May - June 2001
Volume 7 Number 4
cover art by Ricardo Acevedo
Table of Contents
Whether it's the charitable organizations willing to help with funds, the film school ready to inspire, the co-ops offering an environment for creative energy, or the festivals with exhibition outlets, there is a strong do-it-yourself film community all over Austin.
The film industry here in Austin is not just for those with big pocketbooks or grandiose visions of Hollywood commercialism.
What makes rear curtain sync an exciting and fun way to shoot pictures is that it is a method of getting images in very dark places.
The movie industry has always been linked to Tin Pan Alley, the commercial music industry. A major effect of this linkage is that musical clichés, icons and stereotypes have been readily transferred to the big screen.
People call Jeremy addicted (to food), a tightwad, a clown, a spotlight hound and a man who can maintain an erection longer than any man in pornography.
The world of cinema is glamorous, BIG, brilliant, and crisp. It's usually hoisted by a fat budget. And coincidentally, often strangely buffered from the reality it reflects upon. The world of film I am familiar with it happens at a much more personal level, especially with small format film-making like Super 8.
That very spring at the institute, in film/video art class we had just watched Jodorowsky's El Topo, one of the most reviled and exalted films of the early '70s, called by various reviewers "a stilted, misogynistic gore fest" to "a surreal psycho-western, a Zen affirmation" the truth lying somewhere vacillatingly in between. So when the job of interviewing this cat fell to me, well...to say the least, I was nervous.
Real-life, down-home, country Blues People are a complicated lot, especially when it comes to their place in their home communities. You see, the blues life ain't no good life.
Sometimes I think there is hope for the movie industry.
DIY* Films in Austin by Matt Dentler
Thanks to the inception of Cinematexas, by Poyser and Tsangari, the tradition can live on in bigger and better ways. Taking what they learned from their experiences of trying to get films made on their own, they saw just how valuable the assets of Austin's film community can be. Whether it's the charitable organizations willing to help with funds, the film school ready to inspire, the co-ops offering an environment for creative energy, or the festivals with exhibition outlets, there is a strong do-it-yourself film community all over Austin. As Poyser and Tsangari have shown, all it takes is some practice, some passion, and some great talent. They went beyond just making their films, they created an atmosphere to showcase them and circumvented the conventional system. If anything is a testament to the independent spirit of Austin filmmaking, that certainly is.
In 1996, film student Bryan Poyser and his professor, Rachel Tsangari, decided to start what has become one of the most prestigious short film festivals in the United States. The University of Texas has housed the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival since that first year and it continues to grow. Due in part to the ingenuity, time, and passion instilled in both Poyser and Tsangari, Austin nurtures more filmmakers every year. The Texas Capital is known around the world for its arts scene. The soul of what it takes to survive in that scene is evident in the lives and careers of both of these artists. The essence of independent filmmaking resides in Austin's theaters, study co-ops, and video stores. In 2001, Tsangari and Poyser are travelling the film festival circuit. Poyser has his acclaimed short, Pleasureland, while Tsangari is supporting her first feature, The Slow Business of Going. Both films have played at notable festivals around the world, while remaining strictly independent. Poyser's film has played the New York Underground, Boston Underground, and Ann Arbor Film Festivals. Tsangari's film has played Rotterdam, South by Southwest, and more. Both films, in their own ways, are tributes to cinema: Pleasureland, a look at the adult film world; and Slow Business, a look at the history of filmmaking. Nonetheless, they are both united in their homage to movies at their most underground and defiant core, where film is about staying away from the mainstream and working outside of the system. As we watch the sex in "Pleasureland," or the slapstick in Slow Business, we are reminded of the romance found on the silver screen. In Austin, many organizations have helped Poyser and Tsangari achieve their goals. The Austin Film Society, founded by local director Richard Linklater, is based on raising funds to help Texas filmmakers. Through screenings and other drives, AFS gives the aspiring moviemaker a chance to learn the craft and earn the cash so that their dreams can become celluloid. Through the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, AFS is able to share money with local artists and help get films made.
The Cinemaker Co-op is another Austin collective that allows struggling artists the chance to build and study through the making of Super8 films and beyond. It's a community of filmmakers from the Austin area who strive to make the content they desire, no questions asked. Added to the mix is The University of Texas at Austin's film school, one of the nation's most respected, which can give anyone the proper academic training required for a successful film career. Both Poyser and Tsangari took elements from all of these and made their films. They were able to tell their stories with the use of all this background. And then, when the time was right, they were able to take advantage of Austin's many fim festivals. Festivals such as South by Southwest, Austin Film Festival, and Cinematexas all give filmmakers from around the world an opportunity to have their films seen by the public, peers, and industry.
*Do It Yourself
Local Film and Videomaker Support Organizations by Justin Davis
Here in Austin we are lucky not only to have a beautiful vibrant city full of diverse people, but also a burgeoning competative film industry. The film industry (big and untouchable as it may sound) here in Austin is not just for those with big pocketbooks or grandiose visions of Hollywood commercialism. The small time amateur or the slightly bigger headed "Professional" personal movie mogul can easily make a movie in a fortnight, a few days, or a weekend with the resources and talent availiable here in the Capital City. For equipment, legal support, financial needs, or old fashioned community these are some of the organizations here in Austin Texas that are here for you.
Artists' Legal and Accounting Assistance of Austin (ALAA)
PO Box 2577
Austin TX 78768
Michelle Polgar, Executive Director
ALAA incorporated in 1979 to provide free legal and accounting assistance to low-income artists and arts organizations on arts-related business matters. They have expanded their programming since that time to provide a slate of arts related business seminars -- from four to six annually -- on topics of interest to the local arts community. Past topics have included Music Publishing, Taxation for Artists, Art in Cyberspace, and a myriad of others. In addition, ALAA advocates on behalf of the arts community with city, state and county authorities; provides informational services of various kinds to local artists outside the scope of pro bono services; and offers referrals to experts in the entertainment law and accounting fields to individual artists and groups whose income exceeds the pro bono cutoff.
