Molly Templeton's blog
Nerds (said with love, people; I am one, OK?) sometimes come back from nerd conventions talking about having caught "con crud," an unavoidable illness caught while in the company of so frakking many other people. I woke up on Friday with what I'll call "festival funk." I blame everyone, no one and my own late hours. Take your vitamins, SXSW campers. Or at least drink your vodka with orange juice. Festival funk will screw with your days.
I couldn't string a coherent sentence together for much of Friday, so here are a few disconnected thoughts from Day 16,239 — I mean, Day Eight — in Austin:
1. Apps someone should create and hope to make a killing on for next SXSW:
• An updater that tells you how packed each movie screening is.
• A map the entire function of which is to get you from place to place quickly while spending the least time ducking and bobbing around drunks on Sixth Street.
• A schedule that combines the official festival events with the countless day parties and nearby free shows. There was a website that got close to the latter, but it was still a little on the more-research-needed side. And I'm not just saying that because I forgot about it until Saturday.
2. Were there few people at the Writing About Music in the Twenty Tens panel because everyone was still hung over at 12:30 in the afternoon? Because everyone who wants to write about music is just doing it rather than wondering about it? Because people have figured out that panels aren’t going to give you a magical one-sentence key to how to become Chuck Klosterman? Regardless, once the panel got through its way-too-long personal introductions, it was a good reminder to embrace new technologies, be open to new ways of “thinking hard about music” (a phrase Ann Powers attributed to her husband, Eric Weisbard) and maintain your voice.
3. There’s a fashion/clothing show/sale during the music part of SXSW. There is nothing like this during the interactive part. Draw your own conclusions.
4. Was I underwhelmed by White Denim, the overcrowded venue in which they were playing, or both? If you're into that sort of '70s rock influenced, jammy-noodly, neither-here-nor-there rockish sound that feels like it's been making the rounds for a while now, you probably want to check them out.
5. It’s more than a little disheartening how few men attend any panel about women in the music business. Liz Phair tells stories about being treated like she’s selling sex, not music; Jenny Eliscu talks about the lack of female reviewers at Rolling Stone; Sarah Baer has tales from the Warped Tour and great advice about how to make yourself useful in the business; Maggie Vail talks about Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon telling her that in her job, she can always tell anyone to fuck off; and Wanda Jackson is goddamn Wanda Jackson. These successful, smart women are sitting on stage saying that things are still changing slowly. Too slowly. And very few men are listening.
What all the excited, giddy, half-drunken tweets from SXSW don’t tell you is how much time you’re likely to spend walking from venue to venue and/or waiting in line for shows you may or may not get into. I’m not complaining. I’m just telling you why I feel like a total slacker for how few bands I’ve seen the last two days. Goddammit! My scheduling powers are no match for the distance between the Cedar Street Courtyard and the Scoot Inn!
Tomorrow, young Jedi. Tomorrow I will see more than five bands. I might even see TV on the Radio, who reportedly played an incredible set last night. Tomorrow I'll get to one of Wild Flag's eleventy-million SXSW shows. No, for serious. There's no missing Wild Flag.
You know what I would like? I’d like for St. Patrick’s Day not to fall during SXSW. I overheard my first “Where’s your green?” conversation before noon. Sixth Street doesn’t need this. Drunken music fans + drunken, green-garbed college kids = double the mayhem. I expect to see piles of green, and I don't mean shiny green leprechaun money.
It might be a night for going to a lot of movie screenings. Except that TV on the Radio is playing and Janelle Monae is playing and The Bangles are playing (all at the same time, which is just cruel) and The Sounds are playing and ... you get the picture.
How to Die in Oregon isn’t an easy film to watch. Peter D. Richardson’s documentary focuses not on the legal or philosophical issues and ramifications of Oregon’s Death with Dignity act, but on the personal stories of people who have chosen to use the option the act gives them. Or, to be more specific, they’ve chosen the possibility, the measure of control afforded by having in hand a prescription for life-ending medication. The result isn’t a balanced, political film, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s an incredibly affecting look at the realities of fatal illness, failing bodies and the question of how much power we have over our own fates.
Much of Richardson’s film follows Cody Curtis, a Portland woman with liver cancer. Curtis is an attractive, energetic 54-year-old; she hardly seems sick as she cracks jokes and works to put everyone around her at ease. Curtis wants to live, but she wants to live on her own terms, and her struggle with her illness weaves around the film’s other stories, including that of Nancy Niedzielski, who fought to get a similar law passed in Washington after watching her husband suffer from brain cancer.
