Thursday, March 29, 2007

Less and Less of More and More

I took this picture in 2005 but I can't figure out where. Not that it matters. Isn't it amazing how recognizable the person behind the camera is in these pictures?

Today we lost our digital camera. And found it again. We both initially thought it was in FFP's car but we overlooked the first time. This sort of inspired me to have a look at a couple of old ones we have around. One has batteries that are probably refusing to take a charge and some other problems. Another is our second digital camera. What year we bought it I can't say. It runs on AAs and, according to the box, can "capture dazzling detail with over a million pixels." Our first digital camera didn't have an LCD. So this one was a real advance. The funny thing is that this one still works. You have to connect it to the computer with a serial cable and it's about the size of a big, plastic double thick sandwich. I don't know what to do with these. Clearly if we had really lost the 5 mega pixel one we use all the time now we would have replaced it and not tried to use one of these. My -2 camera (the one I had before I had the one that I mentioned above that doesn't work) was identical to one my niece has because I bought it for her. She'd lost the battery charger so I gave her the camera and whole kit and some Compact Flash cards for good measure for her to make use of if she could.

I am considering offering the two old cameras to people in my local Freecycle community. I suppose tinkerers could make some use of them. I'm betting someone would take them and try.

I complain to everyone I talk to about the downsizing dilemma. (Not just to you, dear readers.)

The other day someone said: "Yeah. And you have to touch everything. Decide what to do with it."

Isn't it the truth? When we cleaned out the garage, I came across a good-sized box of old bills and receipts and tax returns and stuff. You feel like you can't just toss it in the garbage. Some of it you feel like you should shred. I've been working my way through it shredding old checks and credit card things even though the bank accounts, card numbers and about everything but the name and address and signature are defunct. This stuff is truly old. As in over twenty years old. Yikes.

I have made another pass through the technical books, too, and have decided I can live without all but a handful. Now to find someone who might want them rather than discarding them. They are a little too specialized for the thrift store. I've found that Half Price will refuse to pay money for anything over a few years old in the technical line in spite of the fact that some are truly classics. The buyers just don't get it. I tried a few friends. I even got one of them to take some of them. That was before I started offering some that I was initially tempted to keep. Whether this makes them good books, I can't say.

So it goes. FFP and I have made a few more trips to the thrift store. Some days I'm hopeful. We have a year, allegedly, before we have to close on our much smaller space. Years can fly by, though. As my dad says: "The years go quickly but the days drag on." I went to his house today to take back some chairs I'd borrowed. He said he hadn't done much today. "I ate, of course. And I read the paper and finished a book."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Barely Contained Chaos

I reached back to 2005 to find this shop window picture. Why I randomly stumbled across this on the computer, I don't know. (By the way, I recently discovered that the machine that is Google had magically made photo albums of this blog's photos and my other blog's photos.)

I am constantly trying to organize my life. My stuff. My computer. My files. My head. Get organized, I say. It doesn't happen. Lots of times I start with the little mess in front of my computer monitor (a 17 inch flat panel). Today I sifted through the pile and found:

- two receipts to be logged into my budget spreadsheet (done)
- a Prospectus for a mutual fund that arrived in the mail (dumped in recycling sack)
- an invitation for the dress rehearsal of the next presentation of Austin Lyric Opera (sent two e-mails trying to give it away as we have a conflict and also will see the actual production and that's enough)
- a sticky note reminding me to make a dinner reservation for dinner with an old friend (done)
- a sticky note with a phone number and some notes about a change to my country club's WEB site
- a shopping list for stuff for the event we hosted here Sunday (soda, still water, cocktail napkins, beer, limes, lemons)
- a note about some interest and dividends I'd noticed on my accounts online but not put in my QuickBooks versions of these accounts (done)
- a note about stuff to do for the event on Sunday
- a 'to do' and reminder list with about half the things checked off
- a piece of paper with numbers scribbled down where I was counting chairs for the event on Sunday (we had a play performed and needed chairs for all the guests)
- two business cards for people who came to the event on Sunday...I need to save the cards or info somewhere appropriate...maybe in my Access data base or my 'people' folder...leave on desk until I decide
- yet another scrap of paper with reminders of what to do at the last minute before Sunday's event
- menus from two recent dinners (one at our club where we entertained friends at a wine dinner featuring Australian wines such as a 2004 Massena 11th Hour Shiraz and one entitled 'A Cuban Night' bought at one charity's event and given to promote another charity and including food like grapefruit, snapper, and jicama ceviche and Spanish, Texas and Argentinian wines since, you know, Cuban wine is in short supply) which I consigned to the recycling bin concluding I'd never find them again if I wanted them
- A printout of an e-mail from the playwright whose play was presented here at Sunday night's event showing the guest list as he had figured it with my scribbles and checkoffs. (For the record: I believe four people who RSVPed yes failed to show up and one hopeful maybe did not as well. Three people who did not RSVP or not in time for this e-mail did show up. Which verifies my theory that the no shows generally about equal the surprise shows making the RSVP count more accurate than you might think.) Scribbled on the back of this printout was the food the caterer brought although I need not have done it because FFP went upstairs and printed it out from the e-mail. (The chef forgot to bring the menu cards.) The garlic crostini topped with hazelnut romesco and smoked shrimp were yummy, by the way.

