Joe Nicolosi, who directed all the “bumpers” which play before all SXSW films, has posted this year’s selection to his website, and in particular I’d like to direct your attention to “Mario.” In a moment of relative sobriety, a critic of my acquaintance admitted: “I can’t say I wouldn’t watch that if it was a real movie.”
The actress Anna Margaret Hollyman, who’s featured in another bumper, “The Line” (which played on Opening Night), delivers a winning performance in Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, in the narrative competition. She plays a self-described “freelance technologist” taking stock of her ability to connect with people when she becomes unexpectedly pregnant (yes, this is a movie that takes it for granted that sometimes, well-educated and reasonably together New York women in long-term relationships just can’t help getting pregnant. God, if only there were a way to control whether or not your body was ready to give birth. You could call it… “baby control”).
The movie carries a bit of excess thematic baggage—are our gadgets bringing us closer together, or keeping us apart, Hollyman asks bystanders in unscripted interview interludes—but at least often played for cute laughs (she makes a disappointed face when her electric toothbrush kicks out and she has to switch to manual). She heads out to the West Coast to visit her sister and niece, her goofy dad, and her boyfriend’s intensely loving massage-therapist sister in Vegas, before driving out, past the GPS, to the northern Arizona desert to visit her estranged, flyaway mother (at a rural New Age enclave, not far from where some of The City Dark’s observatories are, where live people who could be the dupes in Kumare: it’s been a great year for Arizona here at SXSW). It’s in these scene that SBMP becomes a straightforward, compelling (if still brightly lit) story about prenatal ambivalence—and the guilt we feel when we recognize it in our own mothers. Plus: the first movie to incorporate a character’s spirit animal as a running metaphor?
The weird, 52-minute documentary Convento—which Matt Singer called an “unortho-doc,” a coinage of which I’m jealous—concerns a Dutch family living in a 400-year-old Portuguese monastery. Elderly mother Geraldine Zwanikken tends to her herb garden, makes sculptures, and discusses her former career as a ballet dancer in the time it takes her to make a savory-looking fritatta; middle-aged son Louis feeds the geese and pampers his horse; and brother Christiaan, who interests director Jarred Alterman the most, makes strange, whirring sculptures out of salvaged mechanical components and the skeletons of dead animals.
As Alterman crosscuts thoughtfully, waste takes several forms in the film—Christiaan walks through heaps of discarded appliances, and Gertrude pulls weeds out of the lily pond—and might at different points be better described as artifacts, repurposed for art, or relics, like the religious objects the monastery used to house. The film is about the complicated interrelationship between humanity and the natural world—now and in death. Organic and inorganic matter are revitalized in Christian’s sculptures—automatons with tiny bird skulls, old fan belts moving like insects—and … shoots his workspace like a mad scientist’s laboratory, with slow pans, dynamic angles, and eerie music which turns percussive as the sculptures begin to whir to “life.”
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is, for starters, functionally very impressive, impressionistically and associatively recapping a backstory that’s as intensely familiar to the doc’s core audience as it is strange to everyone else fulfilling the needs of both groups. Director Marie Losier spent seven years filming the industrial-music provocateur Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and his wife, Lady Jaye Breyer, at home in the East Village and on tour in Amsterdam with Psychic TV, as the two conceived and executed their “pandrogyne” project, getting extensive plastic surgery to resemble one another more closely. Genesis provides the voiceovers which link the footage, as well as his career; Lady Jaye died, quite unexpectedly, in 2007.
Collaging together grainy 16mm film, running it at different speeds over drone-y art rock, Losier poignantly evokes the texture of Jonas Mekas’s downtown NYC home movies; which, along with stock footage of mentors like William S. Burroughs, and happy remembrances of the old East Village fetish scene, makes a moving lament for a lost bohemia.
At the screening, Genesis is there, in bottle-blonde hair, plumped lips cheeks and breasts, and glassy, angelic eyes; during the Q&A, he—or rather “they,” as since his wife’s death he’s taken to referring to himself with the plural pronoun—responds to an audience member’s question about gender theory by clarifying that while some people might describe themselves as a woman trapped in a man’s body, or vice-versa, “the pandrogyne simply feels trapped in a body.”
Now then: Harmony Korine couldn’t make it to the world premiere of his short Umshini Wam, so he recorded a video intro, in which he’s wearing a Tupac t-shirt, sunglasses indoors, and sneakers on his feet. He mumbles a rambling, self-minstreling. He recorded it on his laptop, it looks like; the lighting is shit.
The film’s title means “Bring Me My Machine Gun”; it stars Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo Landi as two semiretarded street trash outside a suburban subdivision, who wear hoodie pajamas in teletubbie colors and ride around in wheelchairs, talking gangsta to each other, smoking an enormous fatie, and shooting off toy guns, before going on a robbery spree (they steal hologram hubcaps for their wheelchairs. They can walk).
Look, I don’t care if Gummo was the first “weird movie” you ever saw—there’s no there here. Korine is trying to be the one who brings the strangest guests to the party—which here means confrontational hipster icons as glib parodies of his usual outcast subjects—and using an attitude of smug detachment to paper over the essential inarticulate shallowness of his curiosity. Making dumb jokes self-consciously doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not dumb.