Monthly Archives: March 2010

Interview: Bud Cort

‘Harold and Maude’ actor broods about life’s letdowns

 ‘A Coffee with’ Bud Cort

March 27, 2008, Austin American-Statesman  

“Coffee with?” How about breakfast with? How about scrambled eggs with? More to the point: “loose, wet” scrambled eggs (with onions and a tomato on the side) with?

Breakfast with Bud. How’s that?

Bud Cort — known forever, ruefully, as death-obsessed Harold in the 1971 cult classic “Harold and Maude,” co-starring a randy and geriatric Ruth Gordon — wants breakfast on this rainy day at a big Austin hotel. He will have coffee, too. And orange juice. And a bagel. Please, take away the cream cheese. It’s not low-fat.

He’s picky and precise. And, after all these years, Harold is still gloomy.

Strike that. Cort is not Harold. About this he is adamant. That was the Paramount hype contraption, selling the owl-eyed, 22-year-old actor as the freaky, alienated teenager he played in the movie. There’s nothing odd or unusual about Cort. Nothing, and everything.

He wears disappointment nicely. His outfit is a snazzy shade of melancholy. Behind the Harry Potter glasses, those famous big eyes are moist with complaint.

There is no Cat Stevens ditty on hand to telegraph the emotions unspooling in this scene, unless he’s changed the name of “Tea for the Tillerman” to “Coffee for Cort.” Even then, it would be a tune jangling with resentment, backed by a chorus of blustery sighs.

Cort was in Austin last week to present three of his movies at the Alamo Ritz: Robert Altman’s Houston-shot “Brewster McCloud,” Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” and the only film Cort wrote and directed, “Ted and Venus,” which went straight to video in 1991.

We have no idea how breakfast started with this, but it did: the one-man Truman Capote stage show that Cort developed and was meant to star in. With a lisp and quivering high notes that create the unnerving noise of an emphysemic Munchkin, Cort warbles a snatch of “Moon River” as if sung by Capote.

It’s something he does in Kinky Friedman’s show when Friedman takes his touring act to Cort’s hometown, which will go unnamed here at Cort’s request. (He believes he has a stalker.)

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‘Art exhibit’s visitors in a nude mood’

Gallery stages private viewing of Austin artist’s photos for a clothing-free Hill Country club

Aug. 25, 2005, Austin American-Statesman

The naked man looked at the clothed man, and then he looked at the naked people, and then back at the clothed man, all the time wearing a scrunched look that said, “What is this weirdo doing here?”

The weirdo, fully dressed, was there to talk to naked people. He told the naked man this, and the naked man relaxed. But the clothed man did not relax, for he was one of only a few clothed people in an art gallery filled with naked men and women. Twenty-one of the naked people were there in the literal, quivering flesh, and about as many were hanging on two long walls, the subjects of life-size photographs by Austin artist George Krause.

Friday night at the D Berman Gallery on Guadalupe Street, a bunch of nudists came to a nude art show. The Hill Country Nudists, an informal club of devoted clothes peel-offers, are always on the lookout for novel ways to gather, and what’s more fitting than naked people looking at naked people?

Gallery owner David Berman was happy to give the group a private viewing, and Krause, clothed but bald, came to talk about his work. Each human-size black-and-white portrait depicts an ordinary person, standing stark naked, facing the camera. Krause’s singular technique uses white light to create a smoky sfumato effect, bathing the figures in a ghostly, X-ray glow.

Naked people admired the photos’ indiscriminate honesty, and the boxy, concrete gallery echoed with the slappy patter of bare feet. Sipping cheap cabernet in plastic cups, nudists mixed casually in the shocking altogether, proud in their mammalian resplendence. They embodied all sizes and shapes, from pears to bears, though the age scale tipped to ear hair and back aches.

“Seeing the photos in the middle of a group of nudes reinforces how many different kinds of bodies there are,” said nudist Bill Morgan, whose body hair could pass for clothing in some cultures. “Running around with this group has done a lot for me in terms of accepting my own body.”

One thin woman was all bare flesh but for a yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet, while a tall man with a round belly wore only silver-rimmed spectacles. A green, quarter-sized tattoo announced itself from a woman’s right dorsal cheek. Tan lines: oddly scarce.

