I approached Tuesday night's screening of "Tell About the South" with some trepidation. As an unabashed Yankee transplant, I was fearful that the film's richer insights into my new home's literary history would prove elusive. Efforts to persuade one of my dyed-in-the-wool Southern pals to tag along as an interpreter proved fruitless. I went alone, hoping against hope that the documentary would be close-captioned for the drawl-impaired.
I needn't have worried. The short that preceded it, "Third Ward Blues," used the universal language of music to convey the passion-drenched genesis of Texas blues. Commendable in its economy, the film relied on carefully edited performance footage and interview snippets with such guitar greats as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. A segment featuring the late Albert Collins saw the frizzy-haired axe strangler modestly declaring that he was "still tryin' to get my own thing goin'" after years of groundbreaking six-string madness; a smash cut to the interior of a club found Collins letting loose a screaming fusillade of high notes, as he passed minstrel-like through the crowd of multiracial acolytes, his roadie holding his extra-long guitar cord like a fishing line waiting to be cast.
I had to acknowledge that, for all my love of film as a medium, music still has it beat for power and immediacy. I doubt that any of the directors appearing at the Festival will spice up their Q&A sessions by unexpectedly plopping themselves down in the chair next to me, as I had seen Collins do for his audience. Do I even want to be that close to Seymour Cassel in the first place?
"Tell About the South" proved a letdown after "Blues," and the first genuine disappointment I had experienced at this year's event. It's difficult to craft an entertaining film on such a still subject as literature, and it didn't help that the scholarly tone of the doc made it resemble the first six hours of an eight-hour PBS series.
The dramatizations of great scenes from Dixie lit, obviously intended to inject some action into the stultifying montage of interviews and archival photographs, instead prolonged the whole affair needlessly. A comparison of the lives of Thomas Wolfe and Eatonville's own Zora Neale Hurston was a clever conceit, but by the time the first hour had gone by, the only knowledge I had retained was author/historian Shelby Foote's striking resemblance to DeForest Kelley. I felt terribly lowbrow.
Cut to the quick
The repeat showing of "Tango: The Obsession" brought a little heat to the proceedings. A sell-out crowd (the film's second) brought dance aficionados from the Spanish-speaking community into close contact with middle-aged bleach blondes desperate for a bit of reflected Latin glamour.
The film was an obvious labor of love, and made some interesting points about the social issues -- economics and (particularly) gender politics -- that have contributed to the development of the tango as a dance and a way of life.
Unfortunately, it too was overlong and repetitive to the point of numbness. What it is about some documentarians that makes them believe everything they've shot deserves to end up in their finished films?
Afterward, director Adam Boucher took questions from the audience. As youthful as my Enzian friend had warned, Boucher was endearing in his naiveté. When someone asked how he had secured financing, the wunderkind honestly replied, "My mom helped me out, and my dad helped me out." A few more festivals and a press agent later, and he'll have crafted the mandatory, self-made myth about working in a video store during the day and driving a dynamite truck at night to pay for his artistic endeavors.
The program over, I said my good-byes to Heather Korb, the pixyish director of "Third Ward Blues," who had been hanging around the Enzian all night. I thanked her for being a director who knew when to yell "cut." Rolling her eyes in agreement and nodding while thanking me back, she appeared to grasp the subtext of my message.
Korb told me that she had chosen from three hours' worth of footage when editing the final, 29-minute version of "Blues." She was feeling some pressure, she said, to expand it to 45 minutes, but intended to resist.
"I just think it moves better keeping it short," she assessed. "There's a rhythm there."
Game, set and match to the little lady with the jar of splicing glue.
Tips for Wednesday: Things should be more animated (pardon the pun) tonight at Enzian, as the highly touted "Animated Shorts" program screens at 7:45 p.m.; afterward, there's a showing of "Tomorrow Night," the wacky comedy from Conan O'Brien crony Louis C.K. And don't forget that "SlamNation" poet Beau Sia headlines a VERY LOUD spoken-word showcase at Java Jabbers Coffeehouse. Bring earplugs and soup.
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