Brief Thoughts on a Few Films from SXSW

This has basically been an insane week for movie, tech and media news. I know the candler blog has been quiet of late, but it’s not because I’ve stopped paying attention to things. It feels like every time I sit down to compose a piece something else massive happens that diverts my attention. That and, uh, I just haven’t been setting aside enough time to write.

Anyway, I’d like to play catch up and give you a short update on my goings on at SXSW this year.

This year marks my fourth fest, but my first as a local. As such, I saw way fewer films than I used to. This used to happen back when I lived in New York too: I wouldn’t take off of work for Tribeca and NYFF, so I’d go to as many screenings as I could in the evenings. Now that I live here I had to balance work and SXSW, or at least try. I still saw a nice helping of films though.

By far my favorite new (to these shores) non-headliner film was Good Vibrations, directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn. It’s a biopic of Terri Hooley, the man who brought Belfast’s punk scene to the rest of the world. Narratively it’s a straghtforward affair, but it nails the feeling of discovering a new and exciting art form. The scene where Terri, played by Richard Dormer, hears local punkers for the first time nearly brought me to tears. It perfectly summed up what it’s like to cross over from ignorance to understanding, from being lost to finding purpose. And the trick is in Dormer’s eyes. It’s truly a performance to behold.

I forewent the opening night The Incredible Burt Wonderstone1 and instead went next door to check out Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. I still haven’t seen his first feature, Primer, but the Stateside Theater was loaded with fans of the 2004 film. His latest has garnered a lot of support in the indie community, but I found it to be a trial just to get through. Basically Carruth removes anything resembling exposition from the film, a choice that confuses me more than it excites me.

Plus I wasn’t a fan of the way the film looked. Upstream is shot almost entirely with handheld, shallow depth-of-field telephoto lenses, so scenes drift in and out of focus by design. It feels like just another another layer of confusion standing between me and the story. (There’s a reason I’m not mentioning plot here. If anything it’s secondary. Look it up elsewhere.) Strip away the layers of complexity Carruth has baked into the film and I’m not sure what’s left, but the film’s champions would tell me that’s the point, so I guess it’s a matter of taste.

Real quick:

  • Spring Breakers is insane, but I liked it. Hidden beneath the sex and drugs and guns and shock there seems to be a message about capitalism, consumerism and America, or something. If you think this film is only about a raucous, violent spring break spree, then you’re going to hate it.
  • Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Don Jon is about what you’d expect from an actor’s directorial debut, which is to say it’s not very good but the leads get to speak with funny accents.

I think that’s enough to share about a few films for now. I’ve got a few more expanded thoughts planned for the future.

  1. I had planned on seeing it, even caught up with director Don Scardino’s forgettable 1999 Advice from a Caterpillar. Oh well. ↩︎