Metaphysics and Girls Gone Wild One Day One of SXSW Film

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03/14/2011 11:37 AM |

I did not take this picture.
  • I did not take this picture.

This is the first of a couple of posts, scheduled for today and tomorrow, covering the opening weekend of this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival. More on Saturday and Sunday is coming later today and tomorrow.

Sitting in the row behind me on my 6:20am flight out of JFK on Friday morning is a young woman in a minidress, stilettos and thick black eye makeup; her name is Kristen Rae Myers, and she works for Girls Gone Wild: previously a cast member on their reality show The Hottest Girl in America, she’s heading down to Florida for spring break, to ride around in the GGW bus and induce flashing. I learn this, and many more facts about her life and career—the small-town upbringing and psychology degree; the trips to the Playboy Mansion and stint on a Mexican dating show—as she volunteers the information to her seatmate for the duration of the flight. When she finishes an anecdote, her seatmate will sometimes offer up a homily (“Yeah, it’s tough to get to know people in Los Angeles”), from which she spins a new story. On the occasions when he doesn’t say something, the lull in the conversation seems to last exactly the same duration each time, before she picks up the thread again. She’s met Fabio.

Upon arrival in Austin on Friday afternoon, the first thing I do is leave my wallet at Iron Cactus, the Mexican restaurant and sports bar on 6th St and Trinity Ave in downtown Austin, next to the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and at the epicenter, more or less, of the bar/badge party/basketball/music activity during South By Southwest. I’d like to claim that I worked out an arrangement wherein they’d just hold it for me.

I plan to retrieve my wallet before getting in line for the Opening Night screening at the 1,200-seat Paramount, but at 5:45 the line is already wrapped around an entire city block (though the line represents less than a quarter of the theater’s capacity; I genuinely don’t know where the volunteers are snaking the line behind me. San Antonio?). As the line starts to move, I pass young women in slutty-firefighter outfits, plugging an iphone app, and a long-haired Indian-American man in the robes of a yogi, with a walking stick, standing silently on the sidewalk. “This guy started his own religion and made a movie out of it,” say his acolytes, or possibly his publicists, handing out fliers.

The Opening Night Film, world-premiering Source Code, is, like Moon, the previous feature by Iman’s stepson Duncan Jones, a structuralist mind-body gimmick film—a cross between Quantum Leap, Deja Vu and Groundhog Day, as Jake Gyllenhaal, the foot soldier in an experimental military-intel program whose rules and implications he grows to understand over the course of the film, repeatedly occupies the body of a train passenger in the eight minutes before a bomb detonates, killing all aboard.

Ben Ripley’s debut feature script is compressed in places, and broadly sentimental about life and death where Moon was odd and melancholy, but as a scaling-up of catchy sci-fi concepts, it’s formally gratifying—it’s the same scene, in take after take—and pleasurably old-fashioned, with beautiful commuter-train scenery outside and an old-Hollywood microcosm on the inside. During the Q&A, the audience seems oddly comfortable shouting out their questions and bantering with the movie stars onstage; Jake Gyllenhaal talks about metaphysics while grinning and rubbing his head a lot. The movie opens in theaters April 1.

Coming soon: three quite good titles from the documentary competition, and a couple of the ambling indie films this festival hands out like so many miniature Clif bars.