crow, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Shawn Colvin. The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde is still the coolest.

Sunday, March 11, Convention Center, 7pm

Thursday, March 15, Alamo, noon

Friday, March 16, Paramount, 3:30pm

We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll

35mm, 90 min., 2000

Both the analog and anathema of the Lilith on Top documentary, We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll covers Ozzfest -- former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne's traveling metal circus. It's also got a lot more naked boobies in it. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, who did The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, as well as Wayne's World, this entertaining doc demonstrates that it's a lot more fun to watch people tear shit up than to watch civilized musicians talk about how significant what they are doing is. Plus, Lilith on Top doesn't have anything that can compete with a preacher telling Ozzy's wife Sharon, "Black Sabbath are practicing cannibals," or a random fan stating, "We're going to smoke some dope and just fucking rock, man." Amen to that.

Sunday, March 11, Paramount, 10pm

Wednesday, March 14, Paramount, 2pm

Saturday, March 17, Alamo, 5pm

Down From the Mountain

35mm, 98 min., 2000

With Down From the Mountain, the directing trio of Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus, and D.A. Pennebaker does for the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack what Wim Wenders did for the Buena Vista Social Club with his documentary of the same name. In conjunction with the Coen brothers' film, the artists who performed on the soundtrack put on a concert of that music. This film documents that. It also serves a second purpose, however, and that is to celebrate bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley. Featured performances include the Cox Family, Fairfield Four, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Dave Rawlings, and Gillian Welch.

Sunday, March 11, Paramount, 7:30pm

Wednesday, March 14, Paramount, 11:30am

Thursday, March 15, Paramount, 4:30pm

Pavarotti of the Plains: Don Walser's Story

Video, 80 min., 2000

This documentary couldn't happen to a nicer guy: Don Walser, elder statesman of the Austin music scene, Texan, yodeler. Pavarotti of the Plains not only chronicles his life story, it also pays tribute to one of the last links to the real cowboy country of the Forties and Fifties, as well as a heck of a great guy. How many other people get such effusive praise from their peers, notable when those peers include Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Gary P. Nunn, and some guy named Willie Nelson? Director-producer TJ Morehouse has captured some truly moving moments from recent years in Walser's life.

Saturday, March 10, Paramount, 10pm

Wednesday, March 14, Paramount, 4pm

Friday, March 16, Paramount, 1:30pm

Amato: A Love Affair With Opera

Video, 60 min., 2000

The Amato opera house in New York is billed as the smallest opera house in the world. And it is a tiny place. While profiling the couple that runs it, this hourlong documentary also follows the end of one opera production to the beginning of the next. As interesting as it is to see how they pull off an opera in such a small space, owners Sally and Anthony Amato are far more appealing, almost irresistible. It's very sincere and charming, but never sappy or cheaply sentimental. No easy feat.

Friday, March 9, Bad Dog Comedy Theater, 6pm

Sunday, March 11, Alamo, 7:45pm

Saturday, March 17, Bad Dog Comedy Theater, 5:45pm

Jerry Wexler: Immaculate Funk

Video, 72 min., 2000

How much of a music industry legend Jerry Wexler is can be measured by who shows up to talk about him: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, and his former partner at Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, among many others. Immaculate Funk follows the legendary producer from his early days at Billboard magazine through his years at Atlantic, when he defined the Muscle Shoals sound, and is basically the story behind the man behind the records like "In the Midnight Hour" and "Son of a Preacher Man." While by no means groundbreaking, it's an essential watch for anyone wanting to be schooled in not what, but who's behind the music. Plus, it's not every day you get to watch Ted Nugent serve up a Grammy to Bob Dylan or killer footage of the late Doug Sahm doing "(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone."

Saturday, March 10, Paramount, 5pm

Wednesday, March 14, Bad Dog Comedy Theater, 8pm

Saturday, March 17, Paramount, 2:15pm

Southlander

Video, 90 min., 2000

Southlander is a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has to get girl back story, only where you see the word "girl" substitute the words "cool keyboard." Because of said cool keyboard, the aforementioned boy once got a gig in a band about to hit the road, so there's his motivation. The title comes from the name of the paper where musicians advertise instruments for sale. Chance, the lead, is played by Rory Cochrane, who you should recognize as Slater (the stoner guy) from Dazed and Confused. There are also small parts from Ione Skye, Beth Orton, and Beck, who throws in a couple of gratuitous musical numbers. The movie has a funky, Seventies blaxploitation flick vibe, and gets bonus points from one of the better bit character names in rock movie history -- Steely Danzig.

Monday, March 12, Dobie 2, 11:45pm

Wednesday, March 14, Alamo, 11:30pm

Saturday, March 17, Dobie 2, 11:30pm

Wave Twisters the Movie

Video, 50 min., 2001

In the animated Wave Twisters the Movie, the Inner Space Dental Commander sets out to fulfill his destiny of reviving the "lost arts" (MCing, breaking, scratching, etc.). You'd be hard pressed to pull that from the movie yourself, as it comes off Ralph Bakshi meets Hanna-Barbera; when they hook up, they do a fair amount of mind-altering chemicals. The visuals are synched to DJ Qbert's album Wave Twisters. It's a trip all right. And how much you'll dig it is a function of how willing you are to take one.

Sunday, March 11, Dobie 2, midnight

Wednesday, March 14, Dobie 2, midnight

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