Josh Olson's Day 3 at SXSW: Soderbergh's EVERYTHING IS FINE and ELEKTRA LUXX
There’s a story behind each of the films I want to tell you about today, but first, just a word to the wise for anyone who’s here in Austin - Thunder Soul - the movie I told you about yesterday - will be playing again this week. It shows today, Monday, at 6:45 at the Drafthouse, and Friday at 2:30 at the Paramount. Do yourself a favor and get on this train before it leaves the station.
So. Everything Is Fine. Steven Soderbergh’s terrific documentary about the great monologuist Spalding Gray. I was very fortunate to have had at least one friend hip enough to be into Spalding Gray way back when, even before Jonathan Demme filmed Swimming To Cambodia. Mercedes dragged me off to see this guy in some dinky theater in Philadelphia in the early Eighties, and I was a fan for life. Many years later, I was fortunate enough to meet Spalding in LA one time, and had a lovely conversation that while I can’t recreate a single word of it, I will tell you that its substance helped me make some fairly significant decisions about how to go about my life and my work. Gray was unique and brilliant and indispensable, and a new Spalding Gray monologue was something to be sought out eagerly.
Here’s how badly I wanted to see this movie: I raced off to the Convention Center this morning to get my quick pass to the film, then made sure to leave early this afternoon, just in case. I took a cab from the hotel to the Alamo, with almost an hour to spare. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I have no idea what the problem was, but traffic was insane. I mean, LA insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. What was a five dollar cab ride yesterday was edging close to thirty bucks. My cabbie finally hopped off Riverside, and headed up to Oltorf, and when we got there, the railroad crossing was closed. I whipped out my iPhone, checked the map, and found out the only way there was to A) go all the way back and sit in traffic, or B) go down some tiny roads, and have him drop me off on the wrong side of the tracks and walk. Running out of time, I opted for B. We ended up in a little Texas trailer park, where I got out and headed into the woods, praying not to run into any Deliverance extras. I had to climb up a rocky path to the tracks, and I predictably fell on my ass going down the rocky hill on the other side. Delightful. But at least I didn’t run into any Deliverance extras.
I raced to the theater with ten minutes to spare, and found that the film was packed. I desperately threw myself on the mercy of the manager, Dominic, who took terribly pity on me and pointed to the one remaining seat. I owe Dominic big.
The movie was more than worth it. If you’re a Gray fan, it’s a beautifully constructed look at this amazing man’s life through his own words. If you don’t know anything about him, it’ll introduce you to a brilliant writer and performer, and whet your appetite for more (the producer hinted that we’ll get more, eventually - something’s in the works with Criterion. Hooray!)
Many of you know how Gray’s life ended, and some of you don’t, and you can look him up if you’re interested. The film doesn’t focus on that, but his suicide can’t help but color much of what he talks about. But it’s not a grim film, even though it deals with his depression. It’s a powerful look at the life and - even more interesting - the mind of one of American’s most unique artists. Soderbergh and his editor plowed through hundreds of hours of footage to put the thing together, and it’s clearly a labor of love. An absolutely wonderful film.
From the sublime to the ridiculous... and terrifying:
Elektra Luxx is a light and charming movie. It’s the sequel to Women in Trouble, which is also a light and charming movie. Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez for pretty much nothing, he’s assembled a terrific and talented cast to come play. It picks up where the first film left off, telling the story of porn star Elektra Luxx, who’s found herself unexpectedly pregnant. Like the first film, it also features a bunch of other characters, all of whom are distinct and funny and fleshed out. The first film was a pleasant surprise, and this one lives up to the first.... At least, the first hour does.
I have no idea what happens in the last half hour, and neither does anyone else who was at the Paramount tonight, because the digital projector broke.
I’ve worked with a lot of directors. Hell, I’ve directed myself. I can safely say, there aren’t a lot of filmmakers who could have done what Gutierrez did tonight. He took to the stage and vamped. And he was funny, and charming, and engaging, and man, let me tell you - there was NO ONE in the house tonight whose guts weren’t churning for this guy. I can’t think of a worse nightmare for a filmmaker than to be premiering your movie and the damn projector breaks. And it never got fixed. I’m told there’s going to be a midnight show in the next day or so, and I hope I can make it to see how it ends. But I will never forget the energy and charm and good grace with which Gutierrez handled himself tonight.
The movie stars Carla Gugino, Timothy Olyphant, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Malin Akerman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Marley Shelton, and a host of others, and it’s clear that Gutierrez didn’t have a lot to pay them, and had to rely, instead, on luring them in with great characters.
Some interesting ones lined up tomorrow. I’m optimistic - this has been a great festival already, and there’s still a week to go.