But. I digress. My life is a digression.

Yeah, most of that stuff is now filed away or in the recycling sack that is always close at hand. But to write the last sentence of the previous paragraph I had to go look for an e-mail (because I couldn't read my scribbles on the menu thing) which took me on a digression through deleting e-mail and sent me to look at the WEB site of an actress we met recently and had drinks with the other day when I found an e-mail from FFP about it. (Margaret Turner's site is here.) The event on Sunday brought a lot of interesting people together to watch a play (and eat and drink a bit and talk to one another). People and their relationships to us are part of the chaos that boils around here. As witnessed when I contained that little pile of stuff in front of my monitor. clean up all the other areas of this office and get totally organized and get rid of some stuff. Yeah. Right.

Before I could finish editing this entry and post it someone dropped by to pick up chairs borrowed for the party. Then the mail came and the UPS guy came. I follow the edict of the organization specialists on mail and such. I immediately try to put the unwanted stuff in the recycling (our city recycles junk mail) and put everything else where it (more or less) belongs. That prospectus got saved from the recycling sack the first time because FFP said he might look at it. But as he left it here, I figured he wasn't really going to do it. Still chaos rules. But I think I'm getting closer and closer to, um, doing better.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I'm Still Here

Somehow I decide to have some sort of party. And then it begins. The decisions on food, decorations, rearranging the furniture, drinks to serve, etc. The preparation. Tidying up things and tossing the excess in my office and the spare room. Then there are guests surging in, drifting out and finally the cleanup and moving our real life back in. And I wonder why I do it, but I also know. I like entertaining people even though sometimes I don't like going to parties at other people's homes.

I put up signs for some parties to help people find their way around the house. I invited fifty people over for a Christmas party once. I made signs to distinguish trash from recycling and hoped to have the folks help keep things tidy and the cartoon is one illustration from that. I also have a 'dog jail' sign I reuse and I put my dog and all the junk that would otherwise be cluttering the rest of the house in my office and hang that up. By the end of the party people always want the dog to be released. She, of course, wants to scour the floor for dropped food.

Anyway, I'm not blogging because I'm dealing with all the little details of letting a friend give a play in our media room tomorrow night. It's his guest list but I know a lot of the people, of course. And it's time to get busy and get the evidence of our messy life out of sight, lay in supplies of stuff and prepare to move the furniture around to 'set the stage.'

A day before like this I'm always a little tense. There are so many little things to do. I have help, of course. Already FFP has tidied up the yard and put out some flowers and plants to add to it's spring look. A caterer is bringing hors d'oeuvre tomorrow. The playwright and his friends will help move stuff around. But there are things I feel I must do. And I better get cracking.

When we downsize, we can't entertain this many people. That's either good or bad. I'm not sure. Of course, we can rent a hall so to speak. Entertain in the club room of the condo or at our club. It's not the same as moving your real life out of the way and turning your house into a party venue.

I read that Austin now requires parties in retail stores and such to have a permit for 'changed use.' SXSW got the police to shut down private parties during their event. All for people's own good, of course. The article said that parties in private homes didn't require the permits which would require a visit from the fire inspection people. Most homes wouldn't qualify! No sprinklers or fire exits. Ah, regulation. Good they saw not to apply it to private homes although I'm sure someone will use it to their own devices somehow. But at least that isn't on my list: get permit.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

And Now We Return to Our Regular Programming

We finished our vacation. That's what we considered our SXSW Film adventure although we didn't leave town. We wove all those movies and Austin adventures around a minimum version of our real life.

But now we are back to all the other things that pull on us. Supporting our charities. Bringing friends together and seeing people. Having fun by going to the club. (Although we tried to do that during our vacation, too.)

And the number one reality of our life now: we are getting ready to put a house on the market. We have lived here almost thirty years. It will be over 30 when we move unless someone sweeps in with an offer we can't refuse.

We are getting little things repaired and cleaned. We are going back through books and random stuff and trying to weed out even more things. It's very hard to see progress, though. There is so much to do. We are putting on a new roof.

It's very hard to realize that in a little over a year we could be living in this tower and we could have this house on the market. Or even sold.