The Austin Cinemaker Co-op's mission is to preserve and uphold the belief that filmmaking is a financially accessible art form encouraging freedom of expression, experimentation, and the active exchange of ideas among filmmakers. In that spirit, Cinemaker serves as a resource to small-gauge filmmakers in Austin. They provide low-cost cameras and film equipment (primarily Super 8) for rental; organize projects, festivals, and events to involve local filmmakers and present local films to the public; hold training workshops for both novice and veteran filmmakers; and hold open monthly meetings/screening salons to encourage a continuing dialogue among filmmakers. They also maintain a public access film resource library and an informational clearinghouse via their website.
With 300+ members, Cinemaker also maintains a strong membership. Members receive their quarterly newsletter, discounts on equipment rentals, free admission to Cinemaker events, as well as discounts from Gear, the University Co-op Photo Department, Camera Obscura, Texas Film and Light, SXSW, and the Cinematexas Short Film Festival.
Cinemaker is a volunteer-run organization, sponsored by the Austin Writers' League and funded, in part, by the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission.
Any resident of the Austin CableVision viewing area is eligible to take low cost workshops that provide certification for use of ACTV equipment. This is a great resource for affordable video production. In fact, Austin Community Access Center received the "highest award for community media service" by the Alliance for Community Media, the national organization for public access providers, recognizing "an access operation which has consistently demonstrated outstanding achievement and promotion of access development over the course of time.
In order to use the ACAC facility and its equipment, it is necessary to become an ACAC Producer. An Access producer must learn proper use of the equipment. Instructional classes are provided to familiarize students with equipment, rules, and fundamental video production techniques. The classes are structured from Beginning to Advanced. Basic Field Production, Basic Editing, and a producer ID are all that are needed to produce, shoot, edit, and air a show.
Costs for workshops/certification classes vary, and range from DV camcorder classes ($35) to basic editing ($45). If you have some production experience, you may elect to take a proficiency test ($45) rather than take entry-level workshops. ACAC also offers special seminars, separate from its certification classes. These evening seminars are on topics such as Documentary, Music Video, Lighting, and so forth, and cost just $30.
The Austin Digital Video Center is committed to promoting and expanding digital filmmaking in Austin. They offer a wide range of resources including class instruction, editing facilities, equipment rental, streaming video, and complete production services from concept through final product. They specialize in guiding filmmakers on how to adapt their film projects to this new digital medium.
The Austin Film Society was founded in 1985 to bring rarely -- seen works of film to the Austin community. Exhibition programs -- including free cinema, the Texas Documentary Tour, visiting filmmakers, genre series, directors' retrospectives, and gala film premieres -- enjoy a national reputation, with the Austin Film Society ranked among the top film centers of the country, recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Director's Guild of America.
Technical support services for regional film and video artists include advice and referral; a bi-monthly publication; information packets on a variety of topics; workshops and panel presentations; a web site; fiscal sponsorship of projects; and the administration of the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, an annual grant to emerging film and video artists from the state.
All programs and services are available to the general public. Film Society members receive discounts and advance notice of AFS programs, trade discounts, and a subscription to the bi-monthly publication Persistence of Vision.
Also at the old Mueller Airport, twenty acres are being leased by The Austin Film Society for use as a film, video, and production facility. This is a project being headed up by several large film industry officials including Richard "slacker" Linkletter.
1705 Guadalupe, Suite 208/210
Austin TX 78701
(512) 467-0731, fax (512) 467-9088
Since 1993 Austin FilmWorks has offered two semester-long film/video production courses every fall and spring. Production One is an intensive 14-week introduction to basic 16mm film and video pre-production, production, and post production. Instruction and testing cover cameras, lenses, film and video systems and stocks, cinematography, lighting, writing, directing, editing, and digital non-linear editing. Production Two is a 14-week advanced cinematography and editing course. Students produce three 16mm films in small groups. Production One or equivalent experience is required. Instructors: Mims, Lewis, Curry, & Layton.
Chicano/Latino Film Forum
PO Box 6065
Austin TX 78762
Rene Renteria, Co-director
(512) 416-8561, (512) 708-0904
The Chicano/Latino Film Forum is dedicated to the exhibition, distribution, production, and critical discussion of films and videos for, by, and about the underserved Latino community. The Chicano/Latino Film Forum's most visible work is the ongoing audience screening events, which is well attended annually. The organization was created in 1993 by Austin, Texas-based Latino film and video artists and held its first public screening on Dia de la Raza (October 12) 1993.
The Chicano/Latino Film Forum has presented over 50 local and regional events featuring dozens of different artists both locally and with a national scope, and has worked with a number of non-profit arts and film organizations. The organization has sponsored several summer video workshops through the City of Austin's At-Risk Youth Program.
Recently, the Chicano/Latino Film Forum has taken a partnership role with the producers of the Cine Las Americas international Film Festival held annually in Austin.
As a non-profit arts organization, the Chicano/Latino Film Forum is funded in part through the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission, by a subgrant of the Texas Commission on the Arts, and through member donations.
Reel Women offers a network of support for women at all levels of experience in the film and video industries through education, exhibition, and mentoring, and provides a supportive atmosphere for the exchange of information and ideas. Weekly email bulletins provide audition and production notices and referrals, as well as information about community events. The Reel Women Crew Book and the Reel Women Casting Book are comprised of hundreds of resumes and headshots of local talent (both men and women) and are available at no cost to all productions to assist them in fulfilling their production needs. Their all -- women production group provides an opportunity to receive hands-on training in the making of a short film or video. They also offer their members free monthly workshops focusing on aspects of production such as digital camera, script supervision, and directing. General meetings, held the third Wednesday of each month, are free and open to the public.
The Texas Film Institute (TFI) is a talent hatchery for screenwriters and novelists, offering writers guidance, development and an entrance in to the entertainment industry via TFI's associations with production companies such as Bedford Falls, and others. TFI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. It is designed to utilize the spec script marketplace to find material for a group of select production companies. Criteria for selection is based on the unique writing methods, the Dramatic Cycle.