Hill Country Nudists has roughly 60 members, about 40 of whom are men, says club president Steve Bosbach, diminutive and hairless as a fish. The lopsided male-to-female ratio was on full-frontal display at the private party. It was a man’s world.

There was chatter about “liberation,” “society” and the nudist “agenda,” yet a curious dearth about sexuality and the whole nakedy thing. One wondered how these people abstain from . . . looking.

“With some practice, it’s completely possible to maintain eye contact with a topless woman,” Morgan said. “You don’t stare, but you don’t avoid looking in a particular direction either.”

Morgan, 55, has a long gray ponytail and lives with his mother, who was surprised by his nuditude. She doesn’t see him naked, though her son likes to spend a few hours a day kicking back in the buff. Like his clubmates, Morgan does many things without attire, cut free from the bondage of cotton fibers. Perhaps it’s the leather seats, but one thing he has not done is drive naked.

“I’ve wanted to drive naked a few times after club get-togethers,” he said. “Putting the clothes back on is the hardest part.”

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‘Deep 6’

Dire predictions swarm around today’s date — 6/6/06 — but we’re ready to pitchfork them all

June 6, 2006, Austin American-Statesman

In the dark art of doomsaying, everything is rooted in everything, all of it entwined in prophecy and proclamation, raving from pulpits and mountaintops, the Internet and badly lighted cable access studios: The end is nigh.

Apocalypse, now. The End Days rear up to spew biblical yuckiness across the globe, leaving a big ball of smoking gristle speckled with the remains of those not righteous enough for the pillowy penthouse of heaven.

It’s hell’s turn, and it has your number.

Well, we have its number, too. Three sibilant digits — 6-6-6 — a tidy speed-dial on fate’s mobile, with a ringtone clanging like a death knell. 666, the Number of the Beast, the Mark of the Antichrist, as introduced in rumbling prose in the book of Revelation, that merry little bedtime story that has begat no end of frothing street-corner seers and bar-code conspirators, creepy Hieronymus Bosch paintings and mullet-head tattoo art.

The number is everywhere, and while it doesn’t happen every day, it does happen today, June 6, 2006 — that is, (cue Bach’s Toccata and Fugue) 6/6/06.

Revelation 13:17-18 decrees it with sulfurous portent: The tag of the beast is a “human number,” which Satan’s followers will bear on the hand or forehead come Armageddon. Teased from an ancient Hebrew numbering system, 666 is the numerical value of the name of the Antichrist, though some biblical scholars dispute this figure as a mistranslation, opting for the totally nonevil 616, the area code of Grand Rapids, Mich.

So freighted with diabolic prestige and shivering paranoia is this trio of modest curlicues that Fox is releasing its remake of the 1976 horror movie “The Omen” today with the soothing tagline “You have been warned.” (The film, of course, chronicles the arrival of the Antichrist in the form of a cherubic child named Damien, forever ruining that name for parents worldwide.)

Other wily marketing moves on this most damned of days include the launch of devil-thrash band Slayer’s Unholy Alliance Tour and — get thee behind me, Satan! — the release of Ann Coulter’s “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.”

All hell is breaking loose, and with it, a lot of screws. Y2K, anyone?

Scroll the Web and savor the bounty of 666-related predictions scheduled for today (is that Pacific or Central time?). Hurricanes, terrorist attacks, a renegade comet smashing Earth. The Antichrist will reveal himself and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will gallop forth, sporting black hoodies in place of cowboy hats. If you see a horse shooting fire from its nostrils, run.

Colorado authorities are watching for “demonstrations or violent activity,” says the Denver Post, noting that 60 global terrorist attacks have happened on June 6 since 1970. Austin police are taking no extra precautions, because “We’re not expecting anything,” says police spokeswoman Toni Chovanetz. She asks anyone who sees suspicious activity to dial 911, the number of the peace.

Most newborns, purply and scrunchy, look like spawns of Satan, but some pregnant women in Austin and beyond are trying to avoid giving birth today, lest they deliver Rosemary’s baby. Horns — never a good look on a child.

‘‘I’m going to be induced on the 4th or 5th,” expectant mother Carrie McFarland of Dallas told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. ‘‘If my doctor had offered to induce me on the 6th, I wouldn’t have done it.’’

Jittery residents in San Marcos want to change the city’s ZIP code, which is 78666. It’s a lighthearted movement, one that made the U.S. Postal Service chuckle, smile and say “no.”

