SXSW Film Festival 2013 | Day 4

SXSW2013FilmLogoThe Punk Singer is imbued through and through with Kathleen Hanna’s spirit, which is as evident in her comeback from a serious illness as it is in her musical career.

 

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Today’s film of the day is Coldwater, directed by Bellflower producer Vincent Grashaw. The film starts in media res, as teenage Brad Lunders (P.J. Boudousqué) is dragged out of his bed and thrown into a van. It’s an appropriate start to a movie that mixes horror-movie conventions with allusion to a real-life horror: documented abuses in private juvenile facilities in the United States.

Brad is sent to a “reform camp” deep in the wilderness, where he joins a barracks full of juveniles delinquents whose parents want them scared straight. The place is run by a retired Marine Corps veteran, Colonel Frank Reichert (James C. Burns), assisted by a faceless crew of guys who buy into the Colonel’s “break them to remake them” philosophy—or maybe they’re just natural sadists who have found the perfect outlet for their desires. Beatings, ritual humiliation, and isolation from the outside world are all part of the “treatment” visited on these young men, most of whom are guilty only of nonviolent crimes like truancy, underage drinking, or low-level drug dealing.

Coldwater is an eminently watchable genre flick and would make a great midnight movie. Grashaw expertly blends horror tropes with elements of a social protest film, and draws winning performances from a largely unknown cast, including Chris Petrovski, Octavius J. Johnson, and Nicholas Bateman as Brad’s fellow inmates. Jayson Crothers’ cinematography and the music by Chris Chatham and Mark Miserocchi both underline the genre elements of the story and remind you that this film is not meant to be completely naturalistic. It does reference something real, however: Coldwater ends with a title card tying the film’s story to real abuses in juvenile detention facilities across the country, and the film’s website include links to more information about that topic.

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Today, it seems completely normal to acquire music as electronic files that can be downloaded from the internet directly to your computer, but it wasn’t that long ago that the “natural” form of recorded music was a physical object such as a tape or CD. How we got from one world to the other is the subject of Downloaded, a new documentary by Alex Winter. The initial focus is on Sean Parker, Shawn Fanning, and Napster, and what is surprising in retrospect is that at the time hardly anyone thought their ideas would ever work out.

Record industry executives get to have their say, as do musical artists, and there’s some interesting material about how the economics of the music industry has changed with the MP3 revolution. There’s nothing stylistically innovative about Downloaded; instead, it’s basically a history lesson on film, told with the usual array of talking heads, archival footage, and title cards. If you are already interested in the subject, you’ll certainly want to see this film, but for those without that preexisting interest, it will feel very dry and far too detailed, like a Civil War buff giving a blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Gettysburg to someone whose main concern is simply that the Union troops won.

punksingerKathleen Hanna pioneered the riot grrrl attitude, fronting the bands Bikini Kill and then Le Tigre, and taking on anyone who wanted to claim the punk attitude as a purely male domain. Her dynamic performances, sometimes with the word “SLUT” written on her chest, and straight-to-the-bone lyrics exemplified her refusal to let anyone else define her reality. She also insisted that women in her audience had the right to feel safe while enjoying the music, and told them to come to the front of the floor, and even up on the stage if necessary, to get away from boys who equated “punk” with the right to molest any female they could reach. The Punk Singer, directed by Sini Anderson, tells Hanna’s story from her early days as a rebellious art student to her reign as a feminist icon, and includes loads of concert footage and interviews with luminaries like Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein, and Hanna’s husband, Adam Horovitz. It’s imbued through and through with Hanna’s spirit, which is as evident in her comeback from a serious illness as it is in her musical career.

Finally, I attended a sneak preview of the first episode of Bates Motel, a new A&E series that will premiere on Monday, March 18. I’m certainly not going to give anything away beyond what A&E has made publicly available, but I can say this much: It’s a prequel to Psycho, set in the present day, with Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his (still very much alive) mother, Norma. The series was co-created by Carlton Cruse (executive producer and joint showrunner for Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (writer and producer for Friday Night Lights), and the trailer gives you a good idea of the look and feel of this show. | Sarah Boslaugh

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