I keep saying: it's not like we never got rid of anything all this time. We did. Lots of stuff. Especially when we were getting out of the way of one of the (four) remodels. Or moving the business out to a separate location and then back here. And yet, we have SO MUCH STUFF. I keep reminding myself that we don't NEED much of the stuff. Still it's remarkably difficult to sort and toss it seems. And making all the decisions about it all is hard. We think we may have a charity lined up that wants our outdoor Christmas decorations. Meanwhile I'm trying to get all the stuff in one place now that we got it all off the house. I had some old office and computer equipment removed for recycling over the weekend. You just have to take a deep breath and appreciate everything that you get done and not get caught up in what is left to do. After all, that big old tower has to get built and all the inside stuff installed and trimmed before our new place is ready.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My SXSW Movies, Part 7

It's over. The actual film screenings continue into the wee hours of Sunday. But we resigned after seeing one last documentary this morning at 11.

Yesterday I constructed a plan to get some of our real life under control (yeah, right) and still see two movies. Oh, and stay away from downtown, too!

Someone had pressed a little trinket on us when we were standing in line at the Paramount one night. It was a washer with a heart punched through and the words "Love.Blessing Ring" on one side and "Always in my Heart" on the other. The packaging was a promo for the documentary Lost In Woonsocket. That had made me look up the film again and it looked really interesting. The film was born from a reality TV show called Random 1 that picked people at random and tried to match them with donated help. The film focused on two alcoholics and their journey on and off the street. The film is powerful. Heck, the TV series was powerful but I apparently missed it while watching stupid crime shows a couple of years ago. I must admit four things: One: I think people should get direct help when they need it. Food, shelter, detox, substance abuse programs. Two: I never give money to people on the street. (Never is too strong. Very rarely then.) Three: I don't like dealing directly with such people. They frighten me. This does not mean I don't see their humanity. Four: I know that some people will always exist in the margins, begging for money for the fuel of their addiction. This movie reinforced all these things I just admitted. A program that succeeds with even twenty percent is worth the money. Money given to the people in this film would not go for food. Know that it will go for booze or drugs for these guys. If you understand that and still give, I'm OK with it. I'll give money to Mobile Loaves and Fishes or some other group that is really giving out food. I was glad to see this movie and get to know these guys at the safe distance of the movie theater, drinking my glass of Guinness a bit guiltily. So sue me. And when one of the guys slid back it didn't surprise me. The success is what surprised me. Beating an addiction is hard to do.

The movie could have been exploitative. Maybe it even was. It's hard to intervene in other people's lives while filming it without exploiting the people. Still it's a thought-provoking movie. It reminded me of one of the many projects I never did. (See admission three.) I was going to offer people a notebook and tell them I would come back and if they had written their life story in it then I would pay them $20 for it if they would sign something that I could publish their story on the WEB. (And yes I knew that the money would go for a substance to abuse, most likely.) After I thought of that idea I would never implement, I heard about some singer songwriter who paid beggars for their cardboard signs. One refused to part with his work for $20! But I digress. This is a great movie. And apparently you can watch a lot of the TV show on the WEB now which I plan to do. We saw the last screening of this world Premiere. But John and Andre were there to answer questions. One of the guys they'd helped had been at a previous screening.

To follow that up, we saw Fay Grim. It was our third narrative. And we liked it so two outta three isn't bad. It ran a bit long, but otherwise it was a delight. It is a total send up of all the thrillers you have ever been subjected to. It is a follow-up to a movie from 1998 by Hal Hartley. I was still earning a living then instead of being a dilettante blogger and film watcher and such. So I never heard of Henry Fool. It sounds like it was a send-up of the literary world, however. I just added it at the top of my Netflix list. I kept wanting to laugh out loud during this one when no one else was even laughing.

So. We drug home around midnight. FFP flipped through the Texas basketball game off the DVR. I thought Texas had lost since I thought that I saw the top of the tower decidedly un-orange on the way home. But they won.

This morning we drug out of bed all tousle-haired and sleepy. We got to the Alamo South way too early and wandered on down South Lamar. We discovered an amazing Mexican restaurant (imagine that? on South Lamar?!) called Sazon (season?). I had a Tavo's breakfast taco and coffee. This is an amazing place. The dishes being delivered all around looked great. They had linen napkins and put those little paper doilies on the coffee cup saucers. I must go back and try some other things. Anyway, we made it to the theater to see the lightly-attended last showing of 638 Ways to Kill Castro. In order to make the movie move, they used old random movie or TV footage that was not of Castro or his potential assassins. But it is a very interesting and informative show. I remember once thinking that Castro would be overthrown. This was long ago before the fall of the Soviet Union and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the rise of a that peculiar Chinese openness. And still he stands. Amazing. This movie was made by a Brit and this was the North American premier. It doesn't strike me as something that is going to get a wide distribution. In fact, most of the docs we saw don't strike me as ones that will get the reach of a Supersize Me or a Michael Moore or Al Gore piece. But you never know. One we saw at a fest (Maxed Out) has now reached theaters, as they say, near you. And it didn't think it had the legs for that when I saw it.

