SXSW 2008 Recap (March 7 – 16)
Part 1: Intro & Film Fest Fun
Not sure that anything can touch the exhilaration felt when seeing music in the live setting. At this year’s South-by-Southwest event in Austin, such exhilaration was pretty much a constant from day one (Wednesday) of the music portion of the festival through the wee hours of Sunday morning. The venues ranged from your basic clubs to patios and decks to backyards to store fronts to a downtown church. It’s part of the beauty of this music free-for-all. 2008 was the 2nd year I made the trip for both the film and music portions of SXSW. Nursing a cold that could go either way when I departed on Friday the 7th, plane problems caused panic when the flight from Providence to Nashville was diverted to Baltimore due to cabin pressurization problems. Feeling like crap from the aforementioned cold (damn all the sick people at work the days leading up to leaving!), the emergency stop in Baltimore did not bode well for making the connecting flight tin Nashville for Austin and visions of not making it there made the sinuses swell even more. The word once on the ground in Baltimore was the plane was kaput and we’d have to wait for a replacement. As luck would have it, one was available and within an hour we’d be on the way to Music City. There was still the issue of the connecting flight. Halfway there the pilot informed us the Austin flight had been delayed and we’d make our connection. Thank the heavens!
Was in Austin by 5 and greeted by the equivalent of Fall weather in these parts – cool & crisp. Grabbed an Austin Chronicle and made a B-line to lthe ocal HEB for some supplies – Shiner bock, bananas, juice, etc – to tide me over for the 9 days I’d be in town. Then it was off to the house I had for the week. I thank my good pal Danny Roy for the connection that had me a house for nada just above Barton Springs both this and last year. What a deal! It’s proprietor lives in California, hence its availability. It’s a throwback sort of home remindful of my own parents’ house and it has this cool cabin off the back where I plant myself.
First order of business was mapping out films to see between Saturday and Tuesday. While the film fest runs the entirety of SXSW, the game plan the last two years has been to devote all the days before the music starts on Wednesday to seeing as many flicks as can be squeezed in. My son, who lives in Austin, had grabbed me a film pass. It’s a great deal. $70 gains you entry into as many films as you like, though, attendees with Film badges do get priority over those with just the passes. That “caste” system only screwed us on two occasions and both were at the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theater located in the heart of the hustle & bustle of Austin’s equivalent of Bourbon Street, 6th Street. For the unfamiliar out there, the Alamo is a great chain of theaters in Austin (and they have branched beyond into several other states). They offer food, drinks, you name it. Burgers, milk shakes, beers, just sit in your seat and fill out your order and here comes the goodies. It is as satisfying a movie-going experience as I’ve ever encountered. And the between-movie clips are real cool.
Friday night was devoted to hanging with the boy and visiting some old haunts (Shoal Creek Saloon for some great fried seafood) and new ones (Uncle Billy’s for beer brewed on the premises.) With the health situation deteriorating, I soldiered through the evening until it all got the best of me.
Saturday was all about rallying the mind as the body was running at 50%, at best. Anyway off to the movies:
“The Order of Myths” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F11891.html): Directed by Margaret Brown who is a Brown grad and also directed the excellent Townes Van Zandt documentary “Be Here To Love Me”, this second feature from her was about the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S. which happens to occur in Mobile, Al. Label it a surreal eye opener about the tradition of it all where secret societies, racism, and all are still a part of the equation.
After tacos at Torchy’s (dig the fried avocado taco!) (www.torchystacos.com), it was onto more celluloid, that being one of three shorts programs at SXSW:
“Reel Shorts 2” (2008.sxsw.com/film/festival/films/index.php#reel2): I saw all three shorts programs at SXSW and this one, while having its moments, was the least interesting. One short of note was “Beijing Haze” which was filmed in part in East Providence at the Mei Ming (??) Restaurant.
Up next was a quick trip to the Dobie Theater for “Bootleg Wisconsin” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F10716.html): I went into this film blind and paid the price. Had I known the premise and a little more background on the story, I would’ve thought better. The health condition probably did not help.
Met up with the boy and attempted to see a film called “Explicit Ills” at the Alamo Ritz on 6th. After waiting on line for 75 minutes, we got the word we weren’t getting in. Strike 1 against the Ritz.