Since 1971, the Texas Film Commission, now a division of The Office of Governor Rick Perry, has provided preproduction assistance to film and video projects of all sizes and all budgets. The Texas Film Commission's free services include location research, providing access to an extensive photo library of statewide locations; referrals to crew, talent, equipment, and support services; information on Texas' sales tax exemptions for film production; guidance on state laws and legislative issues affecting filmmakers; contact information for state agencies, law enforcement, and public and private entities; access to archives on Texas' film industry and its economic impact; and a production hotline and online bulletin board providing employment information on film projects throughout Texas.
The indispensable Texas Production Manual -- an annual sourcebook for the motion picture, television and video industries -- lists over a thousand film and video professionals from all over Texas; location photos; government contracts; weather information; and a Texas filmography. Listings are compiled each fall. The Manual costs $20.00, but most of its information is available at no charge through the Film Commission's web site.
The Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) is the state agency charged with the development of a receptive climate for the arts in Texas. TCA achieves its mission through the provision of grants, information, and technical assistance to artists, arts organizations, and the general public.
The Commission has created the Texas Cultural & Arts Network (TCAnet) to enable the provision of services, technical assistance, and the dissemination of information via the Internet and World Wide Web. Visit TCAnet at www.arts.state.tx.us. List your events on their online arts calendar at www.artonart.com. Through a collaborative effort, they will host the website of any non-profit arts and cultural organization on www.txarts.net for free. They'll even host your domain name for free.
TCA provides competitive grants to Texas-based arts organizations and artists through a number of programs. The Texas Arts Plan provides a comprehensive overview of TCA's programs and application guidelines. It is available online at www.arts.state.tx.us or can be requested via mail.
Courtesty of the Austin Film Society
Lullaby by Faulkner Fox
Finally they slept, stationed just below our bedroom.
We did owe them -- they had let us bring our dog
to their beach home in Florida.
So they got their prim tribute -- gray brisket,
creamed potatoes, an audience
for their gall stone removal stories.
At midnight, limp but righteous,
we were done.
We snuck like teenagers
to the attic, a sparse room
with one twin bed, one red clock.
A room where children would go,
if we ever conceived any.
Lying on the twin, we began
to make love, and the bed
hummed and swayed,
but we were two floors
above our guests -- far enough to blur
the noises furniture can make.
Sometimes in sex
there are pinched moments
when your mind won't let anyone else
drive the boat. All you can do
is get up, try to shake it out.
We got up together
and looked back at the bed, thankful
to see below the bedclothes for once.
A bat, trapped in the mattress,
was flapping back and forth.
We had never known
pregnant furniture before.
Standing there naked
in the small room, we decided
(and a decision like this is always final)
to lie back down on the bat.
At first, we worked to hold
the bat's beat in our own.
But later, we moved on, into a gallop.
When I have trouble sleeping,
I am lullabied by this story, what it says:
when called for, cruelty fits me,
soft butter on a knife.
N. Coleman's Corner by Neil Coleman
Preserving, promoting, and presenting photography has been my profession, as well as my passion, for the past fifteen years in Austin. I've owned and operated a gallery dedicated to photography and I've been personally involved in over 100 exhibits around town. When I was approached to write for Austin Downtown Arts, I jumped on the opportunity to write about photography. To cover a wide range of topics, such as techniques, styles, exhibits, interviews, and ideas with photographers and gallery owners around Austin. I'm hoping to make this an interesting and informative addition to the magazine and would welcome any input.
In March of this year I featured the photographic artwork of Daniel J. Schaefer. His exhibit, entitled "Open Mine," contained large, filtered and diffused color prints. Portraits of musicians taken at open mike nights around some of the clubs in Austin. What made his images so strong and unique is one of the techniques he used that is referred to as "Rear Curtain Sync" (RCS).
RCS is a method for capturing ambient light while at the same time keeping a subject in focus. Ambient light is the light that comes from the sun (and in some instances artificial light). To properly expose for ambient light we have shutter speeds and apertures on our cameras. They each have a separate yet combined roll to play in proper exposure. The shutter speeds are described in terms of time. The shutter speed also determines how long the film sees the subject. If the subject is not moving, the length of time the shutter is open and the film sees the subject does not matter. But if the subject is moving, long shutter speeds can result in out of focus subjects because movement is seen by the film.
The aperture effects how much light strikes the film. The aperture is a large hole normally at the rear of the lens through which light must travel to reach the film. It has blades that can be closed down, making the hole smaller, or opened up, making the hole larger. The larger the hole, the more light that can strike the film (F-stops).
When Daniel shoots his photos at open mike nights, his flash fires the moment the first shutter blade starts closing the shutter after the ambient exposure is made. The important thing about RCS is that the flash comes at the end of the ambient exposure. Daniel says "this is especially important if you are trying to incorporate motion into your concept. If the flash occurs at the beginning of the exposure the trail will be in front of the subject. This is great if the subject is skating backwards. Unfortunately, in most cases, the trail looks backwards. I rarely attempt motion shots when I use RCS." It is also interesting to note that none of Daniel's photos are double exposures.
There are other aspects to be considered when using RCS, such as capturing the ambient light while at the same time keeping your subject in focus. According to Daniel there are three things to consider in using RCS effectively and they are: "use a wide angle lends, keep your subject still (more or less), and use a darker background then your subject. Generally speaking, if you keep the ambient exposure between 3 and 15 seconds and use a wide angle lens (like 20 to 35) you will get the best results. However, the longer you leave the shutter open, the more possibility you create for interesting effects in the background. For example the portrait I did of Rusty Weir at Gino's Restaurant is a 24 second exposure. If you look carefully you can see that there are indeed people seated at the tables, but on first inspection it looks as if the restaurant is empty. Also the tablecloth assumes a soft, fully saturated appearance."