Well, it was quite a festival. Now it's back to 'real' life instead of 'reel' life. I think we saw 18 feature length films, fifteen of them docs. We saw one short. I wish I could have seen the short reels and I probably missed a couple of movies I would have liked to have seen. We are back to spring chores, the business of serious downsizing and our usual tasks of entertaining friends and chasing around for this charity or that. I managed a little exercise and tennis while immersed in film, but it wouldn't hurt to step that up and get rid of some of the girth from movie beers and pizza and popcorn.

And that, my friends, was my SXSW.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My SXSW Movies, Part 6

Our idea was to see a movie about Roller Derby at 4:30 (yes, another doc.) and then go straight to the Paramount for a narrative feature.

Parking wasn't that easy. We decided to pay $10 for a place two blocks from where we will live some day.

So while things were blooming in my backyard (see picture) only the dog was enjoying it. She was banished to the outdoors so we could stay downtown a long time.

We were in plenty of time to queue for the movie Hell on Wheels. Our friend Jette and locally famous film dude Bryan Poyser sat by us. Actually, maybe Jette is locally famous and Bryan is nationally famous. Anyway, it was interesting hearing about their festival. Jette is writing for Cinematical and so has to scribble notes while eating her pizza. The movie is about the resurgence of Roller Derby in Austin. It was a pretty good film. There were lots of tattoos, lots of fake violence, lots of ego and then a suppression of ego. And the movie contains one of those moments when you see an injury on the screen that makes your stomach do flips. (Nothing fake about that injury.) I didn't lose my Asian chicken salad, though. We slipped out before the Q&A and got to the Paramount to queue up for the next movie.

FFP chose a narrative feature called Bella and he made an excellent choice. The acting, cinematography and set dressing was wonderful. The story was a little sappy but the other things were so good that all was forgiven. Basically the premise is that two damaged people can make something complete.

We decided to have a snack afterward and we slid into 219 West for some decent wine and apps. Not an SXSW venue they weren't terribly crowded. A strange little trio called Accoustic Jungle played innocuous instrumentals.

My SXSW Movies, Part 5

Today FFP is picking the movies. But I was the culprit yesterday. One out of two isn't bad.

Yesterday we headed downtown in a windy drizzle. The first parking lot we tried was full. We barely got a place in the next one. We got in for $6, however, and got to stay in the spot a lot of hours.

We headed to the Paramount to wait for our documentary. This movie was pretty (amazing storm footage and scenery and chromed up trucks) and ugly (let's face it...truck stops), sensitive and insightful. Big Rig is a documentary about truckers and the land they are crisscrossing bringing us goods from everywhere. I think I saw Doug Pray's other doc (Scratch) and this one really works and introduces you to the world of other citizens of our country. I enjoyed it. It was the kind of movie where when a couple of the participant truckers came up after, someone asked one of them about his health and his son who had been in Iraq.

We decided to eat at the Capitol Brasserie bar. Happy Hour here is a bargain. We had a big plate of calamari, mussels and pommes frites and a carafe of wine (which we ordered a half carafe at a time). The bill was 25.70 before tip. That house white wine was good, too, like the simple wines served in French caf├ęs with a touch of slate and a touch of sweetness.

We headed out to queue up for the next movie. We had decided, after thirteen doc features, to see a narrative film. The Lather Effect comes almost twenty-five years after The Big Chill. It attempts to do for the graduates of the mid-eighties what Chill did for graduates of the mid-sixties. Now, my first disclaimer is that naturally since Chill was my generation I was more predisposed to it. I thought all the Lather music completely forgettable. A sound track of would go a long way toward being a sound track that would take me back to the day. (Absent the Janis and Beatles.) I also thought the premise for people showing up was better in Chill (someone died) than Lather (someone's parents were selling their house?). A lot of Lather didn't ring true. I wasn't convinced that one gal returned to meet up with someone you don't see. (They had a character you don't see. There is a party and the whole movie is after the party and one of the guys went to jail? Is this a nod to the dead body of Kevin Costner?) I couldn't be convinced that someone had that much furniture left in a house they were selling the next day either. Oh. Well. It's just a different generation. And we were less than usually predisposed to a film. It started a full half hour late. While we waited we were standing in front of the (closed) State theater. FFP stepped out of line and went back a bit to talk to someone he knew. There was a noise like a shot and the glass in the door behind me shattered. Apparently something was propelled from the street by a car or truck tire and broke the window. A guy standing next to me said he saw something go right by my head. FFP said he always is a few steps away from disaster. (He has August 1, 1966 syndrome.) Anyway, after it was already quite late, Matt Dentler yammered about how he was being short and the director Sarah Kelly came out and yammered on before the movie. I'm sure she did after also. This is one of those 'special screenings.' They always seem to get shown because someone knows someone. (Or because someone is in it like Connie Britton who stars in the series Friday Night Lights which films here in Austin. I love that show, by the way, and her role in it. She didn't move me in this movie.)

