Monday, August 3, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 2:29 PM
Courtney Barnett and drummer Dave Mudie at Red & in Austin, Texas on Monday. (Dan DeLuca)

The SXSW Music festival doesn't really get going until Tueday night, out if you get to Austin early - or stick around as Interactive and Film start to wind down - you can get a head start on checking bands off your list.

On Monday afternoon, as I rode my bike down the busy stretch of Red River street where a drunk driver struch a crowd waiting in line to see Tyler the Creator last year and killed four people, I noted a couple of round the block lines forming for nighttime showcases. 

One was for Austin band Spoon playing a F--- Yeah Tumblr showcase at the Mohawk, and the other was for an Onion A.V.Club party at Red 7 that featured punkish Toronto three piece band Metz and - the one I was really after - ace Australian rock songwriter Courtney Barnett. 

POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 11:37 AM
A still from 'Sneakerheadz'

Is it possible to own too many pairs of shoes? The title characters of David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge's lively, pop culturally savvy documentary about sneaker collectors, who include rapper Wale, comedian Mike Epps and deejays Samantha Ronson and Clark Kent, would agree with Imelda Marcos that it is not.

Sneakerheadz perceptively tells the history of athletic shoes, from Chuck Taylors to Air Jordans, digging into issues of hip-hop fashion and cultural identity. It shows how the Internet and shoes manufacturers focus on limited edition models has changed the collecting and the resale market, and made it an often lucrative and sometimes tragically dangerous game. 

Philly connection: One of the featured collectors and major players in the Sneakerheadz story is Hommyo Hidefumi, the Japanese shoe hound who fed his obsession while attending Temple University in North Philly and built an sneaker store empire back in Japan started with shoes he would buy in 215 boutique and resell at enormous markups in his native country.

POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 10:44 AM
William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal (left to right) in 'The Best Of Enemies'

When was our he said-he said corrosive political commentary culture born? In The Best Of Enemies, music historian and filmmaker Robert Gordon (author of a Muddy Waters biography and Stax Records history) and director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) makes the case that the Republicans-shouting- at-Democrats (and vice versa) substitute for discourse we're so saddled now dates back to 1968.

That's when ABC News, in a distant third place in ratings behind CBS and NBC, decided to to roll the dice and air nightly debates between right wing National Review editor and William F.  Buckley and left wing Myra Breckinridge-author Gore Vidal rather than provide the traditional gavel-to-gavel convention coverage.

The resulting mano a mano battles, hosted by anchor Howard K. Smith, were a surprise success, in part because both Vidal and Buckley were such sophisticated and witty public intellectuals and because - as sports announcer to say about rival teams - they really didn't like each other. It went beyond personal antipathy, in fact. And Gordon and Neville (both Penn grads) show,   both Buckey and Vidal felt that the other's views were dangerous, and a threat to the republic.

POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2015, 12:11 PM
Ricardo Solorzano and Danny Cabrera of BioBots at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas on Saturday March 14 (Dan DeLuca)

The popular image of the South by Southwest may still be of an excessively tattooed guitar player - or maybe a gold chained rapper - performing a corproate sponsored gig for fans filling up on free beer and greasy tacos.

Believe me, plenty of that is coming with the Music potion of SXSW kicking into gear on Tuesday,  and some of it has already been underway, with D'Angelo playing a surprise Samsung supper club 5 song gig on Sunday night with Philly's own Questlove on drums, and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast previewing her new album California Nights at a PBS party. 

But during the run of the Interactive conference and Film festival, most of the action takes place among start up exhibitors, would-be deal makers and self promoters of all stripes, from film stars like Ryan Gosling, who premiered his directorial debut, 'Lost River' snd sat down for a chat with Guillermo del Toro on Friday, to Sen. Rand Paul, who sold himself as the most tech friendly and least Big Brother-ish Presidential candidate on Sunday. 

POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2015, 1:03 AM
Andrew Keen and Clive Thompson talk it out. (Dan DeLuca)

The most compelling SXSW Interactive talk I've caught so far was the cracker jack two-man tango on Sunday afternoon between authors Andrew Keen and Clive Thompson called 'Is the Internet the Answer?'

The title was a play on Keen's new book The Internet Is Not The Answer, which posits that the innovations that were alledgedly going to set us free have instead eliminated our jobs and turned us into digital prisoners. It paired Britisher Keen off with Canadian Thompson, who takes a more optimistic view, as his newest book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing The Way We Think For The Better, makes plain. 

In practice, however, it wasn't so much a point-counterpoint debate as an invigorating discussion about the often troubling places that the brave new world has brought us. 

POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2015, 5:27 PM
Paul Dano (left) and John Cusack (right) with Elizabeth Banks, as Brian Wilson ((Credit: Toronto Film Festival))

This year's SXSW music film lineup is big on troubled geniuses.

Brett Morgen's Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, which uses a trove of home movie footage to tell the tale of the Nirvana leader who ended his own life in 1994. More on that later this week.

On Sunday, Bill Pohlad's Brian Wilson movie Love & Mercy had its American premier. The movie takes a two-pronged approach to avoid standard biopic cliches in recounting the story of the Beach Boys leader. Paul Dano plays Wilson during the '60s period when the songwriter quit touring with his family band to listen - and reto the sounds in his head. And John Cusack plays the older Brian when he meets his Cadillac saleswoman future wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) while under the thumb of controlling crack pot psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy, played with evil panache and a demonic wig by Paul Giammati.

POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2015, 1:12 AM
A still from 'Son Of The Congo.'

Technology, movies and music isn't enough to satisfy the all-encompassing beast that is SXSW. Last year, the confab started swallowing up sports, too, with the advent of SXSports, a "convergence" track between Film and Interactive that considers sports through a pop cultural lens. 

The jock quotient is ramped up this year with panels on "The 12 Month Sports Season," "The Athlete Slash Entrepreneur" and "Punch Drunk: Hockey Fighting At A Crossroads." There are also sport-connected movies at the film festival, including the Andy Samberg-starring tennis comedy 7 Days In Hell, Jerome Thelia's documentary Bounce: How The Ball Taught The World To Play Ball, and Sneakerheadz, David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge's highlight entertaining doc about athletic shoe obsessives.

On Friday, former Sixer and always opinionated TNT analyst Charles Barkley did a SXsports interview session with Sports Ilustrated's Richard Deitsch. It was called 'How To Remain Relevant In Today's Digital Age" even though Barkley is opposed to social media in all forms, calling it "a media spirited place" and saying he has no intention of joining Twitter and giving his haters the license to attack him: “I don’t want to give some of these losers the power.”

POSTED: Saturday, March 14, 2015, 3:43 PM
'Selma' director Ava DuVernay at the SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas on Saturday March 14. ((Dan DeLuca))

On Saturday morning, Selma director Ava DuVernay gave a SXSW Film keynote address, and her upwardly mobile tale of moving from a movie industry publicist to directing a $20 million Best Picture-nominated Oprah-funded historically-significant 1960s Civil Rights drama went over big with the aspirant indie movie industry crowd. (One of the queries in the question and answer period was: 'Will you take a selfie with me?' She graciously obliged.) 

DuVernay gave an emotional speech, revealing she was the seventh choice to direct the then-stalled Selma project (It was like, 'Hey lady, will you direct this movie?') and at one point stopping to exclaim, "I've had the f----- most awesome year! I can't even describe it." 

The key to her success she said, was that she learned the lesson of "the intention of your attention." On her first feature length movie, the 2011 documentary, I Will Follow, she focused on specific box office goals. With 2012's Middle of Nowhere, which won a best director's prize at Sundance, she was intent on gaining approval film festivals. But with Selma, she said, her only intention was "to serve the story." 

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