SXSW Film Review: Dear Mr. Brody [Keith Maitland, 2021]

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Philanthropy has changed a lot since the 19th century, the days of the industrial and financial barons. Unlike the security of real estate and esteem among their fellow human beings, their monetary wealth means little when the foundational goodwill of a currency cannot be sustained by people lacking access to it. In essence, especially in the case of targeted and structured variety where patronage dictates tastes, philanthropy may be nothing more than a selfish exercise that happen to coincide with the axiom that “a rising tide lifts (all) boats”.

So why not just give out money? Far less work involved, it seems.

Like everything else under the sun, it’s been tried before, and recently, too (if 50 years is a blink of an eye). One week in January 1970, a borderline schizophreniac named Michael Brody offered to open his inherited largess to anyone in the world with a story to tell. His promise grew from 25 million, 100 million, to a world-shattering 10 billion. In exchange, for a week, it seems the world froze and did nothing else but pour a bit (or sometimes more than a bit) of their minds into letters. The USPS went into over-drive and there are still to this day, approximately a hundred thousand letters written to Brody. It is by far one of the best real-life premises for a Tennant era Dr. Who episode: imagine the Doctor absorbing all that encapsulated time energy and then regenerating into a Victorian philanthropist. How (self-servingly) exciting!

Dear Mr. Brody is a project born from an accidental rediscovery of these letters, most of which were never opened. Brody himself never did individually respond to the letters. In allusion early on and later in literal diagnosis, it became a psychologically untenable proposition. Also, to be honest, what single human would wish to take on the problems of so many others? Instead, an “army” of scholars and volunteers from the Columbia University set about honoring these memories, living or dead, by finally opening and reading them upon the chance discovery.

I do find it a somewhat callous exercise to sift through the “best letters” and have them read by the writers themselves or their relations. I would surmise that even an innocuous “I hope you buy me candy” from a 2 year-old would age into a spectacular read through the magical help of 18,262.5 days. But I would not argue if the alternative was a faceless, generic narration.

What the project also reminds us of, however, is the raw power of physical writing. Even if assembled through a typewriter, the mechanical history of producing words and sentences transcends the medium. Just the sight of some letters was often emotional. It is sadly and obviously being lost with every tweet and gram. An ageless, digital, nearly sterile “I hope you buy me candy”, unless pulled from a hard drive sunk in the bottom of Lake Superior, will not rouse the same fuzzy feeling as the same in faded ink and a kindergartener’s naïve hand. In this perspective, there is always “more room at the bottom” and the film has no shortage of tear-jerkers. While it is not how Richard Feynman intended that phrase, digging for powerful/tragic stories might be the only enterprise that can never fail to succeed. As the letters expose the poignant comparative anatomy of the THEN and NOW, you may find that everything, or nothing, has changed. Whichever way you walk into these stories, I am fairly confident you will not be disappointed by reliving that one week in 1970.

SXSW Review: OZAS, Oter, I See Rivers, Heave Blood & Die

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

download (1)

We have already already noted that one advantage of SXSW being a fully online festival is that with the prerecorded aspect of it all, some have really stepped up and produced some amazing content. The Taiwan Beats showcase was the first one to really impress, with unique filming locations making the performances that much more memorable and having the added bonus of the showcase almost doubling as a tourism video. Not that anyone’s going anywhere anytime too soon, but eventually, hopefully not too far in the future, we can travel again. In the meantime, we can still watch videos.

For their short showcase video, Northern Expo did something quite similar to Taiwan Beats with a video directed by Carl Christian Lein Størmer that not only highlighted four talented acts coming out of Norway and showcased the beautiful scenery, but threw in the added layer of including transition scenes that acted as a bridge connecting each performance. Does this mean that OZAS, Oter, I See Rivers and Heave Blood & Die are the Avengers of the Northern Expo Cinematic Universe? Sure, why not?

