Eric D. Snider

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Archive for March 11th, 2007

SXSW Diary 2007: Day 2

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Day 2: Saturday, March 10

My slumber at International House of Greg was blissful, and Greg reported not being awoken by my superhuman snoring, even though his bedroom is in a loft that is not really separated from the downstairs area in any significant way. The apartment’s only bathroom is upstairs, too, which means if you have to tinkle in the middle of the night, you have to creep silently up the steps and tiptoe past Greg and then try to hit the back of the porcelain rather than shooting the stream directly into the water, as a urine stream shot straight into the middle of a toilet bowl at 4 a.m. is the loudest sound known to man. You guys know what I’m talking about.

But enough about my urine! The weather was sunny and beautiful today as Greg and I headed to the convention center. He went off to volunteer headquarters while I sought out the press suite. I had the option of seeing a movie at 11 a.m., but I had a dilemma: There were four choices, and they were all documentaries, and the only one that interested me even mildly — the one about a guy who set a “Donkey Kong” record — was at the least convenient venue, the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse. So I solved the problem by not seeing any of them.

Instead, I camped out in the press suite and got some writing done, though I first stopped at the booth on the main floor of the convention center where Starbucks products are sold. I acquired a cream cheese muffin and a hot chocolate beverage, all for the low, low price of only $7.25!

The press suite is on the second floor of the convention center and is a comfortable lounge for journalist types to work, relax, doze, and/or drink coffee. It is also, unfortunately, a place for publicists to scatter fliers and posters, and for people to promote their films. Front and center today was a kilt-clad Scotsman making balloon animals. This was in conjunction with the documentary “Twisted: A Balloonamentary,” playing at the festival and apparently addressing the controversial hot-button issue of balloon-animal-making. The Scotsman was behaving in a very jovial and Scottish fashion, to the alleged amusement of bystanders, which included the festival volunteers who had to sit at the front desk the whole time and were thus a captive audience.

The kilt wearing I have no problem with, since he was legitimately Scottish. That is the only good reason to wear a kilt, of course. The guys who wear kilts as a fashion choice are the same types of guys who rode unicycles across campus when they were in college: They want to play it cool like they’re just being themselves and they don’t care what anyone thinks, but really what they want is for people to notice them and say, “Wow! That guy’s different! Awesome!”

But that is an unnecessary tangent, and I will probably delete it before I publish this. The point is, there was a balloon-twister in the press suite, and his merry jokes and corny patter as he worked the crowd were like daggers on the chalkboard of my heart.

Within the first 10 minutes I was sitting there, writing, Weinberg, Erik, and Jason each separately stopped by, said hello, and asked if I was going to the Bill Paxton panel. Apparently Bill Paxton was sitting on a panel across the hall. The topic: How to tell the difference between Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman. I kind of wish I’d gone, as that sort of information would be useful.

But no! There was work to do. No panels for me! Then a bit later, without warning, a press conference broke out. It was for the film “The Lookout,” which opens theatrically March 30 and played last night opposite “Them.” I have heard nothing but good things about it, so I’m eager to see it when it’s released, but for now I was eager not to accidentally overhear spoilers while the journalists asked the cast members questions. A question like, “Did you enjoy filming the scene where we find out Bruce Willis was dead the whole time?” can ruin your day.

I needn’t have worried. From what I did hear, the questions were on the order of, “What was the hardest scene to film?” and “How did you prepare for your role?” and generic crap like that.

Actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Isla Fisher, and Matthew Goode were there, along with writer/director Scott Frank. I remained in my spot on the couch across the room, but from my vantage point the press conference seemed to be successful enough, especially when measured in terms of how many pictures the photographers took.

Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he was the kid on “3rd Rock from the Sun”) is approximately 4’8″ and weighs no more than 75 pounds.

On the way over to the Paramount for my first screening of the day, I saw an amusing publicity spectacle happening. A red-robed gospel choir led by a white-suited preacher was dancing down the street singing about limiting our consumption and boycotting worker-unfriendly places like Starbucks. (The lyric/chant was catchier than that, but that was the idea.) They even had a live keyboard player, drummer, and horn section. They’re connected with “What Would Jesus Buy?,” a documentary playing here at the festival that I hope to see later in the week. I don’t always care for blatant attention-whoring (see prior comments), but what can I say, I’m a sucker for gospel music.

The first film was “When a Man Falls in the Forest.” Just before it began, Erik Childress said, “Is this movie about a family coming to terms with stuff?” He said it in a manner indicating weariness, which I share, though to feel that way on Day 2 of a film festival does not bode well. It’s like declaring you’re tired of childlike whimsy only five minutes after beginning a week-long stay at Disneyland.

I predicted, meanwhile, that the film would involve a car accident. This prophecy was based on experience: So far, “Disturbia,” “The Lookout,” and “Them” all had car wrecks, so it stood to reason.