Conclusion: I'm twenty years too old for The Lather Effect. Big Rig is about people who could easily be related to me. It's about a world I'm only baby steps away from and yet I'm miles from there. After we saw Big Rig and were sitting in Cap Brasserie drinking wine, I told FFP about the one and only time I rode in a large truck. Then I told him that it was the same day I started drinking coffee and liking it. I continued to tell him about the first time I liked beer, straight tequila and beef tartare. He said he'd never heard any of these stories. That is a miracle, I think. I thought we knew all of each other's stories.

Well, it's time to head off to the seventh day of film feast, er fest. Wish FFP luck on his picks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My SXSW Movies, Part 4

We are getting to be experts at the logistics of SXSW. Last night we headed downtown in the rain. So far, we have completely avoided parties. We got a whole envelope full of notices about parties we were entitled to attend with our badges. What a laugh. We don't do crowded bars well. We'd rather pay for food and drink and have it in comfort at our convenience.

But this party was for a movie we were going to see and our friends were as the PR firm and one as an investor.

It was raining when we got downtown but not too hard. We captured a parking spot roughly between where the party was and where the movie was to be shown.

At first we thought the party was a bust. It was in a small bar that was supposedly reserved for the party at 8:30 but was full of a happy hour crowd listening to a band called the Jitterbug Vipers. Sure enough they managed to displace these folks and move in the movie party. We found a couple of seats at the bar, had a free drink and talked to our friend in charge of PR. We learned that the movie's producers and directors had been able to sell tickets in advance that pre-empted badge holders. Hmmm. The director kindly gave us a couple of these so we could jump the badge line. We eschewed a second free drink and FFP bought a CD from the band. (They are good. Happy Hour every Tuesday at Lambert's. Catch their act.) We headed out for the theater. We knew it would be crowded. But, of course, we jumped the line and got the seats no one realizes are the best in the house. (I'm not saying where they are. Figure out the Paramount for yourself.) We sat with a Canadian lawyer who actually says 'eh' every sentence or two. We met her at another film. The movie was about lawyers and the bar exam.

A Lawyer Walks into A Bar... is about the bar exam in California. It follows six people taking the exam and intersperses lawyer jokes, interviews with lawyers and laymen about lawyers. Although it was disjointed here and there it really had a lot of great information and the people we were following were interesting. Warning: Spoilers follow. One went to a sort of alternative law school and was finally not allowed to take the exam on some technicality. One person was taking the exam for the 42nd time. One person you were certain wouldn't pass, but she did. One you hoped would fail and she did. One guy was on his third try. One woman had a small child she left to her artist companion while she studied and you weren't surprised she passed. The companion's art was interesting. They had some footage of old time Texas lawyers at work (in spite of the CA bar exam they interviewed lawyers everywhere) and that was hilarious. They also talked to Joe Jamail. Can you say old time Texas power brokers?

One of the lawyers interviewed said that when she took the bar exam that a guy lost his breakfast just as the proctor said 'begin.' And she said everyone just ignored it and kept writing.

And so I dreamed that people were running around asking if you could find a person's DNA in their vomit.

If you are a lawyer or if you talk about going 'back to law school' you should see the movie. Others will enjoy it, too.

Well, today we may see two movies. And one of them is not a documentary. I sort of hate to break the record (12 full length docs, 1 doc short) but everyone needs to branch out. Besides this one has Eric Stoltz in it. Isn't he like the chief actor you know you've seen before of the Indie world?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My SXSW Movies, Part 3

Yesterday afternoon actually worked out as planned which turned out to be a minor miracle. It violated several rules of SXSW. For one, you are supposed to be faced with huge crowds for any movie that you think is too obscure to possibly draw a crowd and be punished for having gotten caught up in any other tasks and arriving right when seating should begin. Secondly, no matter how close two screens are you should never assume that you can just pop from one to the other like the schedule would seem to indicate.

FFP got some photos for his West Austin News article done after two tries. We were trying for an 11:30 show. We didn't get off as soon as we'd have liked. But the badge line for Imagine the Sound was not long. The movie, playing in a retrospective of music docs, was shot in 1981 about the free jazz movement (beginning in the 60's). The filmmaker was there (looking considerably older...he was 22 when it was shot). The material is difficult even for jazz fans but it contained some outstanding performances of four amazing players. As I write this I'm listening on Rhapsody to Cecil Taylor tracks. But nothing compares with watching him play the piano inside and out. The only criticism I'd have of this one is that it didn't seem to be projected in the correct aspect ratio for the screen. This was a minor irritation.

We didn't stay for Q&A and we ducked out and walked a few feet and they had already let the line in for Fall from Grace so we slid right into that film. This amazing documentary was made by an undergraduate film student at KU. It follows the church which is much in the news for preaching that God hates gays and all people, countries and other entities who don't hate them as well. Staying out of the way of the impassioned people in this film while they speak for themselves was quite a task. But K. Ryan Jones managed to reveal much about the positions of these 'one issue' Christians, people who live near them, people who have been subjected to their protests and people who vehemently disagree with them and feel they have hijacked a religion they care a lot about. The resulting film is an object lesson in how to deal with insanity in a free speech society.

