SXSWorld March 2016 – Music


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3 2 S X S W o r l d | M U S I C M A R C H 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M ne of the most rewarding parts about making the film Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, which premiered last year at SXSW Film, was hearing from viewers who appreciated the film's early '70s Austin music history. For something so inextricably linked to a city's identity, music is a relatively young thing in Austin, not that much older than South By Southwest, really. And yet music has become part of Austin's DNA. Because of that, there's a real hunger for under- standing how music in Austin became whatever it is today, just as there is a curiosity about how Austin became Austin. Three festival selections tackle Austin music culture both directly and indi- rectly. Last Night at the Alamo is a classic, revisited. Documentaries about the Broken Spoke and Austin City Limits offer fresh takes on two of the city's (and Texas') most enduring institutions. Eagle Pennell's Last Night At the Alamo may be set in Houston, the hometown of the late Texas film trailblazer, but the film effectively captures Austin's honky-tonk hipster hybrid, one of the basic building blocks of the local music scene. The 1983 film's documentary-type verisimilitude is a credit to principal actors Sonny Carl Davis and Lou Perryman being genuine Austin honky-tonk hipster hybrids, and to director Eagle Pennell's extended stays in Austin before, during and after the making of this film. Pennell knew the innards of a Texas beer joint and its inhabitants as well as anyone. "We were all familiar with the world of dive bars," Davis says. "So when Kim Henkel wrote the script and got the old company together [from the 1978 film The Whole Shootin' Match], it was like slipping on your old favorite boots … or flip-flops. Eagle's direction captured a world and told a simple story that rings true far outside honky-tonk walls or beyond state lines." Last Night At The Alamo has been recognized as the harbinger of Texas independent film and cited by Robert Redford as inspiration for starting the Sundance Film Festival. Its reemergence at SXSW reinforces the music-film dynamic in Austin that has wedded both disciplines since the '90s. South Austin's Broken Spoke transcended its former honky-tonk beer joint status back in the '80s, when honky-tonk beer joints began to disappear from the local landscape. Outlasting the competition while fending off encroaching development is at the heart of Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke. But that's just part of the deep dive into a real deal Texas country music dancehall, where you meet the colorful family who runs it, and their extended circle of friends, family and musicians. Co-director Brenda Greene Mitchell started filming at the Spoke in 2013, compiling hours of performances and interviews while cap- turing the club's 50th anniversary celebration in 2014. Co-director Sam Wainwright Douglas was brought in to edit and finish the profile of the venue and the family behind it: James and Annetta White and their offspring. "I began editing, building out the structure of the film, while we continued shooting scenes to convey what goes into running the Broken Spoke and keeping it successful, [as well as] Texas dance hall culture in general and the effect that the rapid growth of Austin is having on a small family business like the Broken Spoke," Douglas said. "We live in an increasingly franchised and conglomerated cul- ture, and I hope scrappy family businesses like the Broken Spoke can stick around." The longest running music series on American television gets film treatment with Keith Maitland's A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story, which opens with the final taping of Season 39, starring Dale Watson. It covers the show's move from its original University of Texas soundstage to the custom-built ACL Live at the Moody Theater downtown, while telling the series' backstory and evolution into a broader musical format and Austin brand, through archival performances and interviews. Maitland sold ACL producer Terry Lickona by telling him, "I've snuck backstage at every concert I've been to since I was 15. I wanted to make a film that captured both the feeling of backstage access and an incredible front row seat. My approach was to present what I was seeing and what I heard, as much from my own perspective as a fan who'd scored a backstage pass." Maitland observed that ACL functioned as a calling card, exporting Austin's culture to a national audience, and expanding the musical horizons of viewers who later became performers on the show themselves, including Jeff Tweedy, Dave Grohl, St. Vincent, Carrie Rodriguez, and Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard. Whatever Austin music is or means, the ability to see it as well as hear it, and to watch the stories that played a role in making Austin Austin, goes a long way toward explaining why no matter how big or ungainly the place has become, people keep coming. T A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story world premieres tonight at the Paramount Theatre at 8pm. Additional screenings also remain for Last Night at the Alamo and Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke. These and other films in SXSW Film's 24 Beats Per Second section are also open to Music badges. See for details. Films Explore Austin's Cultural Institutions and Identity by Joe Nick Patoski O B e ck in A Song For You: The Aus tin City Limit s Story A U S T I N C I T Y L I M I T S / S C O T T N E W T O N

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