“When a Man Falls in the Forest” is not about a family coming to terms with stuff; it is about three middle-aged men coming to terms with stuff. One of them is in a failing marriage, one has severe social anxiety, and one has never been the same since being involved in — yes! — a fatal car accident some years earlier.

Pretty good movie, really, with particularly good central performances by Dylan Baker as the socially messed-up guy and Timothy Hutton as the guy with the bad marriage (to Sharon Stone, so you can imagine the various ways it might be bad). The film is funny and melancholy simultaneously, and it’s a nice combination.

After that, Eugene and I headed south to the non-downtown Alamo Drafthouse. We had heard fanciful rumors of a city bus that goes past the original Drafthouse and takes you straight to the other one, and we had a few minutes to spare, so we thought we’d give it a try. Perhaps owing to our lack of scientific adventurousness, however, we gave up waiting after 15 minutes and took a cab instead.

The film was “Fall from Grace,” a documentary about Fred Phelps, that horrible Kansas preacher who goes around protesting at gay people’s and soldiers’ funerals with the “God hates fags” signs and so forth. He’s a fascinating figure insofar as EVERYONE, conservative and liberal, religious and atheist, thinks he’s repulsive. Even people who believe homosexuality is sinful think it’s awful to march around saying “Matthew Shepard is in hell” AT Matthew Shepard’s funeral. (Dude, at least wait until the luncheon.) And Phelps’ logic with regard to soldiers’ funerals — America has embraced homosexuality; thus God hates America; thus killing soldiers and sending them to hell is God’s way of punishing us — is so twisted that it would be hilarious, if it weren’t so outrageously inhuman.

The filmmaker, a University of Kansas student named K. Ryan Jones, got a surprising level of access to Phelps and his 80-member congregation, which consists almost entirely of his numerous children and grandchildren. (In the post-film Q-and-A, Jones revealed that there are two non-Phelps families at Westboro Baptist Church: one has been associated with the Phelpses for decades; the other is headed by a documentary filmmaker who began researching the Phelps movement in 2000, decided Phelps was right, moved his family up from Florida, and joined them [!!!!!].) The Phelpses believe all publicity is good publicity, that the more they’re opposed the more it proves they’re right, and that even if the film were nothing but an anti-Phelps screed, if it contained just one shot of a “God hates fags” sign, then at least the message would be getting out there.

There are a couple clips in the film of Phelps’ daughter and main supporter, Shirley, appearing on Fox News. In one, a female anchor whose name I didn’t catch is seen introducing Shirley; we cut away to some other clip of something else; and then we cut back to mid-interview, where the anchor is SCREAMING at Shirley Phelps, just completely losing her mind. It’s hilarious and unprofessional how out-of-control she is, and yet at the same time, the audience applauded what she was saying: that the Phelps movement is evil and hateful.

The other Fox News clip is Shirley Phelps on the Sean Hannity show, and it ends with a similar (though more reined-in) smackdown. Folks, when SEAN HANNITY tells you that your particular brand of self-righteous moral crusading is evil and hateful, then you know you’ve really accomplished something.

The movie itself isn’t particularly brilliant; it’s a case where the subject matter is shocking enough that all you have to do is set up a few cameras and let the people speak for themselves. But we liked it enough — and we had enough spare time — that we stayed for the Q-and-A afterward. It was enlightening if only for this reason: I had thought Jones might have been interested in the subject because he was gay, but it turns out he was interested because he’s a Christian and even considered going into the ministry before becoming a filmmaker instead.

We had an hour to kill before the next film, also at the South Lamar Alamo, but that part of town is sadly lacking in places to hang out or even sit down. Lots of tire shops, Jiffy Lubes, and brake-pad stores, but no coffeeshops. So Gene and I thought, what the heck, might as well be first in line for the next film.

And it’s a good thing we were! The next film, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” proved to be a sellout, my first completely full, we’re-turning-people-away screening of the festival. It’s a teen horror film with a distinctly ’70s look to it and a very cool visual style, which helps it overcome its rather pedestrian story of good-looking teens being murdered while staying in an isolated ranch house.

There’s a scene very early on in which a guy attempts to dive into a backyard swimming pool and cracks his head on the cement instead. The impact happens off-camera, but the sound effect they used is genuinely brutal. It felt like the whole audience recoiled in horror; I know Gene and I did. I really think that to get that sound, they’d have to have actually cracked someone’s head against a sidewalk.

We stayed for that Q-and-A, too, but nothing interesting happened, so I’m not going to mention that we even stayed for it.

It was back downtown for us next, and this time we managed to catch the mythical bus, which proved to be quite real indeed, and convenient besides. I was heading for a 9:30 screening of something at the Downtown Alamo, but I wasn’t completely sold on it. I was itching to do something non-movie-related, and I knew Greg the Volunteer and Christina, another pal from last year, were party-hopping. So I went to my 9:30 film with the provision that if I wasn’t loving it, I could leave early without feeling guilty.