What makes RCS an exciting and fun way to shoot pictures is that it is a method of getting images in very dark places. It also creates an "impressionistic" feel, with much of the background fuzzy and subjects looking blurred from the movement. Daniel also feels that specular highlights are important. He says, "part of that makes the picture interesting is the wobble of the specular highlights. This can be achieved by hand-holding the camera. It may sound incongruous but the motion of the camera at an extended shutter speed creates a diffused background against which a sharp subject becomes more profound."
Daniel is still shooting photos at open mike nights (using the RCS method) as an on going project. He also is an accomplished musician (conjunto), with three CDs to his name and can often be heard playing his bajo sexto at Gino's and other open mike venues around town.
If you are interested in RCS or viewing Daniel's work you can contact me at Pro-Jex Gallery, (512) 472-7707. My gallery is in the Guadalupe Arts Building (1705 Guadalupe St.) along with Austin Downtown Arts magazine. Also if you have any ideas or suggestions for my column please contact me at the gallery. I hope to bring you more interesting articles on photography around Austin in the publications to come.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
Film music, like film, is often pigeon-holed according to market considerations. Even indie films have become niche oriented, and their soundtrack music is part of that demographic earmarking. It is not for a want of creativity, but a more or less natural result of centralization of the industry, especially when indie filmmakers are bankrolled by the majors, or cut distribution deals with them.
This is not to say the music used in indie films becomes formulaic, but only that marketing considerations can narrow the sonic palette. Think of a movie you've seen recently, and categorize it according to the time and geography of its subject. Then specify each scene by its setting and mood. You can then place the soundtrack music accordingly.
The Hollywood formula for soundtrack music is of course a conservative one. The movie industry has always been linked to Tin Pan Alley, the commercial music industry. A major effect of this linkage is that musical clichés, icons and stereotypes have been readily transferred to the big screen. Visuals are thus tagged with common denominator musical markers. The hero flies down to South America? Salsa music! (usually played by L.A. studio musicians; often the particular Latin music on the soundtrack is not even indigenous to the region depicted on the film. No matter! It sounds "ethnic" enough for Hollywood). A scene opens in Eastern Europe? Gypsy violins! Or, if it is near Russia, some depressing military band dirge to evoke the Soviet legacy. Maybe, if the characters drink enough vodka, a balalaika can be thrown in.
And so on. Indie films have often provided a breath of fresh air with their soundtracks as well as their visual art. Many creative bands and artists have found wider audiences by lending their music to indie films. The underground hit, the sleeper, and the cult film, are ways that alternative culture, regional groupings, and just plain non-lobotomized audiences make their voices heard through dollar votes. It is a way that the movie industry can be used to infuse new ideas into mainstream society.
The downside, of course, is that fresh ideas appearing in a static, shallow and materialistic society are usually either chopped into bite-size pieces small enough to become meaningless, or incorporated wholesale into the next commodifiable fad or trend. For example, the ironic self-reflexive stance in the movie Swingers was enhanced by the use of 1960s lounge music and 1940s swing music. As "lounge" and "swing" became fads for middle-class white America in the 1990s, this ironic stance was lost in an uncritical embrace of material culture. Icons of lounge and swing now appear regularly in American film and TV, down to the level of the ubiquitous Gap ads.
Another example that comes to mind is the use of rural country music signifiers, such as the banjo, dobro guitar and mandolin. One of the first films to give a modern ironic connotation to these musical markers was the Coen brothers Raising Arizona. As this movie worked its way into American mainstream culture, a nouveau-bluegrass soundtrack style emerged, blending experimental and traditional musical techniques, which has come to sonically represent, I believe, modern rural America, or the interface between contemporary American culture and its rural heritage. It is similar in some ways to the way the modern American art music of Copeland came to be recycled as orchestral soundtrack music for Hollywood cowboy films in the 1940s and '50s.
So is all creative film music destined to become ripped-off recycled clichés? Perhaps, just as perhaps we will all one day have bar codes tattooed on our foreheads. On the other hand, the essential characteristic of creative film music, and filmmaking itself, is that it contains commentary in its iteration. It is only when this commentary has been squeezed out by mindless imitation and formulaic commodification, that film music loses its creative possibilities. So let's not do that, ok? Except for the films of Arnold Schwarzenneger. For the action "heroes" all one really needs is a sampling keyboard and a watermelon dropped off a 10-story building.
Ron Jeremy: Porn Buddha by Grace McEvoy
Ron Jeremy gives the best head in heterosexual porn: so say the women who should know. That is one memorable piece of information I took away from the documentary film Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, which was among a great variety of films to choose from at the South by Southwest Film Festival here in Austin in March. As I was waiting at the bar in Mad Dog Comedy Club, a young man asked me why I had come to this late night showing about an overweight middle aged porn star. I explained that I have a small child and I don't have that much control over when I can go to films. He said someone recommended that he see this film and asked if I had ever seen a Ron Jeremy Film. I answered; "No, I haven't." He admitted that he had seen a few because it was the thing to do among the guys in college and that he finds Ron Jeremy fat and unattractive. After all, this film is about a man who goes by the nickname "the hedgehog." I didn't bother to tell this stranger that I am also interested in what consumers like about pornography and what the people who make pornography think of their jobs. I am happy to say that I did get some insight on the subject of pornography from the film.
Ron Jeremy is a fan of Lord of the Dance; so we learn from an interview with a family friend in this smoothly constructed documentary. We are treated to an opening like a television show from the 1970s, the decade that Jeremy's film career began. A light-hearted tone is set for a film that succeeds in objectively humanizing a porn star through interviews with co-workers, friends, detractors, fans, and even his dad. An unexpected touch is the home movie footage of Jeremy as a child growing up in Queens, New York. People call Jeremy addicted (to food), a tightwad, a clown, a spotlight hound and a man who can maintain an erection longer than any man in pornography. He claims not to use Viagra®. He was born Ron Hyatt into a Jewish family who don't seem too put off by his ultimate career choice, although after the first porn film, his dad told Ron not to use his last name.
