Moviehole at the SXSW Film Festival – Report 1


Tim Basham puts on his reviewing hat

with Tim Basham

Spring (Break) is in the air. The sounds are everywhere—computer keys hammering out the last edit of a closing credit, the “ding” of new emails flooding my mac with reasons I should attend a particular film, and anxious voices asking if that certain distributor will make it to their screening.

Welcome to SXSW Film Festival 2006, Austin, Texas, where the title of the first film premiering Friday shall no doubt be a frequent word out of many a filmmaker’s mouth. F—k! kicks things off at the Paramount Theater at 6:00 p.m. Since I haven’t seen the film yet (featuring oodles of celebrities discussing their favorite four-letter word) I’ll give you an advance look at some of the films I have seen.

“Before the Music Dies”
Is American music doomed to a life of mediocrity? Will radio ever again be the influential force it once was? Does the “next big thing” in music even have a chance to be heard? In spite of the film’s revealing look at how today’s music industry has changed for the worse, the questions receive some surprisingly optimistic answers in “Before the Music Dies”. Two first time filmmakers, Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen, have created a disturbing, funny, hopeful and entertaining film with new, live concert footage from the likes of Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Erykah Badu, Calexico, and a lot more. And though there are some electrifying performances, it’s the interviews with these artists and others (like Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Branford Marsalis, plus media and industry folk) that are the true backbone of the film, including a disguised, “deep-throat” figure speaking about Clear Channel Radio—the media conglomerate that owns a thousand or so stations around America. At the center of the story is Doyle Bramhall II, a singer/songwriter/guitarist whose talent has been praised far and wide by no less than Clapton himself. But the record execs don’t hear the “hit”. This could be one of the best music docs of the year.
Premieres Sun, Mar 12th, 4:30 p.m with an after-party and concert at Austin Music Hall.

“Friends with Money”
This light, L.A. story of friends and their relationships comes from director Nicole Holofcener (known for her TV work—“Six Feet Under”, “Gilmore Girls”, “Sex and the City”). The film pulls some strong performances out of a terrific cast including Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack. Simon McBurney, with his uncanny resemblance to a younger Roman Polanski, is wonderful as McDormand’s gay-but-not-gay husband. Aniston, as Olivia, plays the only friend without a significant other. While everyone else revels in their affluence, Olivia cleans houses for a living and lets the world walk all over her with her primary goals in life appearing to be calling her ex-boyfriend and hanging up or acquiring large amounts of facial cream—quite different from the “friend” she played on the tube. Aniston continues to master the skill of speaking with her face while never saying a word. If she ever plays opposite Bill Murray there may well be no dialogue at all. The normally hilarious Cusack plays it straight here, and does it well. And McDormand shines (like always) as she deals with a mid-life crisis by trying hard to rip off the head of everyone she encounters. Holofcener’s screenplay, though full of rapid-fire witticisms, fails to match the level of the performances. There’s a feeling of incompleteness—not unlike the film’s characters—that’s leaves me wanting more.

“Awesome, I F–kin’ Shot That”
(Nothing like starting off a film festival with two F-word titled films, eh?)
The Beastie Boys were always one of those bands I admired for their creativity but rarely took the time to listen to beyond their hits (Brass Monkey, Fight for Your Right To Party, Hey Ladies). But in spite of 20 years of ground-breaking hip hop and rave performances, their film “Awesome, I F–kin’ Shot That” is intriguing for reasons other than their music. For a 2004 October performance in Madison Square Garden, the band gave 50 digital video cameras to 50 lucky fans and asked them to film the performance. The only condition was to keep the cameras rolling no matter what. The result is a unique look at the Beastie Boys phenomenon in the manner of a lovely, bass-heavy concert film. “Were they pumping the bass?” was the first thing Beastie Boy/Director Adam Yauch, aka MCA, aka director Nathanial Hornblower asked when I interviewed him along with the rest of the band for the Sundance screening in January. While Beastie fans will love the film, the average movie fans will find it mildly entertaining. Multiple views of a performance can easily wear thin but it does demonstrate the incredible versatility of the band, including their lounge act in the middle where they all expertly play their instruments as opposed to their creative, stage-roaming rap. And, if nothing else, pioneers such as The Beastie Boys deserve to have a film celebrating one of the most innovative forms in American music history.

The star of this low-budget but intriguing piece by director/writer Paul Gordon is the motorcycle. We stand witness as it falls into the hands of various people on their way to who-knows-where. Gordon directs his actors through subtle and witty performances that provide a kind of voyeuristic experience as we anticipate the bike’s next adventure.