Don Clinchy's blog

TAMI Flashback: Touring Texas


Texas - The Big State

This article is the eighth in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

Now that summer is here -- actually, I think it arrived in April -- it's time for many of us to head out on America's highways and byways for vacation road trips. In honor of this great tradition, this month I'm featuring TAMI videos you may find helpful if you're planning to visit any of Texas's many vacation destinations.

These videos may be more amusing than helpful, as they were filmed long ago; some of the attractions they feature no doubt are long gone. Then again, if you can't decide on a vacation destination, Texas - the Big State, Mondo Texas and the hundreds of home movies in the TAMI library may help you choose between Galveston (home of a great beach with ukulele players) and Glen Rose (home of the Creationist Evidences Museum).

Texas – the Big State is a 1952 film promoting the many wonders of Texas and the many ways the Santa Fe Railroad serves the Lone Star State. The film sets its Texas-sized tone at the outset, braggartly telling us that "In recent years, Texas has come to be accepted practically as the universal gauge of the ultimate of everything." Well, okay then -- show us why Texas is the ultimate of everything! And show us how the Santa Fe Railroad helps make Texas that way! (Texas - the Big State is a film of many exclamation points.)

Review: The Tree of Life


Tree of Life

To flesh out a review, a film critic sometimes relies on production notes for a synopsis, short biographies of cast and crew members and production details that readers might find interesting. These notes usually are very concise, running no more than a few pages.

And then there are the production notes for Terrence Malick's sprawling and much anticipated new movie, The Tree of Life. If you're familiar with Malick, it may not surprise you that The Tree of Life's production notes are 45 pages long. With their lengthy expositions about the film's genesis and meaning, even the production notes for this most Malick of Malick films are themselves very, uh, Malick. (Much as I adore Malick's work, I did not read all 45 pages.)

Not that being very Malick is a bad thing, of course, especially if we define "Malick" to mean "laden with sumptuous imagery and thought-provoking ideas." And The Tree of Life certainly is thought provoking; had I not found the production notes' ponderous content to be a perfect metaphor for this exceedingly ponderous and metaphorical film, I might have opened this review with a paragraph containing only one word: "Hmm."

TAMI Flashback: The Carolyn Jackson Collection



This article is the seventh in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

Anyone who lived in Austin in the late 1960s and 1970s likely remembers Carolyn Jackson. As the host of a popular local daytime television show for more than a decade, Jackson (shown above with Jane Pauley) was a familiar Austin face who played an important role in shaping local television during the era.

Jackson's career began in 1968, when she replaced Jean Boone as the host of Women's World (later renamed The Carolyn Jackson Show), a half-hour program that aired weekdays at noon on KTBC-TV. The show featured news, public service announcements, interviews and other standard daytime TV fare, such as segments on diet and exercise. The interviewees were an eclectic mix of writers, local politicians, musicians and other notable Central Texans, along with an impressive roster of A-list national celebrities.

Jackson was a true pioneer for women in the male-dominated world of television at the time. With no staff and a miniscule budget, she ran the show largely as one-person operation, serving as the show's producer, doing all her own research, writing and editing her news reports and landing interviews with everyone from Woody Allen to Texas First Lady Rita Clements.

VOD Review: How to Fold a Flag


How to Fold a Flag

The Iraq war documentary How to Fold a Flag opens with an intriguing quote from German writer and military veteran Ernst Jünger: "We were asked to believe that the war was over. We laughed. For we were the war."

This quote is wholly appropriate for the SXSW 2010 film, which has just become available on cable VOD and online, including Amazon Instant Video. Like much of Jünger's writing, How to Fold a Flag delves into the isolation soldiers feel while fighting wars and after returning to their "normal" lives. (Defining what is "normal" is a recurring theme in the film.) The quote also is appropriate in that Jünger was a conservative German nationalist; How to Fold a Flag presents the American equivalent in all its flag-wrapped glory.

Directors Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker follow up on five soldiers featured in their acclaimed 2004 documentary Gunner Palace. How to Fold a Flag updates us on the civilian lives of four soldiers, while also interviewing the parents of a fifth soldier killed in Iraq. Like its predecessor, the film is an unblinking and often caustic look at the Iraq war's toll.

Review: Skateland



I came of age in the early 1980s, but feel no nostalgia for the era. From its anti-government politics to its greed-fueled economic ethos to its mostly insipid popular culture, the decade of Ronald Reagan, Madonna and Dallas wasn't exactly America's finest hour. Thirty years later, sentiments like "government is the problem" and soulless techno-pop like "Rock the Casbah" are hardly the stuff of fond memories. (That is, at least for those of us who so wish we'd come of age during America's coolest decade, the 1960s.)

That said, I do enjoy some modern cinematic takes on the Eighties; it's interesting to see the era filtered through various filmmakers' visions, even if their sentiments are more nostalgic than mine. I particularly enjoy films that regard Eighties culture with a mixture of warm fuzziness and well deserved mockery.

A case in point is Skateland, a pleasantly entertaining story about coming of age in a small Texas town in 1983. The film sets an oft-told tale of dawning adulthood and family turmoil against an authentic backdrop of, well, 1983. (Think Camaros, skin-tight jeans and music stores -- remember those? -- in shopping malls. 'Nuff said.)

Skateland's protagonist is 19-year-old Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez), manager of his town's once-popular but now fading roller rink. Although he toys with a writing career (the awards on his bedroom wall attest to his talent), Ritchie is mostly content to work at his dead-end job, party with his friends and maintain a halfhearted relationship with his friend Michelle (Ashley Greene).