Ron Jeremy really wants to have children. But, how many women who want to have children are willing to do that with a man who's work includes getting an HIV test every month. Jeremy seems genuinely sad while talking about the fact that he has had only one short relationship in the last twenty years. She also worked in the adult film industry and left in disgust many years ago. Jeremy couldn't understand her attitude, which might explain why his "love" life has been limited to sex work, orgies and one night stands. Every frat boy's dream. Many men want to be in his place and he is an icon to the "regular guy" porn consumers of America. As Ron says: "People can relate. When you see a gorgeous guy getting all the girls, the audience goes, so what? You see a schlub like me get lucky and it's like there's hope for everybody else." I am not sure that I can relate. We are talking about a man who can count a film called Blow it Out Your Ass, as a typical title among the 1600 or so films he has appeared in. Although I think that title is pretty funny and I don't begrudge anyone a grand sex life, the pornographic films I have seen (we are not talking about a vast number of films) are too clinical. While the actors make exaggerated lustful expressions, or no expression at all, viewers endure poor quality filmmaking and close-ups that look like something one would have to undergo in the doctor's office. The realities of the act of lovemaking are graphic, and that is where porn falls short. It is one-dimensional. A film that is more holistic could even be erotic. Nothing comes to mind. Feel free to send in recommendations.
Ron Jeremy is a self promoting, unapologetic schmoozer, maintaining that his greatest thrill as "America's most unlikely sex star" has been to meet celebrities. He has had many bit parts in "legit" films and been cut from many more when the filmmakers discover who he is. If the dice had rolled another way, Jeremy is clearly a man who could pull off the "legit" film career he craves. His energy for work, travel and public appearances is endless. He keeps a fascinating phone book that looks like a chaotic roadmap of pages and pages with lines connecting people so he knows "how" he knows them. It seems odd that director Scott J. Gill had a hard time convincing Jeremy to allow him to make the documentary. Gill was inspired while watching his favorite Jeremy title -- What's Butt Got to do With It? -- and is the director, writer, producer and editor of this his first feature-length documentary. However, don't look for his credit on any pornographic films. He is strictly legit.
A Small Thing... by Jodie Keeling
Having recently stumbled into a position working at a local film organization, I have had a lot of opportunity to think about just what it is that draws me into the world of film. For me personally there are two distinct but not mutually exclusive allures: I'll call them "film" and "cinema." The world of cinema is glamorous, BIG, brilliant, and crisp. It's usually hoisted by a fat budget. And coincidentally, often strangely buffered from the reality it reflects upon. Stylistically, the composition of each shot, camera angle, cut, dialogue, voice over, etc. all carefully combine into a resonant piece with a consistent image-voice that reflects on the culture we live in. If it's successful, we, as viewer trust it, sit back, escape and go along for a ride. And it all wraps up into a smart little package that fits into your lap. You can take home with you when the movie is done. We, many of my friends and I, all fantasize about our big cinematic debuts. But sometimes, a lot of times, watching cinema is a lot like watching from inside a high-rise building, a noiseless tree blow outside in the wind. The catharsis happens somewhere in the recesses of your mind but you never really feel anything. In the end, with few exceptions, when the lights come on, you are left in your seat, same as before, unchanged.
The world of film I am familiar with, and most interested in right now, is distinct in my mind from cinema. How? Well, the making of it happens at a much more personal level, especially with small format filmmaking like Super 8. Shooting Super 8 is most cool because it's user friendly. You can hold the camera with one hand. It was way ahead of its time. The home movie format of the '60s the cameras are still smaller than most camcorders today. Super 8 fits into a bag the size of a small purse. It's really portable and convenient for toting around town, for all those times you wish you had a camera. It looks unassuming. This is good for all those undercover guerrilla filmmaking jobs. It also allows for a greater intimacy between filmmaker and subject. Super 8 is life affirming. Most all of the cameras and projectors are vintage, which means someone has used them long before you. So the equipment has a history that links you and your films to the past, to the cycles of life. If you ask enough questions when you buy a camera you might even be able to learn something about its original owner. The image. The texture of the image is like silk and with all the technological advances there still is no substitute. The film cartridge itself is virtually indestructible. You can toss it in your bag and forget about it for years, drop it, jump on it, bury it, put it in your refrigerator, or send it off to the lab in a small package envelope. If you hand process it, you can make a movie, develop it, and watch it all within the same day. And no matter what you shot, the look of hand processing will always send your film and the viewer into another dimension. There is virtually no Super 8 sound film left. So if you want to you can make it a collaborative project and have a friend's band play along, burn a CD or make a cassette of sound effects or just watch it silent and revel in the warming whirl of the projector.
Watching film is usually a more personal experience as well. There is a balance of voyeurism and intimacy between the audience and the filmmaker that the freestyle nature of the small film format lends itself to. Probably the most exciting part of being involved with the Austin Cinemaker Co-op is seeing the works by all the first-time filmmakers that debut in our open film festivals. Every shake of the handheld camera, the content and rhythm of a shot, its length, where its cut-and-edited into a sequence all combine to reveal something about the personality behind the camera, sometimes even at the expense of what's being said in front of it. This signature of an amateur filmmaker always rings like a bell, because we haven't yet mastered the technology enough for it to be disguised. It's the filmmaker's indelible fingerprint. Uncertainty with the technology and awkwardness with telling a visual story combine to make films, even the few bad ones, where subtle and incredible things happen, yeah.
Art happens in amateur films. Actually the Latin word amator means lover. Maybe this signature, this fingerprint is akin to the innocence a young (new) love -- a certain feeling shines through amateur films in spite of ourselves and our attempts to make them something else, usually into something more sophisticated. It is their smallness that makes them big. I come away from a film feeling engaged, more human, and more connected. And for me, right now, that is just what our little world needs.
That Damned Film-maker -- Or Where the Hell is Alejandro Jodorowsky When You Need Him! by Ricardo Acevedo
A defining moment, a work of art so strong that it breaks you out of personal perceptions or gives definition to your demons, such was Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre for me.
