Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Update and SXSW; Whiplash and Jodorowsky's Dune

So things have been good. Busy, but pretty good. Last week was my birthday and South by Southwest. Also, as often happens during SXSW week, spring finally made a legitimate appearance. 

On Tuesday, my actual birthday, we didn't do too much.  Instead, we planned a dinner with family for the weekend.  On Tuesday we stayed home and watched Whiplash, a movie about a student attending school at a prestigious music conservatory in New York.  The film largely focuses on the relationship between an extremely demanding music teacher/conductor, Terence Fletcher- played by J.K. Simmons, and one of his drummers, Andrew Nieman- played by Miles Teller.  Fletcher's demand for excellence in his students lends itself to behavior which becomes abusive.  The musicians, for their part, are eager, but also competitive and egotistical.
The film explores the relationship between single-minded ambition and unhealthy obsession.
I found it really entertaining.  I'm not saying that it was flawless, but it was very good.  We've seen this sort of story before, but it usually plays out in tales about athletes, chess champions, or other obvious competitors.  Music is something that people usually think of as more imaginative, creative, and expressive as opposed to cutthroat.
Anyone who's ever even been in high school band or orchestra, however, knows that music performance has its own world of fierce competition.  Music directors across the country spend tremendous amounts of time and energy training their students not to simply express themselves through their instruments, but to play technical pieces of music correctly.  In an educational environment, music students regular take part in competitions where judges evaluate their performance in very technical terms.
Whiplash sort of takes this idea to the extreme.  The musicians in this movie may love music, but they're primarily competing to be the best at what they do.  They don't just want to make happy music- they want to be remembered as GREAT musicians.
It was a good movie, and pretty intense for a film about people playing instruments.  Recommend.

In terms of SXSW, I escaped from work a little early on a couple of days this week so I could go check out some music.
I saw Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dreamers, American Aquarium, The Mastersons, Bill Carter with Will Sexton, Matthew E. White, The Dodos, Kevin Kinney, Songhoy Blues, and Castle, amongst others.

Unexpected standouts included American Aquarium, playing alt country from North Carolina, and Castle, a heavy metal band from San Francisco who were playing behind a tattoo parlor.  Songhoy Blues were from Mali, Africa, and had an interesting mix of African-influenced music and American blues rock.
I went out and wandered around during the afternoon and early evening and got home by dark to hang out with Amy.  It was fun.

(Ray Wylie Hubbard at Dogwood)

(Bill Carter with Will Sexton)

(American Aquarium)

(The Dodos)

(Songhoy Blues)


(random street performers on South Congress- her card said Cari Quoyeser)

On Friday it was raining, so we stayed home and hunkered down.  We watched Jodorowsky's Dune.  It was a sort of strange documentary about attempts by surrealist director Alexander Jodorowsky to create a version of Dune in the 1970s.  He assembled an all-star cast for the preproduction of the movie, getting work and commitments from people ranging from H.R. Giger to Salvador Dali to Pink Floyd to contribute work to the movie.
The movie was extremely ambitious, and would have been amazing if it had ever been made, but, in the end, I think the magnitude of Jodorowsky's ambition might have been what actually killed the project.  American studios, when asked to fund the project, balked.  Am I surprised?  Not really.  Jodorowsky, in order to get his movie made, was travelling the globe, rounding up an incredible amount of talent, often employing decadent food, expensive drinks, and high quality hallucinogens as part of the recruitment process.  That talent would undoubtedly come at an incredible cost.  Dali was being told that he would be paid $100,000 for every minute that he would appear on screen.  Orson Welles was being told that chefs from New York City would be flown to the set to prepare his meals.  Mick Jagger was going to be cast in a starring role.  Complex special effects would likely be needed, with no real sense of how they could be accomplished or what they would cost.
And all of this was in the service of a director who's two previous films, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, were considered psychedelic classics, but with fairly limited audience appeal.
Alexander Jodowrosky, for his part, even when interviewed for the film in his 80's, is extremely charismatic, gregarious, and engaging.  He's extremely likeable, and you can see why people would want to be part of this project.
But you also get the sense that he's a sort of surrealist Captain Ahab.
If I was a producer, I would have been thoroughly entertained by Jodowrosky, but the idea of trying to reconcile his dogged, relentless artistic vision with the real world constraints of a studio budget would have seemed impossible- especially given the high likelihood that the movie might never have found an audience beyond being a "cult classic".
But I enjoyed the documentary.  It made me want to go out and do something creative.

Saturday we went to dinner with Ryan, Jamie, and Dad (Mom was in Arizona visiting with her friends Barb and Jane).  We went up to North Austin for dinner at Reale's, a pretty good Italian restaurant that I used to eat at when we were growing up.  The location is different now, but the food is still pretty much the same.  It's really good.  The Steans family doesn't really have too many institutions like that which we've returned to over the years, so it felt kinda special.
We had a really nice dinner.  I really enjoyed the birthday time with the family.  Thanks, guys!

Sunday we ran some errands and just hung out.  Sunday night I went to band practice.  Everyone was there but Jim, and it went pretty well. 
Last night Amy made some sort of chicken biscuit bake recipe, and it was really good.  I don't know what witchcraft she uses to make her magical food, but her juju was strong last night.
So that was the week and weekend!  Very good.
Amy is doing well with the pregnancy.  She's doing very well, really.  I'm amazed by how gracefully she handles the whole thing.  She's gonna be a great mom. 
I love you, Amy!

(third trimester Amy!)


Jean said...

Yay! Thank you for posting a picture of third trimester Amy. She looks beautiful!

J.S. said...

She IS beautiful! Also strong, smart, and thoughtful. I'm lucky.