Divine augur, or occult folderol?

“People can get hypersensitive and read too much into things,” says Randy Phillips, pastor of the nondenominational PromiseLand West Church in Austin. “I’ve had friends who changed their P.O. box from 666 to another number. I don’t see any significance in June 6, 2006. It’s just another day. It’s like Friday the 13th. I still show up and have a good time.”

Calls to local psychics yielded mumbled disinterest, ignored messages and a hang-up. What does Madam Ruth know that she’s not telling us?

Like the good pastor, we’re ready to 86 this 666. The number pops up on license plates, expiration dates, credit card bills and the lyric sheets of Iron Maiden, yet few of us feel its promised burn. It’s a stigma given its own stigma by the anxious and superstitious, who seek meaning in the cracks of old parchment and the furrows of inspired speculation.

Here’s another diabolic number: 7734. Remember as a kid punching the digits into a calculator, then turning the calculator upside down, so they spelled “hell”? We were little Damiens.

As far as real links between 666 and war and destruction, we leave that to the Scott Paper company. It notes on its Web site that the Pentagon uses about — you got it — 666 rolls of toilet paper a day. That sound you hear on this wicked day is a whole lot of flushing.

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Weak projection bulbs dim movie experience

Watts up!: A bunch of dim bulbs and projection problems are muddying movies at some Austin cinemas

Jan. 2, 2004, Austin American-Statesman  

Last summer at Cinemark Tinseltown in Pflugerville, director Tim McCanlies held a special sneak screening of his family dramedy “Secondhand Lions,” which was filmed in rural areas around Austin. Friends, family and owners of many of the movie’s key locations were there to see a heartwarming story set amid the bright, sprawling beauty of Central Texas.

But the screen never quite glowed; skies were dull and blotchy, the golden hues tarnished.

“The projection was so incredibly dim, people came up to me afterwards saying, ‘I had no idea the whole film was shot at dawn and dusk!,’ which of course it wasn’t,” recalls Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, McCanlies’ assistant on the film.

Inadequate movie projection in Austin theaters — a genuine plague — also made tough work of finding Nemo, let alone any other fish, during the incandescently vivid “Finding Nemo.”

“I knew something was wrong,” says avid Austin moviegoer Kirby McDaniel, who caught “Nemo” at Cinemark Barton Creek. “There was no way the film was supposed to look that dark, especially in a Pixar animated feature for kids. They are supposed to be candy colors!”

Alvarado-Dykstra had the same problem with the same movie at the same theater. “I was horrified by projection so dim it was like watching the movie through sunglasses. Literally. Here’s one of the most visually striking movies of the year, and it was being grossly misrepresented to the audience,” he says.

Cinemark Barton Creek is not the only theater showing movies in a gauze of murk, fuzz, goop. For at least 10 years, I have ground my teeth at dreadful projection quality at chain theaters from California to Texas. In the Bay Area, I walked out of many movies with a refund because the picture was so cloudy.

A recent showing of “Lost in Translation” at the Regal Metropolitan in South Austin was marred by a gray haze over the images, making a perfectly sunny day appear overcast. And I would be hard-pressed to see anything at the Regal Westgate in South Austin after a spate of subpar experiences in projection vibrance. Even the Regal Gateway in North Austin, generally regarded to have the best presentation — sound and picture — in the city, let me down during a mucky screening of “Paycheck” last week.

Not the brightest bulbs

Most say the culprit of these foggy, depressed images is insufficient wattage of projector bulbs, often compounded by the ineptitude of inexperienced employees at chain theaters. Professional projectionists say screen size dictates proper bulb wattage, so the smaller the screen, the less bulb power is required to provide an adequately lit picture.

Problem is, most of the chain theaters — those operated by Regal, Cinemark and AMC in Austin — use extremely large screens in their multiplexes, possibly without proper bulb size or bulb output. Generally, larger multiplex screens demand at least a 3,000-watt bulb but should have a 4,000-watt bulb for an optimal picture.

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Movie review: ‘Wendy and Lucy’

Minimalist drama’s tale of survival resonates in current economic times

 Feb. 20, 2009, Austin American-Statesman

In the minimalist heartbreaker “Wendy and Lucy,” Michelle Williams plays Wendy with a premature perma-frown and a youthful spirit that’s crumpled slowly like a recycled can. Lucy is her faithful pup, a golden mutt with dark, serious eyes and the sangfroid of Robert Mitchum.

