Two excellent music-related documentaries that I can’t recommend enough:
- The Devil and Daniel Johnston
- The Fearless Freaks
Thursday was mostly a work day. I had to catch up on some projects in the office. Well, I tried to catch up, anyway. I found out that I would have to work on Sunday afternoon, which was disappointing but made good sense (it would keep me from stressing out about my workload on Monday).
Finally, finally around 3 pm I got to leave the office and headed to ACC to see The Devil and Daniel Johnston. I found a fabulous metered parking place right at Third and Red River. I fed it a bunch of quarters (which I had stolen earlier in the day from my boyfriend’s former Laundry Quarter Ashtray) and was just about to walk away when I noticed a peeling and faded sticker on the pole of the meter. At 5:30, the parking spot would be used for valet parking and my car would be towed. Can’t they post a sign for that, or something I could actually read? Arrgh. Fortunately, a non-valet metered space across the street opened up and I moved the car. I had just enough change to fill the second meter.
It was all worthwhile. The Devil and Daniel Johnston was an amazing, intense documentary about musician/artist Daniel Johnston. A lot of Austinites probably only know him as the guy who painted the frog on the side of that building on the Drag (the frog that was on the SXSW film bag this year … I will post a photo soon). I could remember when Fun and Dead Dog’s Eyeball (Kathy McCarty’s tribute album) came out because the Chronicle had a very good article about Daniel Johnston that I read, but I hadn’t heard much about him since then.
The great thing about The Devil and Daniel Johnston was that Daniel Johnston and the Johnston family had so much material to share, particularly home movies from high school and college and many many audio recordings that Johnston made and sent to people as correspondence throughout his life. The filmmaker, Jeff Feuerzeig, did not show much of the current-day Johnston until near the end of the movie, which I thought worked very well. He didn’t need to. Sections of the documentary were essentially narrated by Johnston through his old audio recordings. (Compare this to The Last Mogul, where the filmmakers had almost no archival material to work with.)
I was impressed with Feuerzeig’s techniques throughout the movie: using a slide-show format of old photos to get through the musician’s early years quickly (complete with the slide-show soundI would totally love to steal this technique if I ever made a documentary), and often using layers of sound, so that you often heard a voice-over narrative plus audio recordings of past events plus Johnston’s music all at once … but none of it clashed.
The only part I didn’t like was the interview with Gibby Haynes, because it took place in a dentist’s office while Gibby was having some fillings done. I understand this is all very much in character with Gibby and with the early Butthole Surfers concerts, but it was disconcerting and even a little unpleasant. (Gibby looked much better in the Flaming Lips documentary I saw the next day.)
After the movie, the director had a lively Q&A that was eventually taken over by Daniel Johnston and some of the other people who were in the documentary. I was supposed to leave immediately after the movie ended and drive to the Paramount to see Operation: Dreamland but I just couldn’t bear to miss the Q&A. It was definitely a worthwhile sacrifice.
I had four movies scheduled to see on Friday. I ended up seeing only one. Well, I live in Austin, land of the slackers, what do you expect?
I realized I’d made a rather large mistake by waiting until Friday afternoon to see The Fearless Freaks. I would have to pay for parking downtown in the middle of the day, which kind of sucks. I could have parked remotely and taken the Dillo, but I couldn’t leave work that early.
It turned out to be a mistake in other ways, too, because at earlier screenings, the Flaming Lips were actually there. On the other hand, the lines were short and I got a good seat. It’s hard for me to find a good seat at the Paramount, because if someone taller than I am sits in front of me, I’m screwed. I end up having to switch seats along the row until I sit in front of an empty seat, or sit in front of a small child. The balcony seats are a little better, but they have no legroom and it would have been irrelevant on Friday because they had the balcony closed off.
I ended up parking at St. David’s garage and paying for it, but it was a fair price and it was a non-confusing parking garage, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.
I had seen excerpts from The Fearless Freaks a couple of weeks ago, because Bradley Beesley, the director, had spoken at my UT master class. I had seen one of the pivotal scenes, a disturbing one. I noticed that there were kids in the theater and I hoped it wouldn’t be a problem for them to see that particular scene.
The Fearless Freaks was a very good portrait of a band, the Flaming Lips. I don’t know much about the Flaming Lips except that they had a song in the SpongeBob movie. So obviously you don’t have to be a big Flaming Lips fan to enjoy the film.
The documentary didn’t limit itself to a strictly chronological storyline about the band, but occasionally shifted into contemporary scenes. I loved the scenes where Wayne Coyne walked around the old Oklahoma City neighborhoods to show where his family lived, where he used to work, etc. The film also used old Super 8 home movies, mostly of the Coyne family playing their unique type of footballtheir team was named The Fearless Freaks, thus the title of the film.
Bradley Beesley is from Oklahoma City and spent a lot of time with the Flaming Lips, so this movie is as much of a love letter to their old neighborhood as The Devil and Daniel Johnston was to Austin in the early 1990s.
I think I would have liked this movie even better if I hadn’t seen The Devil and Daniel Johnston the day before, because that movie blew me away and anything else would have suffered by comparison. Still, I would definitely recommend The Fearless Freaks.
I had planned to stay at the Paramount and watch the next movie, Southern Belles, but I wasn’t in the mood for a narrative/fiction film right then and there. It was a beautiful day. What I really wanted to do was to go to The Hideout and sit by the sunny window and enjoy something I am not supposed to have.
First of all, I am not supposed to have any caffeine, ever. (Chocolate doesn’t count. Hush, you.) Second of all, even before I had to cut all caffeine out of my diet, my boyfriend asked me to please not have the Espresso Rocket Shake from The Hideout ever again because it makes me act weird. But it is such a tasty delightful shake that it is very hard to resist, and anyway my boyfriend wasn’t around, and I decided I just plain didn’t care about the caffeine for once.
I ordered the shake and then noticed someone setting up drums in the corner where I would have liked to sit in The Hideout. I was in no mood to listen to live music, so I got the shake to go. Again, I wanted to sit somewhere in the sun and maybe finish the book I had with me, but that’s very difficult to do in downtown Austin. I ended up drinking the shake on the ride home. I didn’t finish it, so maybe that’s why I didn’t act weird. I ended up playing with the cat and having a nap. So much for the dangerous effects of caffeine.
I was also supposed to see Hooligans at 10 pm, but I was too lazy to go out again. I found out later that Hooligans was so popular that a lot of people with film passes (like mine) didn’t get in, so I’m glad I didn’t drive down there just to be turned away.