Today we had good luck getting into Helvetica even though the festival opened it up to Interactive badge holders. It was sold out. At the convention center screen which means that about 500 people saw its first showing. A movie about a type face. This SXSW thing has gotten awfully big. The movie is pretty darn good but it needed a little help on sound levels and a bit of editing. There is Helvetica type everywhere. No need to show every single example.

Today we even walked through the trade show. We didn't get around to all the booths but we found some interesting vendors. Now the Film and Interactive Trade show will move out and make way for music. We don't have any interest in that trade show. In fact, we won't even be able to get into that tradeshow. We won't see any music. The closest we will get to music is seeing long lines outside clubs. This year we didn't see any panels in the film festival either. We thought about some of them but didn't make it. We always do some panels in the Austin Film Festival.

Well, we've seen eleven documentary features and one documentary short. We've seen only two SXSW trailers. (Are there more? I'm tired of these two although they are great.) We've seen lots of SXSW folks. (Fashion advice for the festival? Three words. Denim, vintage, untucked.) We've tried all the venues save the (minor for this fest) Hideout venue. Which, of course, we have experienced in other events. And we plan to see a movie tonight. Yes, another doc. We may even make a party tonight. That would be our first (and will probably be our last). And the festival continues. For four more days of film screenings. It's a feast all right. And everyone takes a little something different off the buffet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

My SXSW Movies, Part 2

The thing about SXSW is that everyone really has a very different experience. We met someone who drove from Canada, bought a Platinum badge, got a hotel on South Congress and planned to see movies and music. We meet other locals who are just dabbling. Last night FFP met someone he was in college with who hadn't been back to Austin in a while. He runs the Avignon (yeah, France) Film Festival and was visiting his sister in Dripping Springs. Nevermind that everyone sees different films (or music or whatever interactive participants see). Everyone comes from a different place and interacts with different people.

One of my impromptu goals for the festival is to make each of the venues. We've seen something on every screen but the Alamo South 2 so we have been to each location. My other goal is to meet interesting people. (See above.) Lastly, I want to 'be a tourist' along the way. After our first movie of today I shot some shop window pictures in the strip center where Alamo South is located. I love the Salvation Army store window because it provides a lens on downtown Austin.

And, yes, we saw some movies. So far today we saw the short documentary "Scenic Highway" and the documentary "Fish Kill Flea." So far a perfect record: narry a narrative feature.

As is usually the case (unless you are associated with the short film in question) we aimed for Alamo South today to see the longer film. "Scenic Highway" was therefore a delicious surprise. And it followed the delicious surprise of the selection of pre-program clips today. Early Elvis musical presentations, wonderful Eastern European animated films that were like Saul Steinberg come to life and a clip showing some Japanese game played like soccer but with shuttlecocks (they looked like hacky sacks with feathers). After that the longish short "Scenic Highway" about Baton Rouge ran and it was delicious in its protrayal of the director's home town. You can watch it yourself, in its entirety, here. The movie says at one point that a city is known by its shopping malls or something like that. So it was a perfect segue to "Fish Kill Flea." This careful protrayal of a dead mall with some parts housing a flea market with nods to the history of the place including its 'live mall' stage included a wonderful portrait of people passing their time peddling things. The camera lingered on the people and the personal revelations were everywhere. This was the flip side of the consumption protrayed in last night's "What Would Jesus Buy?" At the Fish Kill Flea (before it gave way to the bulldozers) merchandise was far less fresh and new. Still the desire was there for hash pipes and knives and thirteen dollar sneakers. But mostly it was about the people and the derelict mall with its lost dreams. The wares had become incidental almost.

I've cooked up a plan for the afternoon and evening that only requires the approval of FFP and that he finish a little rush project for the neighborhood paper he writes for. So, perhaps, more to come in "My SXSW."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My SXSW Movies, Part 1

We are gorging on movies. So far all are documentaries. Seven movies since Friday evening.

We've got our routine down. We know how to pace ourselves, how to navigate the venues and how to enjoy the interludes.

Here's a little roundup of what we've seen with a tiny bit of amateur film criticism.

"Running with Arnold" There is some interesting stuff here. They went to Austria to get some early Arnold insight. They have footage from "Pumping Iron" that is very cool. However, archival Nazi footage puzzled most everyone. And remained puzzling even after the director explained in Q&A that it 'stood for the fascism of corporations.' (He said something like that. His exact words I'm not so sure of.) They wanted to hoist Arnold on the Republican petard. To show that Arnold is a Republican and therefore evil. Hence, footage of Katrina and Jeb Bush. They also wanted to show Arnold's lust for power and success. I think they should have stuck to that message and done less Bush bashing. It's just too easy, folks, and he can't get elected again. They showed some stuff about a constitutional amendment to allow Arnold to run for president. (OK, any naturalized citizen, I suppose.) This will never get passed. Constitutional amendments are quite difficult. And it would spoil my joke when talking to people one-on-one. I say: "Are you, me and Arnold the only ones not running for president?"

