If this is full of colorful invectives and bad spelling, that's because I just literally walked in the door about 15 minutes ago from Austin, working on 4+ hours sleep. But I can safely say these past two days have been two of the best days in my life. I've seen some wonderful films, met some wonderful people, and if you eat the Boss Hogg at Gourdough's, it's about a pound of heaven in a styrofoam box. Holy shit. It's a homemade donut, covered in brisket and potato salad and barbeque sauce. And it's fucking amazing. Drew McWeeny took a look at it and said, "I'm going somewhere private to eat this." And I completely agree. Go somewhere by yourself, just you and the Boss Hogg, and just get filthy with it.
But you're here to read about SXSW, and so I'll do my best to summarize. My first activity of the day was going to three panels. First, the horror panel, moderated by my friend Scott Weinberg of FEARnet and Cinematical, and the panel featured Emily Hagins (MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE), Jason Eiesner (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN), James Wan (INSIDIOUS), Xavier Gens (THE DIVIDE), Nicolas Goldbart (PHASE 7), Simon Rumley (LITTLE DEATHS), and Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST). Scott ran a terrific panel, and the questions were terrific, covering the gamut from remakes to sexual politics in horror filmmaking. A hell of a terrific panel, and I look forward to seeing these filmmakers' films. Especially Emily's film - I've known her for a long time and it's pretty amazing to see an artist like Emily come into her own as a filmmaker.
The next panel was about film criticism in this world of studio marketing, and a critic's place in the modern era of studio filmmaking. My friend Devin Faraci was on the panel, but I had to duck out early to get to the AICN 15th anniversary panel. But when I left Devin was taking on all comers. just the way I like it. You may differ with Devin when it comes to films and filmmaking, but you can't deny his knowledge or passion for film. He's in this line of work because he fucking loves amazing film, and wants to champion great art, and if you ever sat down with him and gotten to know him a little better, you might come away with that truth as well.
The AICN SXSW Panel was next. Harry took us through 15 years of Ain't It Cool News, from the days when he was bedridden and dreamed up the site, to the days of BATMAN AND ROBIN, through the short-lived pilot show, up to the present day. I've followed this site since practically the beginning and I was still surprised by some of this. I didn't know that Kevin Biegel's early review of THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY directly led to him being hired by the Farrelly Brothers, and now he's the head writer of ABC's COUGAR TOWN. I'm still so honored to be a part of this site and working for Harry, and it's difficult for me to look at these guys without some semblance of awe. But as Massawyrm put it to me last night, "You don't have to look up to us. You're one of us." I appreciate the sentiment, but I still don't feel like I'm there yet. I'm still working my hardest to be in the same solar system as these guys.
Alright, you want to hear about films. Well, I only saw two yesterday, and I'll be seeing two this week sometime, and those two will be the last I cover for SXSW. But the two I saw last night, well, let's start with BELLFLOWER.
BELLFLOWER is Evan Glodell's feature film debut; he also starred and wrote the film and built the amazing car on the poster, as well as several of the cameras used to shoot the film. If I had to sum up BELLFLOWER, it's about two stunted twentysomethings who can't seem to grow past the dreams of childhood. Woodrow (Glodell) has dreamed for years to make a car to withstand the apocalypse. Seeing THE ROAD WARRIOR very young, Woodrow wants nothing more than to be Humongous of the roads, with his friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) by his side in his majestic MEDUSA. But when Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a cricket-eating contest, she beats him cold and he's immediately smitten.
BELLFLOWER is shot mostly through Woodrow's point of view, and the cinematography (by Joel Hodge) is pretty damn terrific. Hodge and Glodell invented some of the cameras used in the film, and various techniques are used for the imagery, including tilt shift and blurred perspective. This is all used to accentuate Woodrow's descent as his relationship with Milly begins to fail. Because the film is from Woodrow's point of view, it's difficult to understand what's real and what is fantasy. Eventually the audience comes to realize that Woodrow has a very difficult time articulating his emotions, and what we're seeing is his strange perspective of the world. For example, when his relationsip with Milly ends, there's no buffer between the good times and the bad, and that's because Woodrow doesn't have the ability to recognize when things start going south in the relationship. Once Milly and Woodrow break up, he begins a physical and mental spiral into madness and we can never be sure what is reality for Woodrow and what is fantasy.