Review: Meek's Cutoff


Meek's Cutoff

The Oregon most of us picture -- a place of lush forests and rugged coastline -- is not the Oregon of Meek's Cutoff. The film's setting is the scrubby and inhospitable desert in the state's southeast corner, which has more in common with neighboring Nevada than with green and rainy Portland.

But the unexpectedly arid and empty Oregonian vistas in Meek's Cutoff are totally appropriate, for the movie itself -- with its glacial pacing and thoroughly indie sensibilities -- is not what most moviegoers expect in a period Western. The latest movie from Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) undoubtedly will try the patience of anyone looking for traditional horse opera shoot-'em-up action and moral clarity  ... or, for that matter, anyone seeking an actual plot. But in its own rarely seen universe -- the lonely universe of meditative, character-driven Westerns -- Meek's Cutoff is greatly provocative and rewarding.

Meek's Cutoff is morally complex but structurally simple, following a small group of weary settlers crossing Oregon in 1843. From the film's onset, it's apparent that the group is hopelessly lost. Thanks to their guide, the ill-tempered and unlikeable Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), they've taken an unmapped detour from the usual settlers' route. After travelling for several days with no idea how to reach their destination (an ambiguous locale somewhere west of wherever they are), their most immediate problem is their rapidly dwindling water supply.

TAMI Flashback: The More Things Change in Texas Politics, The More They Don't


State Capitol

This article is the sixth in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

There is an ancient joke that the people of Texas would be much better off if the Texas Legislature, instead of meeting for 140 days every two years, would meet for two days every 140 years. Given the current legislature's less than stellar performance, I'm inclined to agree. (Molly Ivins said it best when she labeled Texas "the national laboratory for bad government.")

Whatever your opinion of the Texas Legislature, you'll probably agree that the biennial proceedings at the Texas Capitol are endlessly fascinating. And in conjunction with the current legislative session, this month I'm featuring a few TAMI videos that remind us some things never change in Texas politics.

Produced c. 1965, Mr. Speaker is an entertaining and informative documentary about a day in the life of Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes. Only 26 when he took office in 1965, Barnes was the youngest speaker in Texas history. He served as speaker until 1969 and then as lieutenant governor from 1969 to 1973.

Review: Even the Rain (También la lluvia)


Even the Rain

If today's political activists are seeking inspiration from history, they should look no further than the 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas. As one of the early Spanish settlers in the West Indies, Las Casas participated in many of the atrocities -- slavery, torture and murder -- the settlers committed against the indigenous peoples. But Las Casas later saw the error of his ways, gave up his slaves, and devoted his life to fighting for the rights of the Indians, whom his fellow colonists considered less than human. Through his writings and activism, Las Casas is considered one of the first advocates for universal human rights.

Sadly, Las Casas probably would be very disillusioned by the state of today's world, where oppressed peoples continue to suffer in so many ways. But he also might find hope, for his modern-day activist brethren are still raging against their oppressors. The fight goes on.

This perpetual struggle for human rights is the backdrop for the stellar movie Even the Rain (También la lluvia), in which Las Casas is both a character and an inspiration. Spain's official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, Even the Rain is a brutal, beautiful and emotionally wrenching examination of how today's struggle for social and economic justice has deep roots in history.

See 'Eggshells,' a Trippy Time Capsule of 1960s Austin


Tobe Hooper 2009If you share my interest in Austin film history, don't miss this week's screening of Eggshells, the first feature by Texas Chain Saw Massacre writer/director Tobe Hooper (pictured at right).

Made in Austin in 1969 with a cast of Hooper's friends, Eggshells is every bit a late 1960s film, a psychedelic drama about a group of students sharing a commune-like Austin house. Much of the film follows the students' typical activities -- this being 1969, many of them involve nudity and drug-fueled sociopolitical discussions -- but there also is an oddly mystical twist. In the basement is what Hooper describes as a "crypto-embryonic hyper-electric presence" that grows into a bulb-like form and manipulates the characters' lives.

Confused? So was I before I saw Eggshells last year, but fear not: It all makes sense -- sort of -- when you see the movie. While Eggshells is often quite bizarre, it's an intriguing film that shares many stylistic and thematic elements with Hooper's later work. It's also a dreamily nostalgic time capsule, a gloriously colorful document of life in late 1960s Austin. Fans of Austin-made independent cinema will find it fascinating.

Sponsored by Screen Door Film, the Austin Film Society and the Texas Independent Film Network, the Eggshells screening is on Friday, March 25 at 7:30 pm at the Austin Film Society Screening Room, 1901 East 51st St. Seating is very limited, so buy your tickets soon.

[Photo credit: "Tobe Hooper, Texas Film Hall of Fame 2009 Awards," by Jette Kernion]

SXSW 2011 Wrap-Up: Great Films, Greater Parking Profits


State Theatre

Although my 19-year technical writing career (which I squeeze in between Slackerwood reviews) has been great, I decided during this year's SXSW film festival that I'm in the wrong line of work. Instead of sitting in a cubicle all day documenting hardware and software, I should own a parking lot or two in downtown Austin.

I decided this after paying $30 -- yes, you read that right -- to park in a lot at 2nd and Brazos for a mere six hours during the perfect storm of film screenings, live music, great weather and weekend madness that was the final Friday of SXSW. I know there are far cheaper parking alternatives; the best deal in town may be the Palmer Events Center Parking Garage, which charges a reasonable $7 to park all day and evening. But this wasn't an option on a day when I was running late for two back-to-back afternoon screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and State Theatre.

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