Holy crow, is it that time again already? I swear we swept the final discarded promo CD from the street and packed away the last Levi’s banner just the other week. But here’s Austin’s works, gummed with outlanders, choked with pedestrians who just flew in from What’s A Walk Signal?, USA, and grinding to a halt under the fascistic order of The Badge. Yup, it’s definitely that season, and once again I’m in the thick of it because I live in this city even when it's not worth paying attention to—and so, like a friendly Burl Ives snowman, it falls to me to spin you The Story Of SXSW.
And actually, that’s not far from the truth, because—despite the best efforts of the SXSW organizing committee—today has been nothing but bitter cold. Not just cold, but rainy with a touch of shitty. The weather is so dreary that I actually overheard two Microsoft folks today in the badge pick-up line saying they may as well have never left Seattle. (Which then led to them ranking cities on whether humans had any business living there; sorry to say that Minneapolis and Detroit ranked dead last.) Fortunately, we’re only in the Film and Interactive portions of the festival, two mediums that are all about sitting in rooms staring at screens, so the rain ain't a thang.
Anyway, as Leonard hinted in his preview, when it comes to our coverage, it’s like this: He’s the DJ and I’m the rapper. I’m just here to drop in and spit a few lines every now and then while Leonard does all the real work holding it down. I promise I’ll do my best to make them jiggy. It’s also been suggested that perhaps I could cover the “party” scene—which I believe is part of the general misconception that SXSW, like some other film festivals, actually has super fun parties with celebrities and beautiful people, and maybe some of those big ice sculptures that beaming Aryan ladies serve vodka from with a wink and a strained smile that says they’re one ass-grab away from giving up on their acting dreams. Unfortunately, as far as I know, these parties don’t exist here; for example, tonight’s craziest shindig is hosted by A&E. (Yes, the same folks who bring you Intervention invite you to have a drink or three on them. But as much as I love booze with a chaser of irony, I've been feeling kind of sickly these past few days, so I’m not really in a partying mood.)
That just leaves the movies, and if you’re curious to see what I’m planning to catch, there’s a fairly detailed, overly ambitious list here. Also, I’ve been advised to skip the marquee screenings (because you’re going to hear plenty about I Love You, Man in the next week anyway) and concentrate on “the fun shit.” So naturally, I decided to kick things off with a look at people who devote their lives to exposing the truth behind 9/11 and various other machinations of the “shadow government.” Wheeeee!
New World Order: Austin’s favorite agitator Alex Jones is one of those people who’s easy to admire but difficult to like. Through his radio and TV shows, his website, and frequent, fiery public protests (some of you may recognize him as the loudmouth with the megaphone in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life), he’s become an internationally recognized voice of the disenfranchised, leader of a crusade to stop the erosion of civil liberties and what he believes is the encroachment of a totalitarian government. He’s also a bit of a blowhard on the mic, and suffers from a tiresome persecution complex—not to mention some of his most famous “speaking truth to power” moments, such as the many times he’s loudly interrupted press conferences or angrily “confronted” politicians by shouting accusations at them until he’s kicked out, have been more self-serving than seditious.
Nevertheless, Jones is nothing if not intoxicating in his unwavering belief that everything is fucked—and I’ve always been a fan of angry old cranks, since I plan to become one someday—so I had some hope for this. (The cameo from my mom's friend Jim Marrs, Crossfire author and one of the world's foremost JFK assassination experts sealed the deal.) And fortunately, this film from the makers of Darkon manages to humanize Jones and the “conspiracy theorist” subculture in the same way that their first film made you care about dudes who dress up in codpieces and wage war on suburban soccer fields. Unfortunately, although Jones said in the brief Q&A that followed that this was the fairest treatment he’d ever received from a camera crew (he’s been trotted out as the “crazy conspiracy guy” on a half dozen History Channel documentaries over the years), I’m not sure they did Jones any favors by widening the net to include people like the guy who’s devoted his life to tracking the Bilderberg Group, and who maybe sorta believes he has a chip in his ear telling him to save the world.
The same goes for scenes involving a bighearted but sadly inarticulate 9/11 Was An Inside Jobber who stalks Bourbon Street trying to get drunk frat-boys to pay attention to his "Bush = Hitler" sign—not to mention the Colorado mountain commune couple who keep plenty of guns on hand and entertain themselves by singing gospel songs while watching video of the Twin Towers collapsing. All in all, most of its subjects still end up seeming one-dimensional and paranoid (the exception is Jack McLamb, a former police officer turned crusader for constitutional rights—although even he comes off as a bit of a gun nut). As such, New World Order is unlikely to convince anyone besides the already vocal choir it’s preaching to, and even its minor triumphs feel a bit indulgent, like a scene where Jones disrupts an insipid Geraldo taping with the famous "too pretty too fly girls" by repeatedly shouting his own web address. All in all, the film has plenty of sound and fury, and maybe even signifies a lot, but its subjects are mostly too busy screaming about being repressed to actually say anything. (Which is a shame, because I think more people might be ready to listen.)
P.S. After the film I had the option of standing in the drizzle to wait for the quirky ode to fungi Know Your Mushrooms, joining Leonard in line for the (sorta shitty-looking) Ex-Terminators, or going home to my cold medicine and bed. Over the phone, Leonard told me if I went home I would be missing out on the wit and wisdom of Ms. Heather Graham, which pretty much clinched it.
(UPDATE: Almost forgot: I'm supposed to encourage you to join me in killing off traditional media by asking you to follow me on Twitter.)