SXSW Film wrap
A lot of articles that criticize SXSW for being too crowded, too corporate, too Texan are just chewing sour grapes. The reportage really seems to be about how Austin is not as cool as New York City or Los Angeles. Some people say “I’ve got to split” while others say, “I must be going.” It’s hard to conceive how someone could have a bad time during such a spirited event, crazed pedestrian killers aside. Even my least favorite moments were awesome.
Attending this year’s film festival allowed me to sandbag a handful of great interviews for films opening over the next couple of months. Some of the actors and directors I talked to include Robert Duvall (A Night in Old Mexico), Diego Luna (Cesar Chavez), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Gareth Evans (The Raid 2), and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel). On Saturday morning Free Press Houston spoke to Jason Bateman about his directorial debut Bad Words.
Bateman also stars as Guy Trilby, an adult who uses a loophole to compete in a national spelling bee competition. Bad Words pulls no punches. While not exactly mean spirited Trilby insults everyone within earshot including easily embarrassed mothers, unsuspecting children and contest officials of every stripe. Even his one supporter, a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) who’s doing an article on Trilby forces him to “not look at her” when they’re having sex. Make no mistake, Bad Words is profane and outrageous and when Trilby opens his mouth the shock value is palpable. Trilby is truly, to use one of the contest words, a slubberdegullion.
Bateman spoke with enthusiasm about how he helmed Bad Words with “rawness for an aesthetic and a palette designed to take advantage of the visual element of the medium.” Much of the film contains desaturated greens and blues, and that’s in contrast to the HD televised portion of the spelling bee. “Something that’s over saturated, that’s super lit, something that’s shot using wide lenses feels safer; that’s not what I wanted to do. Making this film gave me a chance to use parts of the process that I’m not able to participate in just being an actor in a movie.” Bateman spent the better part of a year working on the project. “Everything was storyboarded and scripted, although there was still room for improvisation,” said Bateman. “We had an abbreviated schedule so we decided on everything like lens sizes during our location scouts. This script demanded that.” One word in the contest was so long that Bateman had big white boards all over the set with a few letters here and a couple of more letters there so his eyes appeared to look around the auditorium rather than just stare in one direction. “I was in one spelling bee in grade school and I lost in the first round when I forgot the ‘w’ in answer.” Bad Words opens in Houston on March 21.
Many of the packed seminars or keynote events (Lena Dunham, Nicolas Cage) were simulcast in other rooms, or portable speakers in the hallways allowing easy access for all who wanted to hear and see. SXSW Film scored another coup with the U.S. premiere of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality. Jodorowsky also participated in a seminar where he was interviewed on stage (by HitFix critic Drew McWeeny).
Never a boring conversationalist Jodo talked about his style of surrealism, a style that helped define cult films and midnight movies starting with El Topo in 1970. A film about Jodo’s never made version of Dune (Jodorowsky’s Dune) also opens next month. Jodo made some rather unkind statements about Peter O’Toole, who he claimed made his life hell during the 1990 film The Rainbow Thief. Jodo won’t even admit to making that film nowadays and leaves it off his filmography. Jodo claims that he would never be nominated for an Oscar®, yet if he was he would send a dwarf in his stead.
The Dance of Reality must be seen to be believed. Nobody can copy Jodorowsky’s nuances: the way he frames images like a hand holding a gun or a hand putting a tarantula in another hand. Essentially a film about himself as a child Dance of Reality takes place in a town ruled by different types of communism and fascism. The mother sings her lines in operatic fashion while everyone else just talks. The sexual imagery takes the audience by surprise too. A couple of scenes involving pee are actually funnier than shocking or erotic. There’s also a dog costume contest with one canine dressed as a kangaroo. The Dance of Reality defies easy verbal description. It’s just one of those films you have to watch and determine your own analysis.
It’s a special kind of movie magic the way SXSW can have an office space decorated with elaborate monitors and food tables and promotions and then the next day the same space is empty like it never existed. Perhaps the coolest makeover was the recreation of the façade of the Bates Hotel (An A&E spin-off series based on Psycho.) down the street from the convention center complete with signage and a free brownie dispenser outside Norman Bates’ room. Next year SXSW Film will run from March 13 – 21, 2015.
- Michael Bergeron