I feel like Methuselah when I tell people this, but the last time I attended South by Southwest was in – wait for it – 1989, on behalf of the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, the newspaper that hired me not long after I graduated from college. Back then, SXSW was strictly about music, and while the gauntlet of bars and nightclubs featuring live bands was already exhausting back then, those venues pale next to the even broader reach of performances that are happening every night this week.
But even with so much of the conference now being devoted to movies and interactivity, music still has a strong hold on the goings-on. Much of the film schedule here each year is devoted to tuneful documentaries and concert films – the 2011 batch includes Billy Bob Thornton's The King of Luck, a portrait of the legendary Willie Nelson, and It's About You., a look at John Mellencamp's 2009 tour as seen through the eyes of father-and-son filmmakers Kurt and Ian Markus. The 24 Beats Per Second section of the lineup features a plethora of music-based movies set everywhere from New Orleans to the Congo.
Monday, I was lucky enough to catch one of the music docs that's getting a lot of positive buzz here – Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' The Other F Word, a production of Morgan Spurlock's Warrior Poets company. Billed as "A Coming of Middle Age Story," the film looks at veteran punk rockers, many of whom had domineering or outright absentee fathers themselves, and their paths to parenthood. The film's main focus is Jim Lindberg of Pennywise, a father of three who comes to realize that the rewards of life on the road might not stack up to being there for your daughter's piano recital.
The movie gets laughs from the obvious dichotomies between the hard-rock lifestyle and what we think of as traditional dad-dom – Rancid's tattoo-faced Lars Frederiksen gets some stares when he takes his kid to the playground, Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 talks about having to buy the clean-language version of his own CD to play in the car, Everclear's Art Alexakis warbles "The Wheels of the Bus" while driving his daughter around – but The Other F Word isn't just about how funny it is to Fat Mike of NOFX to walk into his young daughter's pretty pink palace of a bedroom.
Nevins touches on the changes that have been going on in the music industry – the death of the CD means that bands have to tour more than ever, since that's where the money is now – but also on an American society that seems to want to drag out men's adolescence as much as possible. So many recent comedies, from the Judd Apatow oeuvre to Hall Pass and beyond, address men over 30 who still aren't ready to put down the Wii remote, so it's interesting to see the same issues come up in a documentary, especially one about men who all seem to have had terrible experiences with their own parents. (Which probably made them the rule, and not the exception, in the punk scene in the first place.)
Just seeing the name "Tony Adolescent" (of seminal punk band The Adolescents) come up on screen while a man who's clearly in his 50s is talking seems to underscore the point. But it's great to see how much fatherhood means to these men, and how determined they are to do a better job than their own fathers (Alexakis shares particularly heartbreaking stories about his childhood years following his dad's departure) and to break the chain of unhappy family life.
Don't be surprised if this film gets acquired by the end of the week – after all, who can resist a movie where Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers gets choked up while talking about being a dad?
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones