by gavin dahl
Friday was opening day for SXSW Film and Interactive. Thousands of pasty geeks carrying over-stuffed canvas tote bags swarmed downtown Austin. One guy told me he plans to outdo his previous record of 31 movies in 10 days. Endless street marketers were out earning an hourly wage hawking diet energy bars and life-changing mobile apps. In the late afternoon, a four-square match got started between the convention center and the sponsored free drink tents across the street.
When I asked writer-director Jason Reitman if a lot of people ask him if he's Jason Reitman, he laughed. His third film "Up in the Air" was nominated for half a dozen Academy Awards this year. Before I had a chance to ask him to help me win the Alamo Drafthouse "Don't Talk During the Movie" celebrity challenge, his face sent the message he wasn't in the mood. My camera was still in black-and-white mode from experimentation at the Shapes Have Fangs show.
So right when I was about to walk into a panel on Pay TV and The Internet with Mark Cuban, the cable television and NBA basketball impresario, there was a fire alarm at the convention center. Apparently most panels were uninterrupted despite a couple thousand of us filing obediently outside. Since there are way too many interactive panels to cover, check out Twitter for the SXSW interactive hashtag #SXSW.
After we were allowed back inside I ran into Michael Barnes, a lifestyle columnist at the local daily paper. Years ago when he was the head theater critic, he called a one-act play of mine, "aimless and meandering," so I thought it would be fun to tease him about it. Looks like I made an impression. He blogged yesterday about "...a playwright, Gavin Dahl, I somehow dissed back in the 1990s. He’s in community radio now. Doesn’t hold a grudge."
Outside of Alamo Ritz on 6th Street I caught up with another long-time writer for the Austin American-Statesman, film critic Chris Garcia. We sat in the back row of the screening of Trash Humpers the latest from provocateur Harmony Korine, taking advantage of Alamo table service for a large popcorn with butter. SXSW film programmer Jarod Neece read a note the director sent since he couldn't make it to introduce the movie, his fourth feature. Neece just forwarded me a copy.
sorry i cant be there with you tonight. im in bermuda now taking a conference on the art of lucid dreaming. the instructors name is nigel and he is the cousin of winston churchill. he spends 8-10 hours a day dreaming. this conference only happens once every nine years in nigels basement. his wife loretta also teaches a course on lucid dreaming, she was in prison for several decades and became an expert during her stint in solitary confinement. in a few days from now i will be certified. i hope to be able to travel the world without ever leaving my living room. i always wanted to be certified something and this is my only chance. i hope you understand.
this movie you are about to see is maybe not a real movie, it might be something else, its meant to be more like a found object, like a vhs tape found in the garbage or in an old ladies panty drawer or in an attic somewhere under some bricks or buried in a pile of asbestos or floating down a river in a zip lock sandwich bag. when i was a kid there was a group of elderly peeping toms who lived by my house, they would always hang out in the alley ways and under bridges and they would drink behind the strip mall, i could tell they were fornicating all over the place and doing a lot of humping. this film is an ode to them, an ode to the shadows and the shit, an ode to vandalism maybe, i hope you understand what im talking about, i hope you all enjoy it and i will see you on the flip side, maybe in a dream somewhere.
As a teen, I was riveted by Kids, Korine's first script. Then Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy earned him a reputation as one of the edgiest directors at the end of the '90s. I haven't seen anything else he's done in 10 years. As the lights went down, with Garcia and his editor Charles Ealy on either side of me, I was ready to be blown away by his newest "ode to the shadows and the shit."
I hated every second of it.
Mangled video footage of impossibly wrinkled freak-show performers humping trash cans and simulating fellatio on branches caused eight walkouts in the first 30 minutes. By the time the popcorn arrived, we had been subjected to dialog about the benefits of people one day having no heads, fragments of racist and homophobic jokes, shrieks of "you gonna eat these pancakes with this soap" and other look-at-us-we're-disgusting nonsense. Korine showed the first of two brutal, pointless murders as the 20th and 21st people walked out. If Trash Humpers had been on YouTube, I would have clicked away from the page. But at the Alamo, you have to wait for your check to drop.
The one interesting line from the otherwise pointless movie came from a cross-dressing poet, who said of America that we have "depraved it, paved it, trashed it and bashed it." But once film-goers got their credit cards back, having witnessed the murder of the poet and then the smearing of his blood onto his killer's face, many more were out the door. When I finally decided I too had all I could take of the repulsive and depressing non-narrative, I became the 35th attendee to walk out. Before I left, I asked Garcia for a quote about what amounted to Korine giving civilization the finger. He deadpanned, "Tediously weird."
Movie coverage continues tomorrow, when I explain why I missed the new White Stripes documentary in favor of checking out Austin's most successful movie-trashing comedian, John Erler.