SXSW: Background Chatter

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03/17/2010 3:02 PM |

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The radio in the shuttle from the Convention Center to the theater across the river is tuned to KROX 101.5. I hear Sublime’s “Santeria,” Spoon’s “Written in Reverse,” Weezer’s “El Scorcho,” and a Dos Equis ad featuring The Most Interesting Man in the World (pictured, apparently).

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Shane Meadows’s mockumentary Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee is 70 minutes of his frequent leading man Patty Considine in a wig mugging as an obliviously washed-up Brit musician currently mentoring/smothering a doughy, socially inept rapper (whose best verse includes the line “like Stephen Hawking talking without a computer”); they’re the subject of a film-within-the-film directed by Meadows himself. It goes about as far as you’re willing to go with Considine (I find him pretty funny, especially when he mixes up Donnie Darko and Donnie Brasco), but the mentor/more talented underling dynamic is lightheartedly explored, and the sniping between Considine and Meadows makes some good points about documentary ethics, like when the subject farts and blames it on the camera crew.

I just miss the shuttle after the movie, but in the same strip mall as the theater is a place called Highball. It’s a 50s cocktail lounge, with gold chairs, black banquettes and Sputnik chandeliers, combined with an 8-lane bowling alley. It’s like The Gutter but with a 50s theme (the Southwest, I’ve noticed, is big on the Eisenhower-Kennedy years. There’s less 70s-style retro, for arguably obvious reasons).

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The Alamo Drafthouse theaters play shorts before the feature, while you make your order. Some old Motown videos, trippy animations, campy vintage ads and dated industrial films, the occasional Japanese TV promo. Stuff like this one, featuring Soapy the Germ Fighter.

Right before the movie, a short film featuring a (sometimes local) celebrity implores you not to be loud during the movie—R. Lee Ermey is scary and Peter Bogdanovich wears a silk scarf and does impersonations, but my favorite is this one, featuring the late, great Ann Richards.

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Vital Signs is a Francophone Canadian film about a woman with two prosthetic legs who volunteers to work with terminally ill patients. The film screens to a small, half-full room at the same time as the festival’s awards are being announced, at a packed event hosted by Eugene Mirman. Vital Signs is a silhouetted mood piece; writer-director-cinematographer Sophie Deraspe struggles to find a compelling structure for her vignettes—the rift between the overly morbid protagonist and her overly glib boyfriend is simplistic—but it’s a brave consideration of what youth knows of death. During one scene, as the naked protagonist weeps in the shower having just seen one her patients off to die, the guy sitting next to me whips out his iPhone.

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There are large parties celebrating SXSW’s switchover from Film and Interactive to Music—at the awards ceremony, the jury gives top prizes to Tiny Furniture and Marwencol—and I attend, mingle, etc. You’re probably wondering what movie critics talk about when seeing each other socially. I’ll tell you: movies. And other movie critics.

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