How to Die in Oregon doesn’t flinch. It opens with home video footage of Roger Sagner as he ends his life — a video Richardson later explained was shot by Sagner’s granddaughter. It was a conscious choice, the director said, to put this scene at the beginning of the film, so that Oregon wouldn’t build to a will-she-or-won’t-she dramatic peak or force you to wonder whether you’ll see anyone take the lethal prescription dose. It’s right there at the front, but gently. Richardson’s approach to the film’s close is as gentle. He doesn’t back away from the realities of Curtis’ illness, whether it’s filming as fluid is drained from her abdomen or keeping the camera running when she finally breaks down in tears. But Oregon never feels manipulative or pushy; instead, it’s respectful and cautious, painstakingly careful to avoid an exploitative or sensationalized tone. Even the sentimental score, which at first feels slightly intrusive and insistent, begins to feel comforting by the end. You need an iota of comfort in a film like this.
Richardson has little time for those who are opposed to the Death with Dignity act, though he does interview Randy Stroup, a man angered by the Oregon Health Plan’s decision to cover a prescription for a drug that would end his life, but deny him coverage for cancer treatment. (The decision was later reversed.) This isn’t a measured consideration of what the law allows and why people are opposed to or in favor of that, but an exploration of what "Death with Dignity" really means to those who choose it. It’s clear that many people are still working out exactly what it means to allow people to take their own lives. The lines aren’t clear, the emotions unpracticed: What is sad, tragic, relieving, freeing, kind, honest, horrible, difficult, understandable in these situations? How does anyone come to terms with the reality of an illness that would make a person rather exit their life?
Richardson's film, which airs on HBO later this spring, won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary Competition at Sundance. At SXSW, it provoked more audience questions than any other film I’ve seen at the festival, and inspired SXSW Film producer Janet Pierson to speak about how strongly she felt about showing the film. It leaves an audience a little shell-shocked and is likely to anger those who are opposed to the act, but Oregon doesn’t present its subjects’ stories in a manner meant to convince. The stories are true, and the honesty is an argument in itself. It's also an inspiration. For a film about death, How to Die in Oregon is awfully life-affirming.
Greetings from Austin, earthlings. I have been here for four days (five? four? five) and have lost all sense of time and perspective. It’s what happens at South By Southwest — enjoyably (for the most part). You get lost in a sea of free drinks, companies trying to convince you that their apps are going to save the world, inspiring speakers, swooning geeklets bringing Felicia Day cupcakes because she said she likes them, drunk guys on Sixth Street trying not to barf in the gutter, amusing movie screenings filled with nerds who chortle at every reference to their beloved nerd culture (guilty as charged), presentations that might actually help with your personal productivity issues, insight on everything from adapting comics for the big screen to the consistent need for authenticity from creators — and the discovery that Fireball Whiskey makes a whiskey and ginger ale taste like liquid Red Hots (with apologies to my elegant-cocktail-mixing bartender friends: this shit is kind of delicious).
If you see a theme there involving drinks, well, SXSW does this thing where we all pack into the convention center by day, learning and listening and, say, developing elaborate arguments about why the gamification (gameification? It’s a made-up word either way) of the world is just another way to keep the people down — and then 6 pm rolls around and the panels wind down and the parties start. And by 10 pm you wonder how anyone is functional the next day. Foursquare calls you a panel nerd for going to three panels and suggests you go to bars to avoid being thrown in a locker. You can get a Guinness milkshake at your arty movie screening. (You can also fall asleep at your arty movie screening. Perhaps the couches at the Ritz are not the best idea for a tired festivalgoer.)
It’s debauchery and inspiration in nearly equal parts, with a side order of aggravation. And I love it. In the next week or so, I’ll be posting film reviews, music round-ups and more. Possibly a rant or two (I’ve got a few issues with the notion that, to quote Christopher Poole, “Anonymity is authenticity”). So far, the theme of this year’s SXSW (as I’ve experienced it) is twofold:
According to the nerds in the know, we’re moving from the decade of communication to the decade of games, the game layer, gamification, game mechanics, etc. More on this later. Short version: I’m wary of the notion of shifting from a culture of communication (as evidenced by Facebook and other social networks) to a culture of competition and think we need a good old Jaron Lanier-style hard look at what exactly this means. Maybe that’ll happen next year.
Meanwhile, is there something you’d do if you were in Austin? A show or a film you wouldn’t miss? I’m happily taking suggestions for how to spend the rest of my time here. Leave ‘em in the comments, or email molly at eugeneweekly dot com.
(Lest you think it's all fun and games and booze while the world ends, there's also SXSW4Japan.org.)
The way I feel about running can be summed up in one tiny word: No. No, no, no; no to being sweaty and uncomfortable and having aching knees and feeling like I can't breathe. (I blame high school gym class for all of this, by the by.)
