The Austin Chronicle

Video Reviews

Reviewed by Sarah Hepola, December 15, 2000, Screens

Last year around the holidays, we featured a story on video box sets. Unlike the music department, we didn't get any for free; I just thought it sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately what that meant was that writers had to buy their own video box sets. And who wants to shell out $100 for some obscure BBC series they've been curious about? (Stephen Moser, as it turns out. God bless him.) I bought The Real World You Never Saw: Hawaii. It wasn't a box set, but an addict will grab at any excuse. It sucked. I also reviewed my own box set of The Godfather -- for our readers who weren't really sure if the Godfather trilogy was "any good." I think my review stands as the definitive Godfather review for newborns and imbeciles.

This year I was determined to do something different. Sure, we could review DVDs, but I don't even have a DVD player. The answer came with these two videos, one from the Alamo Drafthouse and one from the Cinemaker Co-op. These are the films I want to highlight this year -- because they are way cooler than the Real World video and considerably cheaper than the Godfather trilogy. Because they were made here in Austin, with some of the best Austin talent around. Because people will see them on your video shelf and they will want to sleep with you. Because they combine film and music in a way that makes me proud to live in this city, even when I turn on CNN and see thousands of screaming Republicans crammed outside the Capitol waving posterboards and water-logged babies. That's okay, I think. Because I know there are still people here pursuing interesting artistic endeavors. Both of these videos are available at local music and video stores like Waterloo for purchase or at some stores (like I Video) for rental.


(w/ score by Brown Whörnet) D: F.W. Murnau; with Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim,Greta Schröder.

The Alamo Drafthouse's hugely successful silent film with live musical accompaniment series was a kind of landmark innovation. The most winning combination since someone put chocolate in their peanut butter (or put beer with their movies or spaghetti with their Westerns). But that's the simple brilliance of Alamo owners Tim and Karrie League, who continue to offer the most ambitious and diverse programming in town. (By the way, see Kimberley Jones' story on Harry Knowles' Butt-Numb-a-thon, p. 84, for a touching description of the place the Alamo has burrowed in our little film geek hearts.) When ST 37 first performed their score for Fritz Lang's futuristic sci-fi classic Metropolis, the event created a sensation, playing to sold-out crowds and spawning similar events at other venues around town. It was too successful not to prompt a follow-up event, which it did -- Brown Whörnet was next with their score for F.W. Murnau's 1922 creepy vampire film Nosferatu. The band, a punk/funk/metal/jazz venture, offered a decidedly modern score, a guitar-heavy jam that ebbs and flows in accordance with the film's waves of terror.

One of the nice things about silent films is that they are public domain, which makes it okay to add a new score and some subtitles and, say, distribute them on video. Which is exactly what the Alamo Drafthouse decided to do last October to celebrate the series' second anniversary, choosing Brown Whörnet's Nosferatu as their first release. The result is a video that every self-respecting Austin cinephile (and for that matter, live music fanatic) should own. Those who have never seen the film should experience it at least once, if for no other reason than to marvel at the grotesque Max Schreck, surely the most bizarre blood-sucker in film history. Those who have never heard the band (I hadn't) should experience it to enjoy the kind of creative, sometimes winkingly clever score that can come out of this sort of collaboration. Those who've seen this version before should rewatch it in anticipation of Shadow of the Vampire, starring Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck in a heavily fictionalized account of the making of Murnau's film (coming to Austin in January). Owner Tim League reports a whole series of videos is on the way (although probably not until spring of 2001), including The Golem (Mark Rubin), Battleship Potemkin (Golden Arm Trio), and Thief of Baghdad (1001 Nights Orchestra). They may even move into DVD -- and maybe by that point, I'll actually own one.


The Cinemaker Co-op may not be as familiar to most as the Alamo Drafthouse, but the local film collective is much-loved by the people who know it. They are the maverick group known for their dedication to the Super 8 format and for their wacky film directives ... make a film in a weekend, film one roll without edits, make a personal manifesto. These are intended to jumpstart the creative process, and by using the silent Super 8 format, these filmmakers are forced to hone their visual storytelling, telling their tale through action and images, unlike most beginning directors, who can't seem to stop yapping to the audience about absolutely everything. The Co-op is also dedicated to making sure that anybody can make a movie if they want to: "The Co-op believes that filmmaking is a financially accessible art form," reads a message at the beginning of one of their film compilations, "and is dedicated to being a resource for small-gauge filmmakers." The Co-op lends out equipment for minimal fees, holds meetings, and makes those previously mentioned creative challenges, all of which have one unbeatable result: Local films get made. Last year, one of the challenges issued by the Co-op was to make short films based on songs from the Golden Arm Trio CD and the result is this video, which the Co-op is now distributing.

A collaboration between the Co-op and Golden Arm Trio's Graham Reynolds, this is a complete reverse of the Alamo's series ... these are silent films inspired by music ... 26 to be exact, most of which use Super 8 (six were made on video). But these aren't just "music videos." They're certainly more experimental than that ... and there's not even one with a limo full of women bumping booties. Instead, they're sort of an interesting cinematic Rorschach ... 18 different filmmakers come up with 18 wildly divergent takes from one CD. Tiana Hux's "More Sad People," in which Hux plays a woman conflicted about letting her lover go, is a short that strikes me as a natural outgrowth of the music. Both images and sounds have the same melancholy, along with the occasional sly smile. Some films are a complete surprise ... in a short film called, well, "Rorschach," Steven Skers shows a turkey gruesomely beheaded and flailing about. "Moses Supposes" finds two men at opposite ends of the social ladder jauntily skipping through town as they sip coffee. And some things on the collection ... well, I'm not even sure what they are or how they remotely relate to the music. But it's fun trying to find out.

Those merely curious about the Co-op may do best to start with one of the collective's "Best-of" compilations, like Texas Super 8 Massacre (1997) or Fast, Cheap Prophecies (1998-1999). Or they could check out Bob Ray's Rock Opera, an Austin-based stoner saga that has become a hit on the festival circuit. But for those who like their art like their men ... strong and enigmatic ... The Golden Arm Film Project is the thing.

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