"Unforeseen" First let me say that the cinematography on this one is easily the best I've seen in a while in any documentary. Worthy of many big features really. But it is a mess as to message and focus. Ostensibly about Gary Bradley, the developer of Circle C who was pounded by the Save Our Springs folks and went bankrupt. No, wait. It's really about the evil of any development in sensitive areas. No, wait. It's about the decline of the family farm. No, wait, it's about sprawl and building where there is no water. (But, hence, no sensitive recharge zone.) No, wait, it's about cancer. (I'm serious there is a multiple minute segment of a doctor telling us about normal human physiology and cancer. It's meant to be a metaphor for sprawl. I got that. But geez.) No, wait. It's about the evils of skyscrapers. Wait, wait, wait. If we can't have sprawl and we can't have dense then maybe we are meant to: (1) Build a fence around the city. (Ann Richards appears in the film suggesting this, but she was kidding. Also, the SXSW person introducing the film mentioned that she had only been here a couple of years.) and (2) Stop procreating. (But the SXSW person who introduced the director was praising the director for producing this wonderful film and being a mother!) and (3) Live in less space. Robert Redford sitting by the springs and talking about saving them doesn't give us a plan. (How much space do you think he lives in?) The visionaries with the fancy camera work don't really propose a solution.

"Confessions of a Superhero" This one explored the lives of people who make their living posing as characters from movies on Hollywood Blvd. It was sensitive and touching. Looking at the ambitions and obsessions of these people and exploring where they came from was very insightful. I came away knowing some interesting, somewhat margalized people and appreciating how they look at the world.

"Cat Dancers" OK. Weird. What is that disease where you lose all your hair, even your eyebrows? OK, this guy had that, I think, although it's never mentioned directly. And is sort of incidental to the story. OK, real minor point. More importantly, he loved to dance. He fell in love with his childhood dance partner and they became famous dancers. When they were getting too old for ballet, they added cats. Tigers and jaguars and such. Then they added another person to the act. A handsome young man. A lot of what you might imagine would happen did. But still it was startling. The filmmakers seemed to just want us to appreciate the story of these people and the creatures they raised and lived with. They didn't want to lobby for cat rights or dancer's rights. And the movie worked.

"Manufacturing Dissent" Allegedly two Canadian film folks decided to make a straight up bio film of Michael Moore. But he dissed them and it turned into a table turning deal where his fierce-looking security kept escorting them off the premises. I'm not a big fan of Michael Moore's although I have seen all his stuff and wasn't sorry I did. This portrait of him was very unflattering. I'd say he came off looking like someone who manipulated his situation to get rich while appearing to try to make a difference. Oddly enough I was most disappointed that he came from this rich suburb and not Flint.

"Crazy Sexy Cancer" Cancer is such a sweeping word. Every kind is different. Not to mention every person's case. But Kris Carr has a weird type of cancer that has responded to a 'wait and see' attitude (with perhaps a bit of help from some healthy lifestyle changes). In spite of the interesting journey she took with that, the movie would have been flawed in addressing cancer if she hadn't sought out some people with other types of cancer and followed some of their journeys as well. It sounds like a cliche, but Kris takes us along for that ride that ends with the realization that we all die but not everyone lives fully. She and the other women in the movie bubble with the excitement of the projects they've chosen for their lives. Their cancers are just something they deal with in the process. This movie is humorous and uplifting. I could even forgive Kris for being drop dead gorgeous and even managing to get a cancer that did not require losing her hair or blowing up on steroids. Some of the other women she filmed were not so lucky but they all retained a beauty and grace that she captured.

"What Would Jesus Buy?" This world premiere was followed by a Q&A that brought more people to the stage than any other film I've ever seen at one of these things. Led by Morgan Spurlock (one of the producers) and Rob VanAlkemade (the director) the whole cast was up there I think. And that cast included the Reverend Billy Talen and his gospel choir of the Church of Stop Shopping. Perfect movie for me...someone who is in constant conversation with herself about what 'stuff' we really need. The Reverend takes his message rather agressively to WalMarts, Starbucks and even Disneyland. There is wonderful footage of excess. And Christmas excess at that which is the best excess of all. The church itself is somewhat excessive but the message rings true. The night before the festival began I stood around the new Neiman Marcus, eating and drinking and raising money for good causes. I'd like to see the Reverend Billy and his group mix with that crowd! Not that it would have been better than their Komikaze attacks on the Mall of America or Disneyland. Disneyland on Christmas Day. It doesn't get any better than that.