Sunday morning arrived and feeling like complete crap when I woke up, I went in search of a clinic. Found one, but it was mobbed and the Wanda Jackson documentary at the Dobie at 11:30 AM was not to be f*cked with. Grabbed a few breakfast tacos at Marias (www.mariastacoexpress.com) and made tracks for the Dobie Theater for:
“The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F9100.html): First off, the fact that Madonna is in the R&R Hall of Fame and Wanda Jackson is not is worse than a crime. This excellent doc will hopefully go a long ways towards setting the record straight on the pioneer that Wanda Jackson was. Wanda was in attendance with her husband Wendell Goodman. Tidbit from the post-movie interview: Wanda’s husband Wendell was the boyfriend of country star Norma Jean until she left Oklahoma for Nashville and told him to keep an eye on Wanda. That he did! Big props to band friends The Lustre Kings who are featured in a number of spots backing Wanda.
Left the flick and called the doc in Rhode Island who agreed with me that it sounded as if I had a sinus infection. Bring on the antibiotics. First dose at 2:30 PM and after checking out Ponte Bone & the Squeezetones at Gueros, I was already feeling better. Headed to 6th & the Ritz to check out the new Duplass Brothers movie called “Baghead”. After an hour-plus in line, we got the word that there was no way we were getting in. Screw the Ritz!
A little food and it was back to the Dobie Theater for “Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F9326.html). For the unfamiliar, Andre Williams is one of the soul and R&B greats. Recording for Fortune Records, he gave us some of the classics of the raunch & risquét side of the R&B equation. Having played a gig in town the evening before, Andre was in attendance at this world premier. A raw & insightful look at the good and the not so good of the man, all I can say is if his early years were like this one, it’s amazing he’s still with us. Go see it!
Monday arrived with rain, but the health situation definitely on the up and up. Movies galore as follows:
“Reel Shorts 1” (2008.sxsw.com/film/festival/films/index.php#reel1): Better than #2 and some of them pretty provocative.
“Cook County” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F11115.html): Shown as part of the Lone Star States films focusing on regional Texas films, this world premier was a knockout punch of a flick set in East Texas with the crystal meth epidemic at its core. Outstanding performances galore and disturbing on oh so many fronts. WTF on the whole crystal meth thing?
“Heavy Load” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F9620.html): This doc is a look at U.K. punk band Heavy Load several of whose members are mentally disabled. I was on the fence about seeing this one, but was glad I did. It got better and better. Praise the Load!
Monday food: Evangeline Café – incredible Po’ Boys; Home Slice Pizza: Pretty decent N.Y. style pizza.
Closed the day out by seeing Boston hero Sarah Borges & Broken Singles at the Continental Club. She was the bomb and her performance no doubt won her return visits. Caught a touch of Dale Watson, enough to satisfy my honky tonk country yearnings.
Tuesday started with overcast skies and with more flicks on the agenda:
“Reel Shorts 3” (2008.sxsw.com/film/festival/films/index.php#reel3): Met someone in line on Monday who said “Reel Shorts 3” had to be seen. I’d say it was ahead of 1 & 2 and with a closing short called “Glory at Sea” which was incredible (and no doubt as expensive as some full-length films). Check out www.gloryatsea.com for the “reel” skinny on the closing blow.
“In a Dream” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F10862.html): Ever been to Philadelphia and specifically, the South Street area? Ever seen the incredible mosaics that adorn a number of the buildings in the area? This documentary by his son Jeremiah is about the fellow, Isaiah Zagar, who created all of them. I went into this film thinking we’d learn all about the man’s craft and little more. Jaw-dropping is one way to describe what started out as a straight-ahead doc on paper and when it came to filming became so much more (and for reasons both good and bad). As personal a film as there is, this is must-see stuff if and when makes it to the cable waves or R.I. film fest circuit.
That was it for the flicks. Finished off the afternoon with a Texas BBQ fest at Kreuz’s in Lockhart – brisket, pork chops, sausage. With the companion flying in late that night, the music shenanigans beckoned. See Part 2.
Did manage to sneak in one more film on the first day of the music action, the world premier of the documentary “The King of Texas” (2008.sxsw.com/film/screenings/film/F11434.html) about semi-legendary independent Texas filmmaker Eagle Pennell. It was several of Pennell’s films that are oft-times credited with inspiring what has become the Sundance Film Festival. A wonderfully restored copy of one of those, “The Whole Shootin’ Match”, was shown last year at SXSW and was the best thing I saw. (It is supposedly coming out on DVD later this year.) As for “The King of Texas”, it was okay. A prerequisite for viewing should be familiarity with Pennell’s work (and hopefully seeing some of his films).