Moviehole at the SXSW Film Festival – Report 2

Tim Basham reporting live on the scene


With Tim Basham

SXSW–A Texas Home Companion
When walking out of Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse after an early morning press screening of “Prairie Home Companion” (more about that later) I could hear, over the entire block, the local sports bar’s TV broadcast of the University of Texas (my alma mater) basketball tournament. This, on a weekday, and it wasn’t even noon. But that’s the way Texans are, and in spite of our sometimes annoying pride (not that we really care that we might be annoying) I enjoy seeing all the happy, out-of-town faces drifting through our “humble” town for SXSW. And they should be happy. Texans not only love it here, but they love to share it with the world. And share it they did at Friday night’s Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. A few thousand guests spent the evening honoring industry celebs who have made a major impact on Texas filmmaking. The night’s auction raised money for the show’s host, the Austin Film Society. This year’s honorees included Kris Kristofferson (shortest acceptance speech–about 30 seconds), Matthew McConaughey (longest acceptance speech–about 30 minutes), singer/songwriter/actor Lyle Lovett (whose performance with his “semi” large band was incredibly beautiful and incredibly short) and actresses Cybill Shepherd and JoBeth Williams. I sat at the AMD table with an assortment of talents including local filmmaker Andrew Shapter whose premiere of “Before the Music Dies” is creating quite a stir with his indictment of the music industry. McConaughey may have had a long speech, but he was entertaining as hell as he gave us his life’s story, including his love of Texas and how his state stands tall no matter where ya roam. His enthusiasm for Texas filmmaking is infectious. So, if you’re here visiting see some films, meet some Texans, eat some Lone Star cuisine and have a damn good time. And be sure to say “Hey” when you see me. (We don’t all say howdy.) Oh, by the way, the biggest ovation of the night was for former University of Texas Football Coach Darrell Royal. (Can I get any more annoying?)

A Prairie Home Companion premieres at SXSW
Dedicated fans of the radio broadcasts of “A Prairie Home Companion” often talk of the family-style comfort they receive when listening to the show’s star Garrison Keillor and the rest of the eccentric cast. But the film version with the same name goes even further and allows us an inside look at our Prairie Home favorites as they really are, with all their hang ups and backstage anxieties completely exposed. If you’re not familiar with the semi-fictional radio series that began in the 1970′s, check out their website at prairiehome.publicradio.org. The film follows the performers on and off the stage as they air their very last show because the big corporation in Texas, who bought the station they broadcast from, is cancelling them. Keillor, as himself, is surprisingly good with an almost Jimmy Stewart-like presence as the show’s host. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin play The Johnson Sisters, two of the show’s biggest stars, and they also have some of the best scenes in the film. Speaking quickly, and often on top of each other, Streep and Tomlin have Director Robert Altman’s trademark style down pat. Streep, as usual, steals the film with her incredible ability to become any person. And Tomlin does an admirable job of keeping up. The back story to the show’s cancellation is the presence of a beautiful woman in a trenchcoat (Virginia Madsen) who wanders mysteriously through the set. A bumbling detective and friend of the show, played “Inspector Clouseau-like” by Kevin Kline, seems at first to be the only one who sees the woman and sets about trying to find out who she is. Meanwhile, the Johnson Sisters reminisce about the old days as sister Yolanda (Streep) pines over past lover Keillor who appears oblivious and unconcerned about everything, including the show’s demise. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are terrific as Lefty and Dusty, two singing cowboys whose number on dirty jokes is hysterical. Tommy Lee Jones has a brief role as the radio station “axeman” and Lindsay Lohan gives a passable performance as Yolanda’s depressing, death-obsessed daughter. “Saturday Night Live’s” Maya Rudolph is smashing as the pregnant assistant stage manager trying to keep the show and its dingy cast moving. In spite of a storyline that could have been a little stronger, A Prairie Home Companion works. Perfect camera angles timed with Keillor’s sharp and subtle dialogue give the film a voyeuristic appeal that many have tried to duplicate but 81 year old Altman masters on a regular basis.

Saturday Night’s Alright with Dale Watson
It’s hard to match the previous night’s Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards Show but I tried. After stopping by Microsoft’s get together at Lance Armstrong’s Six Club I headed over to the famous Broken Spoke to hear Dale Watson. He played a lot of my favorites like “Truckin’ Man” and “Truckstop In La Grange” and some great stuff off his new CD “Whiskey or God”. Dale’s gone through some tough times over the past few years with the SXSW documentary Crazy Again chronicling much of those times. It’s amazing to watch 80 year old grandmas and 20 year old rap fans flocking to see this guy, including three guys from Joshua Tree, California who flew to Austin just to see Dale’s film and to see him perform in three shows. And the Spoke is the quintessential Texas honky tonk with “two-stepping”, cowboy hats and boots a plenty.

Ahhh, Texas.