Initially I should probably provide some background on how and why this work of visceral surrealist self-consumption so explosively slapped my synapse.
In 1990 while attending the San Francisco Art Instutue, Frisco Magazine put out a call for interns. I applied and was accepted. Of course, I was relegated to the most menial of office tasks, but at the same time, felt as though I had my thumb on the pulse of pop culture. Then in the fall of that year, it fell to me, via a sick writer and everyone else tied-up in mid-assignment, to interview Alejandro Jodorowsky -- "Just ask him these questions we typed out for you, and don't screw it up" -- I was scared witless.
That very spring at the institute, in film/video art class we had just watched Jodorowsky's El Topo, one of the most reviled and exalted films of the early '70s, called by various reviewers "a stilted, mysoginstic gore fest" to "a surreal psycho-western, a Zen affirmation" the truth lying somewhere vacillatingly in between. So when the job of interviewing this cat fell to me, well...to say the least, I was nervous.
I read all the press lit, "Hmmm...wow, this (Santa Sangre) damn thing won the Grand Prize at the Festival de Paris du Film Fantastique and the Palm de Or at Cannes" while lemmingly lined up for the screening, the synopsis read: " Fenix is a young man who was raised in a world of conflicting values...from the sexual debauchery of his father to religious fanaticism of his mother. His childhood is spent at the Circo Gringo, his father's circus. The young boy's father, Orgo, is a vain, brutal man...prone to drunken bouts of violence & cheating on his wife. Fenix's mother, Concha, is a woman driven by an overpowering obsession for her self-anointed "image saint" Santa Sangre; a young woman who was brutally raped by two men who then cut off both her arms & left her to die.
When Concha catches her husband in the arms of the sensual "tattooed lady," she succumbs to her jealous rage and splashes acid on his groin. Orgo, enraged and beyond reasoning, grabs a large knife and cuts off both of Concha's arms. Then, in blind desperation, he slits his own throat. (Hmmm...good family film.)
Traumatized by the horror he witnessed, the 8-year-old Fenix is committed to a mental asylum, where he sleeps in a dog's bed and refuses to eat anything other then raw fish for the next 12 years. At 20 he escapes to his mother arms.
They perform a bizarre yet original nightclub act in which Fenix becomes his mothers arms. This symbiotic relationship permeates Fenix's soul to the extreme; he is trapped in her dark world of demands, and twisted imagination...a world that leads to indescribable pain, madness and murder.
Fenix's salvation reappears in the form of Alma, a young deaf mute who befriended him in childhood. She is determined to rescue him from the stranglehold of his mother...and the torment of his soul."
Gulp...OK. I settled into my seat, in the pitch of the auditorium and subsequently had my psyche dismantled rearranged and ravaged for two hours. I left a changed being. Yes, a great deal of the story line hauntingly mirrored my own upbringing, but I'll leave that to the memoirs. This film was so heavy with modern Jung paradigms, masterful each-shot-a-painting cinematography and grand moral deconstruction that I was left void of my own thoughts. Left to swirl about, I sat still amid the exiting professional journalists 'till I heard, "Are you Ricardo with Frisco?" I managed a nod. "Mr. Jodorowsky will see you now."
What follows are excerpts from that interview.
R: Uh, so do you think humans find redemption?
AJ: I think so. I am completely convinced because I found my own redemption. I was also a killer, a psychological killer, a misogynynist, destroying woman. I was not able to love.
R: And was this film part of the process of finding redemption?
AJ: Yes, on a lot of levels. Also in the relationship with my sons, all of whom appear in the movie, my family -- the whole process, even that of returning to movies. This picture is like a subtle psychoanalysis.
R: Is that why it took so long to write -- six years?
AJ: I was putting a lot of myself into it, I was trying to find a very strong structure because I believe in structure; in order to improvise when I'm shooting, I need a perfect structure.
R: There are a lot of deformed people in your films.
AJ: I love them, I love them all. They're beautiful. To me, normal people are monstrous, because they are so similar. For me difference is what is art, what is life. I don't like some, find it distressing. I don't call it deformity, it's natural imagination. Nature has a big imagination. Maybe to some people they're monsters, but not to me. I find beauty only in "monstrosity." I can't be realistic. Even when I walk down the street, I find monsters. Everywhere I have an exacerbated sensibility toward monstrosity. Whenever I see it, I'm happy. Human flesh is strange.
R: Where did you get the idea of the symbiotic relationship -- the mother with her son's arms?
AJ: From my life with my mother. All my life I felt like that. She lived her life through me. She was a castrate woman by my father and she wanted to live her life through me.
R: Was it difficult to conceal Blanca Guerra's arms in the scenes where Axel is substituting his for her "missing" ones?
AJ: Yes, very difficult. Every shot needs different angles, different positions to disguise them. But it works. Blanca and Axel were a good couple, because she held the sex of my son in her hands all the time. That's why they're doing so well. I approved the technique, it's not so moral, but it's like that! The incest thing worked well like that!
R: Do you enjoy the struggle involved in making such personal cinema?
AJ: Yes, it's always a fight, always pain. But what I really want now is to be my own producer. I can't stand having someone looking over my shoulder with opinions. Like the Americans say, "Everyone has an opinon!" Then they need to follow you, they want approximations of your images, you have to explain everything, they're trembling, trembling...then, they cut your picture! You have to make it for television, for children!
R: Um, what does it feel like to be a legend?
AJ (genuinely suprised): Tell me! I am a legend? I am a human being, but they make interviews, they bring me books...if I am a legend, I'll have to write my autobiography. I will give you a Zen answer: if I am a legend, why don't you take a tea with me?
AJ (slowly): If I am a legend, then why don't you take a tea with me?
R: Uh, yeah...
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
What happens when there are no Blues Babies being born into the Blues Family, in the birthplace of the Blues?
Blues is a musical style that anyone with talent can learn to play and sing.