She’s a good dog. Wendy’s striving to be good, too, but fate and circumstance have thrown up a gauntlet of bad luck with no room in which to budge. With impressive calm and fierce nonjudgment, the movie puts you in Wendy’s shabby sneakers and taps into our morbid economic moment when it can seem that a dog is all you have.

Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to her scruffily lo-fi “Old Joy” is a desolate story told in miniature with almost forbidding quietude. It crackles on life’s lowest, most natural frequencies, banishing slash-cuts and musical cues, except for the singsongy, slightly eerie tune Wendy sometimes hums, and courts the rustle and flow of its woodsy Oregon setting. Such a threadbare aesthetic speaks of self-conscious formalism, yet form and function here are gracefully and expressively wed.

The story, what little there is, starts in mid-sentence, with Wendy and her steady companion stopping in a small Oregon town on their way to Alaska, where Wendy plans to get work in a cannery. “I hear they need people,” she tells an old parking lot security guard (an extremely un-actorly Walter Dalton) who becomes her angel in hard times.

Wendy has an exhausted voice for her age. It’s breathy and weary and assumes a pitch of exasperated despair as her troubles mount. Her car breaks down, she gets caught shoplifting dog food and, topping things off and setting the nonplot in motion, Lucy disappears.

Wendy searches for Lucy and, with no money, tries to get her car fixed. That’s it. But of course that’s not it. The movie’s a symposium in American poverty, about how people living on the brink of destitution can land there with a shift in the wind. It’s about how people respond to a woman whose only problem seems to be chronic bad breaks. It’s about how you and I respond to that dude and his dog with a cardboard sign at the intersection — our fellow citizens and brethren. Wendy becomes different things to different people: parasite, criminal, an everywoman in need. It’s about our state of affairs, right now.

Reichardt and co-writer Jon Raymond, who displayed a similar fascination with the dispossessed and marginalized in “Old Joy,” purposely strip Wendy of backstory and even much personality, and this could challenge viewer empathy. Williams, sporting cut-offs, a tomboy shag and vacant eyes, recedes into the role, making Wendy a wraith in society, all but invisible. It’s an entrancing anti-performance.

You could say that nothing happens in “Wendy and Lucy,” but if it were your life, everything happens. The movie doesn’t make it easy on pleasure-seeking viewers. It proudly basks in the quotidian now and lives in its exquisite details, be it Wendy washing and changing in a dingy gas station bathroom or walking past graffiti that simply says “Goner.”

In its stubborn airiness “Wendy and Lucy” grants you gaping spaces in which to wander with the protagonist and feel her metastasizing despair. Without melodrama or the clanking machinery of by-committee plotting, the movie engenders a sense of effortlessness that snares you in its lyrical spell.

It’s tempting to call this frowsy story a tone poem, but it’s not. It’s cold, naked prose, scratched in gravel with a stick.

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‘Frenzied Founder’: Louis Black profile

March 12, 2006, Austin American-Statesman

Louis Black is a wreck. For this particular newspaperman, this fact is not news. People who know Black are quick to say he is unsettled, self-loathing, temperamental, explosive and passionate to a fault. Almost unanimously, they invoke an ugly synonym for “jerk” to describe him. (Almost unanimously, they still love him.)

Black, co-founder and editor of the Austin Chronicle, denies none of it. His snarled personality — a knot of contradictions and impulses in the cause of doing something important and good — makes for interesting encounters, lively anecdotes, inflated legends and flamboyant fictions. He is known as much for these as for his foibles and tics: squirming in his chair, pacing the floor, flapping his hands. His mouth runs with astonishing velocity. Just watching him makes you jittery.

As the face of Austin’s alternative weekly and co-founder of the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festivals, which run this week, Black wields great influence and has accomplished much for the city. SXSW has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to Austin coffers and earned the city an international reputation. Black and his colleagues at the Chronicle and SXSW have propped up and nourished the local music and film scenes that so many take for granted.

Without Black, a music fanatic and film savant, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World would lack much of its cultural stock.

“The music scene would have died a long time ago,” says Mike Levy, publisher of Texas Monthly. “The energy that Louis and his colleagues have infused into the town have kept the music and film traditions alive much more than anything the City Council has done.”