Starting things off were OZAS, a duo performing traditional Sámi music. The duo, made up of Risten Anine and Sara Marielle, harmonized beautifully, not surprising considering they are sisters. Following them, the camera moved to Oter, who put on a solid performance while riding in the back of a car. Keeping the theme of performing inside a vehicle going, we were treated next to I See Rivers performing inside of a cable car as it moved up a mountain. Finally, from atop that mountain, Heave Blood & Die let loose with a powerfully heavy performance that seemed like it was tailor made to be played on top of a snow covered mountain. Great scenery, great cinematography, and great music.

SXSW Film Review: Clerk [2021, Malcolm Ingram]

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

What is meant to be the functional difference between biography and autobiography?

Methinks the entry exams for all Kevin Smith fan clubs have already been failed by the posing of that question. It will surprise no one (myself included, especially if I was ever to write an autobiography) that I have never seen Clerk(s), nor Jay and Silent Bob(s). While a culture touchstone, there is just an intentional lack of obscurity that I could not abide. The elitist in me felt like shouting, “I’m not even supposed to be here”!

However, that point is also intentionally missed. It is objectively and precisely what makes Kevin Smith such an enduringly popular tide within the phenomenal tsunami of nerd culture. Clerk is a victory lap whose purpose was never in doubt from the first millisecond. What self-respecting, self-deprecating humorist shows off a VHS recording of a grandiose teenage proclamation if it was never realized? In chronological order, Clerk pinballs around the milestones of Kevin Smith’s journey through life, betwixt the movie and comic book industry, supported largely by the same entourage. It charts his constantly rising star and occasionally twinkling luminosity, all the way to the marijuana, heart attack and his “gone soft” moments.

From the outside perspective, it is a defining culture slideshow from the ’90s to the present. Of course Bill and Ted preceded Jay and Silent Bob. Of course 3 decades of longevity can be bestowed upon anything that manages to still receive periodic filling of the feeding trough from its creators, given said creators are still around. Just as the Sundance illuminati figured out that Clerks was not a clever elitist swipe but a genuine blue collar outing, Kevin Smith and Co. also worked out that they didn’t have to bow to any gatekeepers. The joke’s on the Illuminati who funded such a slacker Coming-of-Age – but who’s counting intellectual grudges if one’s hands are riddled by papercuts from Benjamins? The clear differentiation between Hollywood and Nerd subcultures, in their telling, is accessibility. Whereas it is the major currency in Hollywood and perhaps the crossover Influencer universe, it is democratized in the Nerd culture. As they imply from the inside perspective, no less, anyone nerd enough can print accessibility in the View Askewniverse.

In its warmest interpretation, Clerk is indeed a tear-jerking saga where millions awoke with Kevin Smith to find that they resonate with, and more importantly, have the economic might to dictate, a multitude of harmlessly parallel niche worldviews full of wiener-nazis and man-walruses. In the far darker corner, though, sits the he-who-shall-not-be-named president. As Red State foretold, worldview fandom and worldview fundamentalism is not as far separated as they seem. And in the tally, maybe there wasn’t much separating elitism and populism, either.

SXSW Shorts: Learn Tagalog with Kayla, Marvin’s Never Had Coffee Before

Posted on by Ricky in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

SXSW Online this year might lack the power of the mighty Hollywood machine (and the hilarity that ensues when something like what happened with Ready Player One occurs) but I have found the Shorts section of this year’s film programming to be of extremely high quality. Here’s two that stood out:

Learn Tagalog with Kayla (2021, Kayla Galang)

Screen Shot 2021-03-19 at 8.27.01 PM

This short, without spoiling too much, captures a certain post-pandemic vibe that I think we can all relate to. There’s a realness to this film that triumphs at capturing what I imagine a lot of people are feeling right now, all with the mood of a public access video. Really enjoyable.

Marvin’s Never Had Coffee Before (2021, Andrew Carter)

Screen Shot 2021-03-19 at 8.34.32 PM

Speaking of movies that capture our times correctly, I can’t praise this short enough for perfectly conveying the anxiety and weird social traditions that have been established since the Pandemic started. This short is funny each step of the way, and frankly, very entertaining.