The Blues is cultural expression of a people, transmitted artistically through instrumental music, song, and language bearing an intrinsic connection to the particular life experiences, spirituality, emotions, folkways, and collective history and culture of oppressed African descendants in North America.
The old-timers was not born in no hospitals. They was mid-wifed into this world by somebody's grandmama, out in the country, or over in the projects, or down cross't from the cut, but really close to the church, and very much -- town or country -- down home.
My blues, your blues, Clifford Antone's blues, Hayes McMillan's blues, John Lee Hooker's blues was not born'd in no hospital. You gotta remember, back in them days, in most places, they wouldn't let no Blues Mother in no hospital no way, if all she was needin' was to give birth. Blues People were thought to be especially evolved (de-volved?), with great retention of natural survival instincts and skills, perhaps learned during slavery. Blues People didn't need, it was believed, no special medical care for something as natural as "birth." Remember, we're talking about life in the early twentieth century, rural south, America, USA.
Just take my word for it, the Blues was not born'd in no hospital. The Blues -- ever' last one of them -- was born down home, delivered by somebody's gradmama.
Birth. Progenitors, ancestors. Family. First generation. Off-spring, extended family. The further you get away from the roots of the family, yes, the blood line continues, but the further you get away from the roots of the family the further you get away from the roots of the Blues. Today in Austin, Texas or Clarksdale, Mississippi, in this new millennium, it's a long, long way away from Bessie Smith's down home of 1923.
No matter how politically expedient it is, no matter how economically lucrative it is, no matter how just plain stupid it is: If you carry the Blues Family name with you without bringing the rest of the family, the culture, without acknowledging the remaining living family members -- and worse -- without acknowledging, with reverence and due respect, that you know, understand, and give thanks to the family that birthed you; if you do all of that, smiling all the way to the bank, eyes wide-open, you are doing no less than just trying to "pass." You are a cultural liar, charlatan, thief. And you ought to wake up and smell the chitterlings (you don't even have to like to eat chitterlings, but you must at least know what they smell like when they're cooking).
I think about this stuff a lot. Many folks do. A couple of weeks ago the Sunday New York Times ran a front page story about the scarcity of real Blues People still alive and practicing the art in the Delta. They went to Clarksdale; they went into the backwoods; they went to the old juke joints and fishhouses. In the birthplace of Delta Blues, the New York Times had a hard time finding blues. Of course, there is the Museum there in Clarksdale, but I'm talking about those real living rough-and-tumble bluesmen and women who play, and sing, and live the blues life. A few are still there, but they are old and dying. They are the relics. They play the festivals in the summer, they sale a few CDs in Japan, they return home to work on the truck farms. They are among the last direct links to the family of origin of the Blues, the real blues.
Real-life, down home, country Blues People are a complicated lot, especially when it comes to their place in their home communities. You see, the blues life ain't no good life. The raw material for the blues necessarily includes living and/or being exposed to and/or truly understanding/living what it means to be Black in America. And sometimes it also means that, if the blues -- man or woman -- is singing/playing their own life story, they are not always exactly the responsible citizen, pillar of the community, perfect faithful spouse, good Christian kinda person that the Baptist look to with respect. Sometimes the quality of a good bluesman hinges on his ability to honestly communicate what it means to be a bad man, a backdoor man, what it means to be a "Jody" and be proud of it. Sometimes it just hinges on truly understanding what it means to be Black in America. Because, even if you grow up Black and republican -- with -- money in the 'burbs of Memphis, on the streets of West Memphis you might be treated as if you're just another uppity nigger who dresses too well and speaks too proper. Most of Black America (some white folks get it too, I'd guess) can understand what I'm talking about in this scenario, regardless of how or where they grew up. Somehow out of all of this joy and pain comes beautiful, soul deep, honest, gritty-sweet, soulful expression. And if you also happen to be a good player and are into the blues, that soul/cultural connection is genuine, it works (talk to Robert Cray sometime about his life in the Pacific Northwest).
The reason I say that carrying on the Blues bloodline is complex and complicated is that even down home, it's harder these days to find some of the original conditions and lifestyles that historically provided the source material for the blues. And, for a number of reasons, a great number of Black folks -- down home, town or country -- don't really have much interest in the blues. Yes, the Blues is one of the cornerstones of our cultural history, but it historically is also tied to juke joints, cut-and-shoot backwoods shacks, and big city dance halls with backroom prostitution, gambling and drug dealing. It's complicated because a lot of us recognize the musical and cultural treasure it is, but there are also those (among Black folks) who don't look at blues as something suitable for passing on to the next generation. And, to many of the kids, Muddy Waters as hero/cultural icon just don't hold a candle to Puff Daddy's star status. Naturally, that means finding the "original blues," even in the Delta, just gets harder and harder as time passes.
This is serious.
The really sad thing, for me, is that so many folks just don't "get it." I think the conversation should be about the importance of sustaining mechanisms for passing on culture, for keeping the connection to the source, for treasuring and preserving our culture. My strong beliefs and opinions, and my delivery perhaps, sometimes just get me into arguments that miss the point.
The expressive culture of a people, at least in the formative years, is tied especially and uniquely, to those people and their folkways. It might be a style of sculpture, or painting, or dance, a ritual or musical performance practice, but if it comes out of them as a very particular kind of cultural expression, they own it. If it moves on to be "pop and commercial" and they don't continue to benefit from its production, there's an integrity problem in that process. It -- the art -- may be copied, extended, changed, continued, and kept alive by all kinds of folks who do not have a direct connection to the culture, but if that link is not consciously there, and acknowledged, the integrity of the production of it is at best questionable.
Who's blues (culture) is it, anyway?
This conversation is a complex one; there are a lot of issues here. For me, this conversation is not about whether white folks can or should play the blues (or jazz or reggae for that matter). This is not a place to argue about whether Stevie Vaughan was a legit bluesman or not (he knew and would tell you the blues truth). For me the most important issues here have to do with acknowledging origins, respecting the bloodline, and understanding the essential "pre-commercial" African American cultural content/context of the Blues.
