Saturday, March 20, 2010

Festivus Finale!

It's cold and grey here in Austin as the 2010 SXSW festival winds down -- and even though I'm sorry to see it go, after a solid week of screenings and parties, I can frankly use the relaxation of getting back to work after such a hectic "vacation."

Each year's incarnation of the cinematic spring break I like to call Festivus has its own flavor, but there are certain recurring themes, and one of them is the physical impossibility of catching ALL the treats spilling from the annual entertainment piƱata -- and SXSW 2010 was no different, with special regrets including an inability to locate an alleged live demonstration of Cherie Curry's chainsaw-art prowess and (especially) the fact that I missed Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Ghost-Bustin'-Ass Murray at the premiere of their new film Get Low (about a man who stages his own funeral). Other films I wanted to see but couldn't get to for one reason or another include SATURDAY NIGHT (James Franco's behind-the-scenes documentary about a week in the life of the comedy juggernaut) and Best Documentary winner Marwencol, described to me by the A.V. Club's Leonard Pierce as the bizarre and fascinating tale of a man who loses his memory after a savage beating, then for inexplicable reasons begins to build a tiny World War 2-era town in his backyard (featuring a tiny version of himself building an even tinier town)...

Meanwhile, in the "better to regret something you did rather than something you didn't" category, I'd have to list the three (!) basil-chicken-olive "Poultrygeist" pizzas I consumed at the Alamo Drafthouse during the week, all of which were completely delicious (though perhaps not the healthiest choice to accompany the various screenings I saw at the venue)...but then again, like all the pints of Shiner Bock that helped to wash them down, they're a delicacy I only get to enjoy once a year, so what the heck?

Likewise, I regret not having a better screening to attend yesterday than Tom DiCillo's pretentious, completely unnecessary Doors documentary When You're Strange (which, at the very least, gave me a new understanding of Jim Morrison as the George W. Bush of rock stars) -- but it was, at the very least, a relatively diverting way to kill two hours as we waited for the start of a fun, free, and reliably RAWKIN' free concert at Austin's Auditorium Shores fairground by Cheap Trick (introduced, arguably, as "the best fucking rock band in the world").

The lovely Zooey Deschanel will also be appearing tonight on the same stage, outside in the cold with her band She & Him, but Scott and I will probably be at a closing night screening of Four Lions, described unpromisingly in the SXSW catalogue as a comical tale of suicide bombers.

Yet despite the last-day blues, the week's successes far outweight the regrets. I noted some of the films I enjoyed at, and to that list I would add And Everything Is Going Fine, Stephen Soderbergh's career-spanning retrospective of the life and times of the late, great Spalding Gray (including revelatory footage of his family life and surprisingly lucid final days). Other enjoyable late-week screenings included Mars, an animated mumblecore science fiction adventure-romance (of all things) and an equal parts charming and depressing documentary about roadside attractions and the death of small town America called World's Largest (as in Home of the World's Largest Peanut/Clam/Frying Pan/Boll Weevil/Lutefisk, etcetera).

And, as always, in addition to all the great breakfast tacos, chicken mole, BBQ (and occasional healthy choices like fried chicken salad), there was the general carnival atmosphere of Austin during SXSW, featuring thousands of musicians and music fans from around the world crammed into every square foot of the city (including Somerville's own one-(wo)man-band Audrey Ryan, a former screenwriting student of mine who I coinicidentally encountered bringing her rich, tuneful (and surprisingly multilayered) singer-songwriter mojo to an outdoor patio gig at Jaime's Spanish Village on Red River in the midst of all the madness.

With luck, I'm hoping to squeeze in one last celebrity sighting (comedian and Chelsea Lately regular Matt "Eggly Bagelface" Braunger, tonight at Esther's Follies) and one more breakfast taco before I jet back to Boston tomorrow...but whatever happens, SXSW is nearly over again for another year, and I guess I'll just have to look on the bright side: at least spring is here, and maybe now I can finally get some damn sleep...



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