So, yeah, a lot of movies. We are going to try to see ten or twelve more in the next week. Yeah, I know. Crazy talk. Maybe we will even see some narrative features. But I do love documentaries.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

It's Best to Have Rich Friends

Last night I was sitting at a table for eight with some of the 'lesser' donors for a nonprofit capital campaign we are involved in. I imagine all the couples at the table gave 'five figures' as they say but at other tables were the people for whom six and seven figures are not out of the question for multiple charities.

We were joking with some pals about being at the kid's table. Then one of the guys was wondering about the net worth 'in the room.'

"About a billion," I said. "With a 'b'. Even with us here."

I really think it was true. How do you really know though? But some of the people have given away my net worth several times over.

It's nice to have rich friends, of course. They have wine cellars with enough 1985
Cos d'Estournel (an esteemed Bordeaux) and old Montrachet to pour for forty people. And a bottle of champagne as big as a horse for the toasts and dessert. They have a domed room plenty large enough for forty or fifty people to dine. They have space to exhibit amazing weird art. The house was like a museum. Right after I arrived a woman who also has a house like a museum was commenting on a painting and said the stance of a hip hop guy in the painting reminded her of the stance of a Rubenesque naked woman in a painting her husband gave her. She was flustered because she couldn't remember the artist.

"Botero?" I offered.

"That's it! Of course." She said.

It's great to have rich friends. And if you can help them identify their holdings so much the better.

Honestly. It's better to have rich friends than to be rich. Being rich is such a responsibility.

It's all relative, of course. I know that most people consider me rich. I consider myself rich if only because I'm catching the glow of these friends.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm Still Here

I had a little setback over the weekend. It was supposed to be a weekend of catching up on things and enjoying the nice weather. You can read about the upset Saturday brought over on my Journal of Unintended Consequences.

We had a nice weekend nevertheless. Nothing was planned for Saturday. That turned out to be a good thing. Thursday's adventures on South Congress and downtown were fun. (I took the picture after dropping off my tax stuff to the CPA on Thursday in SoCo.) And we had a nice Friday. My dad and I made it to water aerobics (good for Dad) and I managed a pretty good workout after that. I had lunch with Dad and a friend and my friend and I went computer equipment shopping afterwards without buying anything. Always good. Friday night was a really pleasant event with fun people to talk to and good apps and good wine to taste.

And yesterday we were treated to hearing a world class string quartet play in someone's living room followed by a reception where we met some new and interesting people and had some nice apps. That was so old school elegant. It almost made me feel bad coming home to watch mindless television.

Today for the second week in a row I'm going to turn over a new leaf and be more productive. Only problem is that I've already wasted most of the morning and I haven't even gotten a workout.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mooching and Treating

The new look for the Intel shell is oh so much more interesting, don't you think? In the background is the crane and the rising floors of the condo tower (360) where we hope to live one day. One down, one up. Actually many up you can't see in this picture.

Last night we almost made a perfect score in downtown Austin. We ate and drank freebies at a party at Cissi's Market on South Congress which is about to open. There was wine tasting, free coffee, delicious passed food and some food vendors purveying delicious desserts and olive oil and preserves. We had a party to go to at the sales office for the tower going up in this picture. It was a birthday party for the guy who is the local partner on the project. He was 34 and I said I had wine that old and found one to give him that was a '74. Close enough. So when I say we would continue mooching at his party it's not like we didn't take a nice present. That old Cab might even taste all right. But we had some time between the freebies so we went to Belmont and sat on the patio with some women. We'd met one of them, once. I didn't remember where. FFP did. And they bought us drinks.

After the birthday party we were still a little hungry. They had only sweets at the party and we decided to have a nightcap and some snacks at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse bar. Both the owners came over to chat. They didn't treat us, though, so, sadly, the whole evening wasn't a mooch fest. Out came the credit cards.

Today I was the treater, though, more or less. I have a regular irregular lunch with a friend who is a retired health inspector turned playwright. And it was my turn. We take turns. So I picked up the tab at NuAge Cafe. And in the evening, I had dinner with a friend of mine at 34th Street and she chipped in $20 but we had a glass of wine each, I had two apps, she had an app and an entree and I tipped Karen (our server) generously so I picked up a little more than half. I felt sorry for my friend who was out $3000 on surgery for her standard poodle who had jumped around and twisted her stomach. Second time it happened. First time they claimed they tacked the stomach to the abdominal wall. Guess it came loose. I picked this poodle up at the groomers the other day and I'm glad it didn't happen on my watch. She jumped around like crazy at the groomers and at home although she sat quietly in my car in between. My friend also found out that her rental duplex might be sold out from under her.

Did I have a point with all this? Oh. Yes. Mooching and's supposed to balance out. I can't honetsly tell you which end of the thing I'm on. Sometimes things are up, sometimes they are down. Kind of like the buildsings.