It was “Everything’s Gone Green,” a Canadian comedy about a slacker 29-year-old who gets a job working at the lottery office. It was mildly amusing, but it was also yet another movie in which slacker 29-year-olds whine about how all their friends got steady jobs and got married after college while they somehow got left behind, and while I sympathize with that position, and while I can even relate to some of the sentiments behind it, I’M TIRED OF MOVIES ABOUT IT. You’re not profound anymore, Generation Y. Go smoke some weed and play Xbox and quit your belly-aching.

Anyway. I left at about 10:15 and found Greg and Christina at a nearby dance club, chosen because it was going to be home to Alan Cumming’s party. Now, I disliked Alan Cumming’s movie (“Suffering Man’s Charity,” from yesterday), but disliking someone’s movie does not preclude me from enjoying someone’s free hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Alas, there were neither, at least not free, but what can you do?

I found Greg in a state of inebriation and Christina in a state of perky cuteness — exactly the way they were when I first met them last year, in other words. Before long, we met a couple of ladies named Jackie and Jen, a lawyer and law student, respectively, from Philadelphia, in Texas for Spring Break. There was chatting and laughing and carrying on, and then Greg discovered that Alan Cumming had arrived.

Before I knew what was happening, Greg had bounced over to him, introduced himself, professed his fondness for the actor’s work — and been kissed full on the lips by Alan Cumming. Evidently the part I didn’t hear was where Greg said his girlfriend would be really jealous that he was meeting Alan Cumming, and Alan Cumming replied that Greg was very cute and that his girlfriend would be even more jealous if he kissed him. And Greg either did not protest or did not protest quickly enough — or, as Eugene later put it, perhaps Alan Cumming exercised the Alan Cumming Provision, wherein Alan Cumming is allowed to kiss anyone he chooses, period. It’s in the Geneva Convention.

Greg, intoxicated with giddiness and vodka, was both delighted and horrified at what had transpired: delighted that he had a great story to tell, and horrified that he had kissed a guy. I hustled him out of there shortly afterward, and we went in search of another party, hopefully one where celebrities would not be snogging random strangers. As we left, Alan Cumming was beginning his Q-and-A with the rowdy crowd, and while I didn’t hear the question, his answer was that circumcision is a cruel and barbaric practice. So there you go. Straight from the mouth of Alan Cumming.

We had a place in mind for our next stop, but we ran in to Weinberg on the way, and he led us to the James Blunt party instead. Yes, James Blunt the singer. People kept saying, “Who’s James Blunt?,” and I would sing, “You’re BEAUtiful! You’re BEAUtiful,” really shrieking the “BEAU” part, and they would go, “Oh, that guy? Meh.” But again, a free party is a free party, and Weinberg is pals with the publicists who were putting this one on.

James Blunt is here because he has a documentary in the festival called “James Blunt: Return to Kosovo,” in which he, I don’t know, fights terrorism through song or something. We all got into the party, held at a club with patios in the front and back, with a dance floor in the middle. A live band was playing out back, while inside the song the DJ was spinning was, I kid you not, “Whoomp, There It Is,” because apparently it was 1993 there.

Partitioned off from the main dance floor was a little VIP area where only certain color wristbands could enter and thus be granted an audience with James Blunt and his buddies. We did not have that color of wristband, but they weren’t being diligent in checking them, either, so before I knew what was happening, Drunk Greg was in the VIP area, chatting up James Blunt.

When I arrived at his side two seconds later, Greg was telling James Blunt how he, Greg, does a great impression of him, James Blunt. Now, I had heard this impression earlier, and it was no great shakes. I think James Blunt, due to his distinct singing style, is like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart: Anyone can do a half-decent impression of him without even trying very hard.

But Greg, bless his vodka-soaked heart, was saying, “My friends are always telling me I do a great impression of you!”

“Oh, really? I’ll have to hear it sometime,” James Blunt said, being very, very gracious.

“I’ll do it for you now!” Greg said.

“Well, it’s very loud in here, so I don’t know….”

“OK, here goes!” And then he did his James Blunt impression while I did my best to be embarrassed on his behalf. I was pretty sure Greg was not the first drunk guy ever to corner James Blunt somewhere and sing a James Blunt song for him, so I said, “I’m sure no one ever does that for you.” He said, “Well, not so beautifully, they don’t!” Very nice guy, that James Blunt.

I asked him what he thought of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody of his song (“You’re Pitiful”), and he said it was funny but there’s an even better one, by some Australian guy, in which the song is sung from the point of view of the girl’s new boyfriend. Sounds funny, and it’s James Blunt-approved, so I’ll have to look for it.

Greg and I left not long after that, as it was very late, we were losing an hour of sleep due to daylight-saving time, and Greg had to be at volunteer duty at 9:30 the next morning. After some stumbling around, we finally found where Greg had parked his car, and I drove us home, where Greg was sawing logs in a matter of seconds. The li’l guy had had a big night, and he was all tuckered out.

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