Sunday, March 18, 2012

Playing a Film Critic on Blogger

Well, it's goodbye to South By. There was a light show on Frost Bank during the festival (above). And we saw films. No music. No panels (not even film ones which we could have seen). Just screenings. Plus a brief walk throught the trade show and one non-SXSW party.

We went to six venues, all very close by foot: Alamo Ritz, Convention Center (Vimeo branded theater), Rollins at Long Center (Canon branded theater), Paramount, State (called 'Stateside' for some reason) and the Violet Crown. We saw plenty of strangeness on the streets, heard the dull roar from Auditorium Shores and other outdoor venues even from the inside of the condo. We retreated often to said condo for refreshment, rest and a few necessary chores.

I learned long ago that I'm not a good critic. Not of books, not of restaurants. (I'm always 'Wow. Best. Meal. Ever.' without the details of the ingredients. "I think there was foie gras and caviar in there somewhere....") Doubly so movies where I just watch and miss lots of things like homage to this film maker or political reference. I have to look up the people to see what else they've been a part of film-wise, otherwise. But, in spite of this failing, I like to recap the movies I saw. Let's just not call it criticism. This is mostly for me to remember when and where I saw something. But if you want to read along, especially if you like documentaries, feel free. Also, people are always asking what we did during the festival. Now I can give them a link.

These are the films. We bought badges early and 'only' paid about $17/per movie.

The movie: The Announcement
What it was about: Magic Johnson, especially his 1991 announcement that he had the HIV virus
Why we saw it: It was a documentary. The blurb made it sound fascinating as history. We'd been interested in the fight against HIV/Aids for a long time and that's our primary 'health and human services' cause.
What we thought after seeing it: Wow. Magic narrated the film! His wife gave some great and heartfelt interviews. We've come a long way in the fight but there is still lots of education needed. Man, he was the greatest basketball player ever. (Great game footage.) And: even he was met with discrimination. Very well-formed doc with a wide range of images from pre-announcement to modern day.
Where can you see it: Now playing on ESPN (it's an ESPN movie).

The movie: Jeff
What it was about: About Jeffrey Dahmer's arrest and its effect on the authorities and the community.
Why we saw it: It was a documentary. Forrest likes true crime especially when it explores the law enforcement puzzles and the effect of the crime on the community.
What we thought after seeing it: Use of re-enactment was unsettling but because they only used it to show interactions with people, um, alive to describe it, it was useful. The detective, Patrick Kennedy, was particularly upended by his involvement and his interviews were honest and direct.
Where can you see it: No idea, but maybe follow the WEB.

What it was about: About the birds and bird watchers in Central Park.
Why we saw it: It was a documentary. We love NYC. A friend's uncle made the film.
What we thought after seeing it: A pitch perfect movie on this topic. Beautiful nature photography. Fantastic personal profiles. People were buzzing that Jonathan Franzen was in the movie, but we were actually more fascinated with some of the other bird watchers.
Where can you see it: Enter your e-mail here to find out.

The movie: Tchoupitoulas
What it was about: Documenting how a child sees New Orleans.
Why we saw it: It was a documentary (yes, we like docs) and we had previously enjoyed "45365" by the Ross brothers and they made this movie.
What we thought after seeing it: Achieved its goal. The children were charming, especially the youngest boy. Lots of meandering and handheld but great footage to dig into NOLA from a child's point of view. In the Q&A, the Ross brothers said they'd been in New Orleans as kids and tried to make this movie from a child's point of view. After the young brothers in the movie happened by the house where the Rosses were living in New Orleans one day, they chased them down and used them to focus the movie. With that touch, success. Without it, I'm not so sure.
Where can you see it: No clue.

The movie: (really TV show premiere): Girls
What it was about: Four friends fighting to survive with their dreams in New York City in the confusing period between college and actual adulthood.
Why we saw it: We enjoyed the movie Lena Dunham made (Tiny Furniture) even though we couldn't relate to the character. (Having graduated college too many decades ago.) We'd been following her on Twitter since as she navigated the adventure of getting an HBO series. They showed three episodes for this SXSW screening.
What we thought after seeing it: A funny and poignant look at the way some young ladies live. Lena's character is self-deprecating and lovable. The other characters are of a type that you recognize. NYC locations fun, too. We'll probably watch it.
Where you can see it: HBO premiere April 15.

