Strange Brew. Romantic Comedy.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Day Four (10/27/2013)
STRANGE BREW. My favorite music venue, in South Austin, allows me to hear the strings on the guitars and every stroke of the drum brush. I can see the Purgatory Players in front of me. I feel like we’re friends. Strange Brew – a place with the best acoustics in my life and hibiscus tea, I love you.
On Sunday morning I insisted on walking to Strange Brew from Clara and Ross’s house. That’s another good thing – we can walk there and then sit through the free concert. Order peanut butter cookies and tea. Hear some great singing and practically crawl inside the guitars. Wonder about the percussion people, who are introverts.
My body swayed involuntarily to the music. Shared a peanut butter cookie. Felt my eyeballs roll back with the pleasure of the beat. Then it was time to leave.
Sadness. This place is so pleasurable I fear that fate will drag it away. Usually when I like a restaurant this much, the place ends up closing. I hope that Strange Brew is the exception. It’s a sandwich bar/beer place/coffee shop/music paradise that pays big attention to SOUND.
STATESIDE AT THE PARAMOUNT THEATER. Every movie we’ve seen at the 20th Austin Film Festival has stood separate and apart from the others. We’ve seen four short documentaries and four full-length films. I can’t decide which was the best. Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley was the most moving. Girl on a Bicycle was the funniest.
Girl on a Bicycle is the story of an Italian tour guide in Paris who is affianced to a German stewardess but falls in love with a Fremch woman with two kids. Jeremy Leven (writer-director) lives in France part of the time, but his French is admittedly not that good. Most of the story is in English. Girl feels like some of the modern lighthearted Italian comedies you see on the movie channel in Italy. Leven got financing from the people who produced the German masterpiece, the Lives of Others, a dark film about East Germany before the wall came down.
Girl made me laugh, and the story got funnier as the film progressed. Vincenzo Amato, as Paolo, the main character, captured the sweetness and funniness of Italian men. [Ciao, Marco!] He justifiably related everything in Paris to the Romans and to Italy. The funniest scene occurred when Paolo chased the girl on the bicycle through the narrow streets of Paris driving his double-decker tour bus. When he stopped the tourists ran away.
The movie really works because all of the main characters are from different countries. Greta (Nora Tschirner in a bad blond wig), is the best airline stewardess ever, especially when dealing with phone heads. My favorite character was Derek – played by Paddy Considine from England. I enjoyed Louise Monot, who is a French model.
We need to get movies like Girl in wide distribution in the United States. People want to see funny comedies where kids are referred to as “small farts.” Was Leven listening to me?
Happy birthday, Ross Hamilton Martin!
Math, Murder, and Music
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Day Three (10/26/2013)
Clara writes math textbooks, so her choice for the Saturday afternoon movie at Rollins Theater was “Take Away One,” the story of Mary Baratta-Lorton, an innovative math teacher (she wrote the Workjobs books for teachers) who was murdered in the 1970s. The movie was directed by Mary’s nephew, William Lorton, who answered questions afterwards.
This movie is seriously suspenseful. William Lorton, who in his day job edits “the Dr. Phil show” and others, paints a portrait of his aunt’s inventiveness. She created a pedagogical empire. Then, the shooting. Nobody knows who killed her. The police messed up. They gave up on the case. One prime suspect was Mary’s husband, who, we learned afterwards, was in the audience. Sitting directly in front of me.
William believes in his uncle’s innocence, which makes sense. But the film is inconclusive.
“Take Away One” is intense and well-edited, except for the bark of a question left in by mistake. And I wanted to see more of Bob Larsen – Mary’s lover. I wanted to see Bob’s house and his yard. The renaissance fair memorabilia. We got only a sit-down interview. This was a difficult interview, emotionally.
GUERO’S. A visit to Austin would not be complete without that salsa bar, cracked wood atmosphere, and the food! Black bean soup, mounds of guacamole, hot tamales. Come to me, tamales.
After Guero’s, we plowed through the crowded sidewalk to a band next door. “Tear it on Up!” I wanted to dance, but Marco was not here. We watched couples stomping the Texas stomp on the wooden floor in front of the band. A skinny woman ripped her electric guitar. A sexy man, wearing tight jeans, sang.
Live music in Austin, Texas. There is no better entertainment
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Day Two (10/25/2013)
Clara and I were first in line to see Whoopi Goldberg’s documentary about Moms Mabley. Several people said that Susan Sarandon was inside the Rollins Theater, about to emerge.
