Among the art-related films being screened at the 19th SXSW Film Conference and Festival are portraits of the photographer Gregory Crewdson and the artist Wayne White and a protest piece about the art of making glass pipes – the sale and purchase of which is illegal because they are classified as drug paraphernalia.
Confirmed yesterday, the final lineup of the festival, which runs from March 9-18 in Austin, Texas, consists of 130 features. These include 65 world premieres (of which 27 are North American and 10 U.S.) and 51 films by first-time directors. There were 1,957 feature submissions.
As previously announced, the genre and music-movie heavy festival will open with producer Joss Whedon’s sexy horror flick “Cabin in the Woods,” an April-release directed by “Cloverfield” and “Lost” writer Drew Goddard, who wrote the script with Whedon. The centerpiece film is Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s TV-derived action-comedy “21 Jump Street,” starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as undercover cops who pose as teenagers to root out a supplier of synthetic drugs at the eponymous high school; Johnny Depp has a cameo as Tom Hanson, the character he played in the Fox show. Depp is also one of a cluster of stars interviewed for the documentary “Sunset Strip,” which salutes the garishly iconic West Hollywood thoroughfare.
The festival will close with Emmett Malloy’s “Big Easy Express,” which follows three bands – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Mumford and Sons – on an old-fashioned railroad tour of six American cities.
“Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters,” directed by Ben Shapiro, depicts the elaborate, heavily-crewed location work of the photographer whose post-modern images are dedicated to the distillation of the cinematic moment. In its sinister, dreamlike vision of small-town America, Crewdson’s work shows the influence of such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, and Todd Haynes.
The infinitely more playful work of Wayne White – including his cartoons, his art direction of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” and his huge puppet head of country singer George Jones – is the subject of Neil Berkeley’s “Beauty Is Embarrassing." The trailer alone indicates what infectious company White is and how he spontaneously eliminates humorlessness from art. Long before Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” White celebrated the French film pioneer George Méliès’s sets in his video for the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.”
Despite its bathetic title (a nod to Nazi censorship), “Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes” is a potentially valuable work about the right of underground artists to work as freely as their mainstream counterparts. The fact that glass pipes are used for smoking cannabis and other illegal substances is a tangential issue. Directed by the installation artist and glass-blower M. Slinger, the documentary shows a wide range of artists creating their wondrously surreal multicolored bowls.
Premiering at SXSW, British director Kevin Macdonald’s portrait of Bob Marley in “Marley,” made with the cooperation of the reggae giant’s family and friends, promises to be one of the standout music documentaries in the festival. Other music-driven films feature Bad Brains, Charles Bradley, Paul Williams, Bob Gruen’s rock photography, and Cucu Diamantes (in a semi-fictional entry). Joe Berlinger’s “Under African Skies,” which reflects on the making in 1986 of Paul Simon’s “Graceland,’ arrives in Austin having premiered at Sundance. “Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots” explores the connections between rap and the six days of civil unrest in South Central in April and May 1992.
Carol Morley’s “Dreams of a Life,” five years in the making, may prove the most haunting film at SXSW. A documentary with imagined scenes, it probes the mysterious death of Joyce Carol Vincent, whose decomposed body was found in her flat in North West London in January 2006. What little was left of her corpse was surrounded by Christmas presents she'd wrapped; it had lain undiscovered for three years in front of a television that was still playing. In “resurrecting” Vincent (a popular woman who had moved in celeb circles) through an actress, the film celebrates her life even as it asks tough existential questions such as, “Would anyone notice if you suddenly disappeared?”’
The most intriguing curio at the festival might be “Killer Joe,” a violent black comedy, based on a play by Tracy Letts, about a South-western family (Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church) that enlists a Dallas cop-cum-contract killer (Matthew McConaughey) to kill the matriarch; he asks for a nubile relative (Juno Temple) as collateral. Why a curio? It should indicate whether director William Friedkin (“The French Cinnection,” “The Exorcist”) has still got what it takes at the age of 76.
Fifty-one years Friedkin’s junior is Lena Dunham, the writer-director-star of the post-mumblecore indie fave “Tiny Furniture” (2010) and now “Girls,” an HBO series about the misadventures of a group of female young twentysomethings in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Dunham and Judd Apatow, who is one of her co-executive producers, will be screening three episodes of the show, which co-stars Allison Williams, Jemima Kirk, Zosia Mamet, and Adam Driver, and talking about it on a panel. It airs in April – and, if Dunham’s self-lacerating writing is on song, it can’t miss.