The way I feel about running doesn't, apparently, extend to movies about running, especially not the sweet and straightforward Hood to Coast, a documentary about Oregon's ginormous annual relay race, which someone describes, early in the film, as a 197-mile-long party. The film backs this slightly outlandish claim right up: There are runners in tutus, in superhero costumes, in wildly decorated vans and very small shorts. Runners sport lightning-decorated headbands, top their support vehicles with coffins and come back year after year after year.
The Hood to Coast race starts, somewhat obviously, at Mount Hood, traveling across the state and through Portland to end in Seaside. Teams of 12 runners take three legs apiece; the race goes on through the night, the runners sleepless and cheerfully discombobulated, as the film shows. Filmmakers Christoph Baaden and Marcie Hume smartly chose four teams to follow, focusing on certain personalities within those teams: The veterans are represented by Dead Jocks in a Box, a bunch of long-time Hood to Coast runners who are half endearing and half patronizing as they form "power arches" for fellow runners (always women) and track other teams' fashion statements.
On the heartstring-tugging side, Baaden and Hume found two teams with emotional stories: Heart and Sole, who had a teammate collapse the previous year, and R. Bowe, a team formed of the friends and family of a man who passed away unexpectedly a year before. These runners' stories are emotional and heartfelt, and Hume and Baaden let them spill out naturally, as the Bowe family toasts their missing member, and as Kathy Ryan, who’s run countless marathons and won’t be slowed down by her near-death experience, greets the women who revived her on the route last year.
The fourth team is the one this non-runner found the most amusing: A team of animators from Laika, the Portland studio that made Coraline, decides to do the race with no training. Beer-drinking right up until the race is the plan, says Rachel, whose tousled hair and permanent bandanna make her a camera favorite. The Laika team is goofy and ragged, but they're not just there for laughs; they make the point that Hood to Coast, while a serious race for some (the film stops to chat with the race favorites at a few points), is fairly accessible; kids and seniors run it right along with terrifyingly fit athletes.
Lovingly pieced together from a patchwork of stories, Hood to Coast is gorgeously shot — swooping through Oregon's mountains and forests, following runners so closely you hear every footfall and tired breath — and cheerfully sincere. It's not out to convince anyone to race, or to delve too deeply into the backstories of those runners it follows, but to get, a little bit, at what makes people do things like Hood to Coast. Rachel, exhausted, can't stop saying that her difficult leg was awesome. The Dead Jocks come back year after year, clearly in it for the camaraderie and the competition. The sense of accomplishment, when each team crosses the finish line in Seaside, is palpable: For two days, these runners are outside their ordinary life, doing something extraordinary with just their bodies, their teammates and their willpower. As one runner says, the race is epic, and you can't do epic by yourself.
Hood to Coast shows at 8:30 and 8:31 pm tonight, Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Cinemark.
Fun fact: When I was 13, Skid Row was, like, my totally favorite band. So forgive me if I haven't quite got words for the truly bizarre thing that is Skid Row's Sebastian Bach singing a power ballad about the Ducks:
It's a tiny bit curious that the only truly Eugene-specific reference in the entire song is to "Steelhead on Pearl." Conspiracy theories, anyone?
(We'll just ignore, for now, the fact that the song? It ain't Bach's finest moment...)
Honestly, I'm still not sure what exactly spiced rum has to do with American tattoo icon Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, but it's Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum that's presenting this evening's (21+) screening of the documentary Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry at the Bijou. The film centers on Collins, but is as much a story of a place and time in the way it looks at Hawaii during WWII. It's not all a pretty picture — and a few of the attitudes espoused by some of the old-school tattoo artists are downright cringeworthy — but director Erich Weiss keeps things moving at a steady clip, interviewing those who worked with and learned from Collins. Colorful characters narrate their experiences with Collins, who combined traditional American tattoo style with the influence of Japanese tattoo masters, and whose work was majorly influential both in terms of style and more technical aspects (the stories about Collins' purple ink are particularly entertaining). Rough-voiced and heavily inked, the men who came after Collins — the most charming of which is easily California tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy, though other guys provide more laughs — speak both reverentially and dryly about Collins' work, politics and gruff personality.
You don't have to be a tattoo junkie to find this story fascinating (says the inkless writer) as a vivid, historical look at a subculture and the way it has developed, expanded and — though this is less of Weiss' focus — become commercialized. The old-school dudes (yeah, it's a sausage fest; women mostly appear in old footage as prostitutes, or for decoration) have a hearty skepticism for the ranks of "black T-shirt" kids they see as taking over their art now, and the film ends with a suggestion that before long, it'll be establishment to have tattoos, and rebellious not to. Popularity comes in cycles; Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry traces one story from the upswing of tattoo culture.
Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry screens at 7 pm tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Bijou. See here for more details.