That energy has a price tag. Black’s emotions, especially his anger, tend to get away from him and make messes.

“He’s a very passionate person,” says Michael Hall, former managing editor of the Chronicle and now a senior editor at Texas Monthly. “That means all the great things that come with being passionate. But, on a dime, Louis can also show the darker side of what passion will lead you to do.”

He struggles with this. He is in therapy. The guy formerly known as Louis Black is trying to mellow. Meanwhile, he has a newspaper to run and world-famous festivals to put on. Continue reading

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Movie review: ‘Greenberg’

March 26, 2010, Austin American-Statesman

Ben Stiller looks gaunt and shrunken in “Greenberg,” Noah Baumbach’s bilious comedy of discomfort that isn’t afraid to let its tender side show, if only in stingy glances. Stiller isn’t a tall man to begin with, but his physical presence here is rumpled, crumpled, matching his character’s interior life, that of a guy hitting his 40s with rancor and confusion. He’s in a stunted state. Even next to the movie’s German shepherd he looks small.

This is Stiller stripped down and vulnerable, his jester’s suit swapped for an outdated sweater that screams — no, mumbles — inertia. Stiller’s darker side, hinted at in some of his sad-sack comic roles (“Flirting with Disaster,” “The Heartbreak Kid”), emerges ready to rumble, snipping and gnashing at the world like a less smug Larry David. It’s as funny as it is pathetic, a portrait of a guy who’s barely tolerated because he can barely tolerate himself.

Stiller plays Roger Greenberg in “Greenberg,” Baumbach’s alert and wise meditation on early-midlife disappointment and the drawbacks of being a jerk. The movie’s squirmy accuracy bears the pained specificity of autobiography, like the writer-director’s coming-of-age saga “The Squid and the Whale” and indulgently dysfunctional “Margot at the Wedding,” tragicomedies whose emotional violence is slightly offset by the ouchy humor mined from neurotic extremes.

Fresh off a nervous breakdown in New York, like an aging Holden Caulfield, Roger has come to his rich brother’s home in Los Angeles to house-sit while the family is on vacation. His goal is to actively “do nothing” except catch up with friends (the great Rhys Ifans is one of them) and an ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who co-wrote the story with Baumbach), none of whom especially wants to catch up with Roger after some bitter fallouts in the past.

Roger makes a reluctant connection with his brother’s personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), a frowzy yet comely young woman who comes to the house to feed the dog. It seems unlikely she would fall for the prickly, off-putting Roger, who is almost 20 years her senior. But Florence is herself a damaged flower. She moves with an irresistible gawkiness, a kind of fatigued self-awareness, and speaks in a voice of breathy boredom.

Like many heartbreakers, Florence doesn’t realize what a knock-out she is. Her beauty is a mystery to her, and she doesn’t know how to present it. When Roger and she hook up for the first time — a cover-your-eyes comedy of errors — Florence apologizes. “I get kind of nerdy” during sex, she says.

This is Gerwig’s first major role after a series of micro-budget mumblecore movies (“Baghead,” “Hannah Takes the Stairs”), and she’s terrific — affectless and luminous, acutely attuned to how Florence’s insecurities inform her speech, mannerisms and movement.

She’s the optimistic heart of the story to Stiller’s gloomy soul. His existential crisis is about worthlessness, whacking that midlife wall of diminished ambition and shriveled hope and walking about dazed. He’s a human bruise in a constant wince. He pushes Florence away.

“I should be with a divorced 38-year-old with teenage kids and low expectations in life,” he tells her. (“Normal stuff is really hard for him,” she tells her friends.) Theirs, at best, is a fretful romance, and it’s fascinating.

The later films of Baumbach, including the poignant, almost perfect “Greenberg,” are told with the granular realism of a short story in The New Yorker. They’re hermetic, mercilessly personal, savagely honest, all of which passes as a type of morose sophistication. They feel messy and rich.

Baumbach, also in his early 40s, shoots with a homely naturalism that’s both shaggy and invisibly fussy. He’s a hip humanist with a taste for bile and an eye and ear for people not getting along. Yet he wants things to work out. That takes work, brute emotional toil between bodies. His movies are sincere and never jokey. The uncomfortable laughter they generate can seem like snark, but actually it’s high drama.

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