Saturday, March 15, 2008


So, after breakfast at the second annual SXSW Morning After party, we hit the outdoor music-palooza of South Congress, where every restaurant and vintage clothing store seemed to have a band or singer out front or playing on the back patio.

It was crazy, Amazon hot, so I didn’t stay anywhere very long, but in between hydration breaks, I managed to catch the hypnotic, opium den electro-chant of Pity Party, the laid-back noveau-Guthrie harmonica and guitar goodness of AA Bondy, and some extremely fine Bloodshot recording artists (including the enjoyably mid-period Tom Waits-y Firewater) at the annual Yard Dog party (where, this year, they substituted the free, unlimited goodness of Pabst Blue Ribbon with the even better goodness of somewhat less unlimited free Shiner Bock).

Later in the day, we hit the Alamo Drafthouse for the first movie I’ve seen this year that might potentially wind up on my year-end Top Ten: Full Battle Rattle, a documentary by Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber about a simulated Iraqi province in California’s Mojave desert, populated by Iraqi-American citizens and U.S. Army “insurgents” in a full-immersion training scenario where soldiers practice both their combat and diplomacy skills before heading off to the real war in Iraq.

At first, it’s funny to watch battles interrupted by visits from the ice cream man, and fascinating to see the way the military combines role-playing and stagecraft to create what seems like a strange, gorey theme park or game show (complete with graphically wounded mannequin “casualties,” designed to prepare fledgling medics for the realities of war).

But it’s those harsh realities waiting for the participants beyond all the play-acting that provide Full Battle Rattle with its emotional core, as we come to know the various players, including an Iraqi immigrant terrified of being deported and an American combat vet who admits, tellingly, that after returning from a tour of duty, it takes him several days to start viewing his Iraqi colleagues as people again, rather than potential enemies. By the time the simulation ends and the soldiers we’ve come to know say goodbye to their families and ship out to an uncertain future, the lady next to me in the movie theater was openly weeping, and there seemed to be something in my eye as well.

Our second feature of the night, Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie (another documentary about men blurring the lines between truth and simulation), profiled a pair of hard-luck backwoods Sasquatch enthusiasts who've invested so much of their time and self-esteem in pursuit of the legendary monster that I began to wonder whether or not the whole production wasn't a giant Blair Witchy scam. If not, then the likeable, desperate true believers depicted here by director Jay Delaney (more or less without exploitive condescension) really need a more productive hobby...but then again, I’m writing all this for a blog that hardly anyone reads, so who am I to judge?

And now...still yet more indie films!



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