This film's going to divide people who see it, and frankly, although I really liked BELLFLOWER, it's not for everyone. One of the issues I had with the film is that the characters don't seem to have any jobs but have the money for copious amounts of alcohol and car parts. But during the Q&A Glodell brought up an interesting point - for the majority of us, our twentysomething jobs were simply places to get money and had no larger significance in our lives, and so he didn't feel the need to show them since they weren't important to the characters. I can understand that, but it's still a leap for the audience to make and many people won't be able to get past it. Still others won't like the characters very much - many will dismiss them as self-entitled hipster types, a claim I can't really disagree with. But I don't need to like the characters to enjoy the movie, the characters just have to make sense in their film, and I felt that they did. BELLFLOWER is getting released through Oscilloscope, and hopefully it will come to a theater near you in July. I liked BELLFLOWER a lot - it's got flaws but an awful lot of personality, and cinematically the film looks amazing.
That evening I made my way with Drew McWeeny to the Paramount to see the AICN Secret Screening, and it was debated the entire time I was at SXSW what it was. "It's TREE OF LIFE!" "Harry got SUPER 8!" "Harry got THOR!" Although Harry's pulled the wool over a ton of eyes before, this time, I believed him when he said vintage. I even suspected who the guest would be, but I had no idea Harry would pick one of my favorite films of the 1980s - DRAGONSLAYER, with Guillermo del Toro in attendance with us. DRAGONSLAYER (and there's another film playing SXSW called DRAGONSLAYER, but it's a doc about skateboarders, so no confusion meant) is just wonderful. Probably the best dragon ever put on film, and I don't think many movie geeks would dispute that. Vermithrax is amazing creature design, and when we first see her in all her glory, the audience couldn't help but applaud. It was wonderful seeing DRAGONSLAYER with a pumped geek audience, and to those who left after Harry announced the title - shame on you. Seriously. Unless you really had to get to another screening, which I understand, this is a fun film, one of the best fantasy films ever made, and definitely the best fantasy film of the 1980s, and seeing it with that crowd was geek bliss. Afterwards, Harry and Del Toro discussed the film, fantasy filmmaking in general, and the state of monster movies today. One of the topics that was interesting to me was when Del Toro talked about having empathy for the monster. "Studios today don't want humanity in their monsters. There's good over here, and evil over there, and that's the way it should be to them." He's right in a lot of ways, but I think filmmakers, suck as Matt Reeves with CLOVERFIELD, have found a way to strike that balance.
Outside, I was able to introduce myself to Del Toro, which was nice. "It's you! You're the last AICN guy I haven't met!" If you've ever seen Guillermo speak or met him, he's one of the most gracious guys on the planet, and he'd love nothing more than to sit and chat movies with you. Always the journalist (yeah, right) I did have a question for him though, tangentially relating to AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. "I agree with you about having empathy for the monsters. But how does that work with Lovecraft's monsters?"
"That's very hard," Del Toro said. When I said that maybe you can approach them with awe, he shook his head. "No, that's fucking with Lovecraft's vision. These are terrifying creatures, and the audience should respond along with the characters in absolute fucking horror." Unfortunately he didn't have more time beyond that, and had to go. But it was wonderful to meet him.
I know this article seems bloggy as fuck. I'm tired, and I still have quite a bit to do tonight before I hit the sack. But I have to thank everyone who was so gracious to me at my first South By Southwest: Harry Knowles, of course, Eric Vespe, Drew McWeeny, Jsrrette Moats, Aaron Morgan, Paul Gandersman, Emily Hagins, Scott Weinberg, C. Robert Cargill, Brooks Blain, Kevin Biegel (thanks for the hugs and the barbeque!), Steve Prokopy, Jay Knowles (pleasure watching 13 ASSASSINS with you, you were right), Glen Oliver, Iain Stasukevich, Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro, John Gholson, Devin Faraci, Janet Pierson, and if I'm forgetting anyone, I'm sorry and I'm completely wiped but know that you're awesome and amazing people there in Austin, and I'd live there if i could, believe me. I'm not completely done with SXSW coverage yet - I still have two films to review - but I hope you enjoyed this and keep reading as AICN in it's 15th Anniversary will continue to bring you all things geek as much as we can. Thanks.