The movie: In Our Nature
What it was about: A father and his grown son show up to use a lake cabin with their girlfriends the same weekend. This was the first narrative piece we saw in the festival, apart from the TV sitcom. I'll bet some people only see narratives. This is why everyone's SXSW movie festival is so very different.
Why we saw it: FFP picked it from the description, I think, figuring it would be a character-driven piece. And it was to some degree.
What we thought after seeing it: What if Matt Saracen was Roger Sterling's kid instead of that guy running away from family responsibilities by joining the army, leaving the kid with a grandmother with dementia to care for? (In other words, Zach Gifford's role in "Friday Night Lights.") What if he'd grown up in relative privilege with that steamy, seething artistic nature? Oh, wait. Fiction. It is hard for me to separate the bad boy elder statesman of "Mad Men" and the artistic quarterback with the finely-tuned moral compass from the actors playing them. Not really. But they were almost playing the same characters only the youngster had more choices. He still steamed and seethed and longed to be creative. I honestly didn't get beyond my stereotypes for these characters and the ladies playing the girlfriends didn't really stand out in their roles either. Gabrielle Union convinced me she was pretty and young and a strong woman. I was never convinced she would partner with Roger, er, Gil, however.
Where can you see it: No clue.

The movie: Francine
What it was about: A woman is released from prison and tries to find a comfortable place in the world.
Why we saw it: I think FFP chose it because Melissa Leo was in it. In the future, however, we may choose films because Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky wrote or directed them.
What we thought after seeing it: Immediately after seeing it I was nonplussed. I wanted to know why this woman had gone to prison in the first place. I was puzzled about her behavior. I wanted more things explained. I think both FFP and I came to see the piece eventually as it was intended. You were supposed to be outside the woman's experience. She was not going to explain herself to you. But you eventually realized that she required confinement and a certain kind of authority. I was reminded of the film "Temple Grandin" and the way the eponymous title character discovered ways of confinement that calmed animals and also herself as an autistic person.
Where can you see it: No clue.

The movie: Trash Dance
What it was about: A choreographer, Allison Orr, decides to do a dance piece with employees of the Austin Solid Waste Department and their machinery.
Why we saw it: It's a documentary and it was getting a lot of buzz from people we met in lines and it was Austin stuff.
What we thought after seeing it: It did a great job letting us get to know the people who provide this service. It really did seem like dance. Perhaps the performance itself, as presented in the movie, was a little more tedious than the rest of the movie, but this one is something different. Original music by Graham Reynolds, now Austin's treasured composer, didn't hurt. It made me understand my youngest great nephew who is five and is (or was fairly recently) completely transfixed by the guys who pick up the trash at his house.
Where can you see it: No clue.

The movie: Slacker 2011
What it was about: Random encounters in Austin, Texas directed scene by scene by 24 directors with a script following Richard Linklater's orginal "Slacker".
Why we saw it: We had missed seeing this in the screenings Austin Film Society had. We saw the original at the Paramount with much of the cast of that one. We like seeing Austin scenes even though the jump cuts from place to place (in both films) are disorienting.
What we thought after seeing it: Enjoyed seeing the places around town. Including a corner just outside of our place. But the original is the original.
Where can you see it: No clue.

The movie: The Last Fall
What it was about: A narrative about an NFL player toiling at the edge of the sport who is cut and goes home to confront the possibility of life after football.
Why we saw it: The plot seemed a bit different.
What we thought after seeing it: A little bit of soap opera but not too bad an effort. It was more about family and truly growing up than football which was a good thing. The movie was haunted by the death of the film maker's parents a little bit. (His mother, who died in May, was given a dedication. He indicated before this showing that he'd just found out his father had died.) Matthew Cheery (writer, director, etc.) obviously has a talent for film and I would take a chance on another of his works.
Where can you see it: No clue.
What it was about: A documentary about artist, animator, puppeteer, sculptor Wayne White.
Why we saw it: Love docs. Love docs about artists.
What we thought after seeing it: Loved it. Great footage of a variety of work. Interesting family perspective (of both Wayne's wife, Mimi Pond, and their kids and Wayne's parents). Pee Wee Herman a plus, too.
Where can you see it: No clue.