“She’s here!” I said to Clara, in Italian, before remembering that Sarandon’s mother was Italian-American, and that Sarandon’s second partner, Franco Amurri, was Italian and they had a kid together. Maybe she speaks the lingo.
Sarandon gave me a dirty look. One of the local hippies, perhaps a fan of Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the Witches of Eastwick whipped out his cell phone and snapped a photo of Sarandon, who was standing inches away from an excited Clara. Sarandon, looking slight, exhausted, and 15 years younger than she actually is, walked away in her entourage of bodyguards. Was Tim Robbins there as well? Are they still together?
WHOOPI’S TRIUMPH. Cut to the next film. Who knew that Moms Mabley could make me cry? Whoopi Goldberg has directed a wonderful hour-long documentary about the early queen of comedy. I knew nothing about Moms, who died around 1975. Now I know that she grew up in Brevard, North Carolina, ran away from home to perform in Vaudeville, preferred to perform without her false teeth, and was very funny.
Moms knew several presidents. She made jokes about the Kennedys and LBJ. She was friendly with Martin Luther King, Jr. She performed regularly at the Apollo Theater, on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the Ed Sullivan Show, and in several movies.
“My mother used to tell me, only say good things about the dead. My husband died. That’s good.”
“When I go back home to visit, they call me Trigger, like the famous horse. They say, ‘Hey, Trigger!’ Or maybe I’m misunderstanding.”
You had to be there. The best part of the documentary was a clip from a 1970s movie – Amazing Grace – in which Moms was running for political office. Moms exhorted some college students to “use your brains, use your hearts, and change the world.”
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Day One (10/24/2013)
ONOMASTIC PROBLEMS. Sometimes I get bugged. When we arrived at the Driskill Hotel – the snooty venue where the Austin Film Festival plants its headquarters – the line to pick up our film passes was empty.
Clara and I walked up to the table, excited to learn how we could see some of the hundreds of films promised – including documentary shorts and a few foreign – language selections.
The guy made fun of our name – “Valtorta,” which I think is a lyrical name and not something out of Mario brothers. I wanted to reach over the table and punch his face. I wanted to ask his name – which probably meant ‘shithead’ in Welsh, but I behaved myself.
From Shithead’s descriptions of the crowds, we expected a Bad Time as we arrived at our first movie, Sombras de Azul, directed by Kelly Daniela Norris – (Shades of Blue) – set in Cuba. Instead, the evening was beautiful. Both the movie theater – the Rollins at the Long Center (with its rough concrete walls and comfortable chairs) — and the movie itself, a story of dealing with grief over the suicide of a brother, were visual feasts. The promos for Chipotle and other sponsors played too loudly, but the volume relaxed to a comfortable level for the movie itself.
Subtitles excite me. The Spanish in this film was easy enough for a person who speaks Italian to understand a little. The acting was superb. When the main actress appeared on stage afterwards, I could see she had performed her role in a way that was beyond an extension of her everyday personality. She became somebody else, maybe her aunt.
Cuba appeared sunny and colorful, with squares devoid of tourists, and people who were pleasant and approachable. The lizards, birds, and yellow sunsets made me want to travel to Havana immediately. My favorite setting was a cemetery scene that reminded me of Italy and a particular cemetery in Cavi di Lavagna.
The program director who conducted the interview could not pronounce the main character’s name. Addressing her as “however you pronounce your name.” was unfortunate, because the program director had made a wise choice to screen this film. He was a smart guy. He could have practiced saying the name – Seedne Bujaidar. “SED nay.” That’s not difficult. We live in a multicultural country, and people place some importance on their names.
Pronouncing names correctly shows respect.
What I like best about independent filmmaking is that it is a collaborative process. Highly collaborative. I depend on others for 99% of the work. The ideas are mine. The scripts are mine. But I need someone else to film the movie. I need big help editing it.
My plan is never to take art too seriously. First the movie has to be enjoyable. If I don’t enjoy making it, others will not enjoy watching it.
I want actors and cinematographers to be happy. We may be filming a documentary about a serious subject — such as the privatization of the water supply — but the end product should be emotional and entertaining.
I prefer to work with subjects and behind-the-scenes personnel who can share a laugh, who realize that mistakes occur, and who don’t bet the ranch on winning an Oscar. Likewise, I have to approach filming with a light heart. Otherwise my head won’t work right.