What is true today in 2001, is that folks other than Black folks are largely responsible for continuing the blues music tradition. That is not to say, however, that these folks should behave in ways that seem to indicate a lack of respect, knowledge, and understanding of the essential Blackness of Blues and it's unbreakable direct connection to African American history and culture. In fact, these latter-day blues players and entrepreneurs owe it to the tradition, and themselves, to do all they can to pay homage to the people and culture that birthed the Blues. When you receive a gift, say "thank you."
Rough-and-tumble or not, or perhaps just artistic spokespersons for those who are in indeed "rough-and-tumble," the older-than-50 set of practicing Black bluesmen and women are by and large the last generation of musicians who had direct social, cultural and artistic immersion in the pre-integration African American culture that gave the world the Blues. This is true in Clarksdale, Chicago, and in Austin.
To me, it seems logical to expect that any real Austin Blues Festival would include some of these Black Folks/Blues People on its stages.
Once again this May, Austin's biggest, best financed, most promoted blues event of the year, the KGSR (formerly Antones') Blues Festival features international headliners and (Black) blues legends (Ray Charles this year, John Lee Hooker in the past). I am glad this festival is here. I know it will be well-produced. And, damn, they snagged Ray Charles to play in Waterloo Park! What I don't understand is how, once again, they will put up this great show and (as I understand it) not include even one local Black blues performer on any of their stages.
I guess I really do get it. What I wonder is, "Do they (the producers) understand and appreciate what a slap in the face this kinda thing is to Austin's community of original Blues People?"
Perhaps it's just another case of the river city blues.
Verities by Rachelle Rouse
Sometimes I think there is hope for the movie industry. Many recent films have blurred the line between "artsy" and "popular" resulting in something you might call "pop art." Quasi-indie flicks such as The Virgin Suicides and Dancer in the Dark have won critical acclaim and achieved popular success featuring the music or acting of semi-underground but popular musicians. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon drew hoards of Old Navy wearing red-blooded Americans to view what may have been their first foreign film outside of high school Spanish class. Their comments? "Like, weird, man...but cool."
This pretty much defines pop art in my opinion. First, a movie is popular because we can all relate to some aspect of the story. The plot can be about an experience or a setting many people can connect with like in The Virgin Suicides. Most audience members can relate to teenage angst because they have been through it or are currently undergoing it. Like the girls in the movie, as teens most people rebel against their parents and other institutions of authority. This is what makes films about shared experiences interesting: people from many walks of life can relate to them. In the American melting pot, the common experiences are only available in very limited quantities. Thus, they are somewhat of a phenomenon and can make for popular and sometimes very good films.
A movie can also be popular if we can relate to something in it as being cool. For Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it didn't matter that the movie wasn't in English. The martial arts and interesting special effects were enough to fill America's cavernous, plush theatres to capacity. Yet the cinematography of the film was artsy enough for the audience to take notice of the lush, fog-shrouded mountains and harsh deserts of China. Crouching Tiger seemed to be derived from some exotic fairy tale, making it weird, different...artsy. Film as Art. Quite a concept, huh?
However, the success of many pop art films of the past year is due to the amount of media hype they received. Whether or not they have a message to impart is debatable because the old Hollywood standard rings true: the more publicity the better. Gladiator and The Cell are prime examples of this. Both movies are excellent eye candy, but the art direction is too conscious of itself. Shallowness and vanity are the resulting essences. Do we really need any more of that nowdays? Still, these two movies are popular and artsy as well. Does this make them pop art?
The issue of visual interest alone is not what defines art. It is visual interest combined with a message: somethin' to say, a lesson to teach. Art is weird because not only are you supposed to stare at it or listen to it, it's meant to make you take notice of something new.
The movie industry does believe that people can handle thinking, but only in small doses. Obviously you can cogitate about almost any movie, but very few popular movies actually induce their audiences to ponder meanings and potent visual images, even if it's only on the most cursory level. Here's a few more films made in the year 2000 I think qualify as pop art: Almost Famous, Chocolat, Requiem for Dream, Shadow of the Vampire, Traffic.
They'll make you think, but only as hard as you want.
The Year of Acting Bad -- Act II -- Not a Real Phone Slut by Tonie Roque
When the call comes I have been rejected so often I have scaled over
And crusted up
I was too weak for the Extra Strength Tylenol audition
Too flat for Bud Lite
Too dull for the Japanese toothpaste
Inevitably, not spic enough for Taco Cabana
And sadly, too tranqued to weep on cue for the
Hallmark Hall of Fame flick - though I did cry all the ride home from Dallas.
And nothing I am is enough anything.
I show up on the set, broke and hopeful,
And they puff my hair into a glamorous cascading froth
And dress me in a beaded postage stamp
And direct me to stand on a 6th Street corner
Between two 9 foot tall blonde Barbie wet dreams
With legs born at their armpits
Each sporting a rack of floating buttery balloons
Mounded over and spilling out their little lycra tops.
I am four feet eleven inches of neurotic flatchested quivering brunette.
To the right and left of me I am head high to their tits.
A box is brought for me, Barbie's underdeveloped friend Skipper,
And I can't stand
So I hunker down in my scales and (nasty shameful Skipper)
Spit a bit of poison out.
A calculated look at Barbie 1 and Barbie 2 then
"It's just like Charlie's Angels and I'm the smart one."
And the director laughs.
And the Doublemint twins laugh.
And I shove down the shame that I had to put them down to do it
And climb up on my pedestal of power and we all say,
About a thousand times
"Want to hear a real woman's private thoughts live? Call me."
By Easter I will have played "the smart one" six more times.
And in honor of the pulsing unnamable quality that says "fuck me"
I take my old Barbie and with loving intent
Nail her to a bubblegum pink bejeweled cross still dressed in her sheer
Nylon panties and high heels.
She is martyred for my sins -
Not a real phone slut
But she played one on TV.