What it was about: A documentary about a seventies folk rocker, Sixto Rodriguez, and his unlikely fame far away from his Detroit life.
Why we saw it: Love docs. Heavily recommended by someone in line.
What we thought after seeing it: A most amazing film, presented like a mystery story and enhanced by the wonderful, forgotten (in the U.S.) music. See it. Buy the tunes. I loved the Cape Town footage, too.
Where can you see it: After a breakout success at Sundance, Sony Classics picked up. Watch for a theatrical release. I would watch it again.

What it was about: Allegedly a documentary about a kid who wants to master making baklava.
Why we saw it: We like docs. Seemed like this one might be something different.
What we thought after seeing it: We thought this was our worst choice of the festival. It didn't seem like a documentary. It was boring and did not ring true. The camera work on the making of the baklava was the best part. There was a little expose of the child labor and misogynistic attitudes around the story but it read, in the end, like an after school special and not a very good one and certainly not a documentary.
Where can you see it: No clue. And don't recommend it.
What it was about: A documentary about Paul Simon and his collaborations with South African musicians.
Why we saw it: We like docs. I'm interested in South Africa. We like Graceland.
What we thought after seeing it: Good job of documenting the music (album, performances) and the players (musicians as well as politicians and activists) and the history. I saw Mariam Mekeba live on my 2005 visit to Cape Town before her death (2008). Would have been stellar if she'd been alive for the reunion tour.
Where can you see it: No idea, but watch for it.

The movie: Brooklyn Castle
What it was about: A Brooklyn school has a tremendous chess program which enriches the lives of students struggling to break out of poverty and attend good high schools and get into college.
Why we saw it: We like docs. Though childless, we are interested in helping groups that provide enhancement to public education.
What we thought after seeing it: Enjoyed 'meeting' the kids and the teachers. Thought the pace was a little contemplative but, well, it was about chess!
Where can you see it: No clue.

The movie: Sunset Strip
What it was about: The history of the clubs and lives along Sunset Boulevard in the area between Beverly Hills and Hollywood know as "the Strip".
Why we saw it: We like docs. We'd just been to LA and, in fact, stayed a block from the Whiskey A Go Go.
What we thought after seeing it: Great survey. Coup getting all these people on film and all archival stuff.
Where can you see it: No clue.
What it was about: Documenting art photographer Gregory Crewdson staging his large narrative photos.
Why we saw it: We like docs. We like docs about artists. While in LA, FFP had picked up a book of these photos and marveled at them when we visited a great indie store, Book Soup. Before that, we'd never heard of Gregory. We couldn't believe our luck when we saw this in the SXSW schedule.
What we thought after seeing it: Fantastic doc of the process. After a lot of handheld camera work showing the settings, setup, all the set decoration and direction I loved it when the camera lingered over the high quality still print.
Where can you see it: No clue. But if you get a chance do see it.

Yep, that was our SXSW 2012. We only regretted one choice. We learned about some music and art we weren't that familiar with and met fascinating people (several in line waiting to see shows). In fact, in line we met a woman who had interests similar to mine about WWII and who had actually written a screenplay. I've already been privileged to read that. I bought a Rodriguez album on my iPhone. And we think we will buy Gregory Crewdson's book over at Book People. We are culturally enhanced, I guess.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Curating a Life

I am fascinated by those collections at places like Harry Ransom Center at UT where all the books, papers, manuscripts, ephemera and claptrap of a life is carefully handled (with white gloves), organized, indexed and stored in acid-free boxes and such. That's the treatment someone like Norman Mailer gets. I would call to your attention that the center has perserved the invitations and attendance list for his fiftieth birthday party. I myself have ephemera from my fiftieth birthday party. But I doubt it will ever be curated.

For most of us, if we don't curate our lives then no one will. On the other hand, who will actually care about it but us? Even if I had kids I don't think they would care. So what's the point? Does it matter that you can't remember where you were twenty years ago or what unpublished writings you were creating? Does it matter that many of your photos are unlabeled and the people and places in them unidentified. What has even been the point of keeping old photos and computer files of writing and digital photos and scans of tickets and souvenirs and thousands of emails? Indeed, I've made a great effort to keep the stuff even if I haven't done much to preserve it from harm. The computer files have been copied and preserved through so many hard drive failures and computer decommissions that I've lost track.

Still I have this desire to organize it and have decided to spend a little time on it each day. It will, of course, be another forgotten project after a while. Perhaps there will be little lists on the computer and notes on paper to commemorate the effort (and cry out to themselves be archived).

[Today's picture is a shop window self-portrait taken at Uncommon Objects in 2008.]