Welcome to our fifth day of SXSW coverage (catch up on it all here).
There was pretty much no rhyme or reason to my schedule on day five of SXSW. I planned on catching All Things Must Pass, a documentary by Colin Hanks on the rise and fall of Tower Records, at the start of the day and conduct an interview with Turbo Kid’s creative team before catching their premier at midnight, but that was it. I left a ton of room in between to go visit some parties and take in the SXSW Interactive showroom floor and maybe catch one more film. I’ve said before that I think SXSW functions better when you go into it with a loose plan and today was proof of that.
All Things Must Pass
All Things Must Pass offered a nice, casual start to the day with its personable style and natural order. Charting the origins of Tower Records from an expansion to Russ Solomon’s father’s pharmacy to a billion dollar international empire, All Things Must Pass is exhaustive but never exhausting. Hanks wisely lets the Tower Records “family” tell its own story, with minimal intrusion from famous talking heads (Dave Grohl, Elton John, and David Geffen are pretty much the bulk of the celebrity interviewees, all because of very personal connections to the chain). This enables the film to feel very organic, like a documentary of a family reunion where everyone exchanges favorite anecdotes and pays tribute to their benevolent patriarch.
As the film shows, Tower Records’ success can be attributed not merely to Russ Solomon’s entrepreneurial vision but also his willingness to embrace his employees’ dreams for the company. A tremendous amount of credit is also attributed to the more business oriented, logical perspective of original CFO Bud Martin, making the pair a kind of Lennon-McCartney for the music retail world. The employees who spoke for the documentary make it clear that Tower was an exciting company to work for if you could handle the hard partying atmosphere, but it was also a company where everyone prided themselves on doing the best possible job. Most of the top leadership at the company in its prime came up from record clerk and shipping and receiving jobs, so the company literally grew with its employees, making it a true family affair.
These employees also basically agree that what did Tower in was its rapid expansion and the accumulation of debt to fund that expansion, as well as Bud Martin’s resignation. Bud had advised against building up so much debt, but Solomon was so committed to making the company as large as possible that when Bud exited the picture he was left unchecked. The film does explore the Napster impact on retail too, but the interview subjects basically all agree that the expansion and the nonstop price increases for CDs killed Tower and Napster just helped push it over the edge.
Though the infectious love for the company the employees still have makes All Things Must Pass very enjoyable, the film could stand to present more of the darker elements of the company, specifically the impact its rapid expansion had on mom and pop record stores across the world. Tower employees address their frustration with big box stores like Best Buy selling CDs at much lower prices and the impact that had, but they don’t mention the similar devastation they wreaked on local stores themselves. Nonetheless, for many, Tower was their first record store and it’s not hard to see why the company is still so beloved by record geeks and musicians, making All Things Must Pass a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in the music business.
A Wonderful Cloud
After heading over to various parties containing free tacos and drinks because, hey, it’s SXSW, I didn’t catch another film until the evening, and it was one I knew basically nothing about. A new work by uber-indie filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko, A Wonderful Cloud is boldly committed to being both sweet and gross, with a number of scenes featuring Kotlyarenko shitting, dealing with shit (literally and figuratively), and talking about shit. Kotlyarenko plays a perhaps semi-autobiographical character also named Eugene, whose ex Kate (Kotlyarenko’s real life ex Kate Lyn Sheil) is coming to visit him in LA in order to get him to sign over to her the business they started together. The pair go on various misadventures over the city and deal with their remaining feelings for one another as well as the issues they still have.
Like You and Me and Everyone We Know before it, Cloud is episodic, exploring the characters of LA through the differing perspectives of Eugene and Kate. The two have undeniable chemistry, but it’s not hard to see why they fell apart—Eugene is whimsical and spontaneous, dedicated to living in the moment while Kate is becoming more focused on the future and making a name for herself. With the wrong actors, Cloud could have been an insufferable mess, whiny and indulgent; luckily, the cast of characters Eugene assembled are immensely intriguing, turning the film into a kind of LA John Waters flick.
A Wonderful Cloud might not ever reach true greatness, but it’s not aiming to anyway. Instead it merely wants to document the definitive close of a once important relationship as it guides you through a weird city. Kotlyarenko’s commitment to portraying himself and Kate as frankly as possible is also to his credit and neither character receives bias. Illustrating himself as a balding, sweaty, frequently gross Peter Pan and Kate as a smart, stylish but emotionally closed off young woman, A Wonderful Cloud is more truthful than the bulk of this wave of artier indie comedies. And its poop jokes are infinitely better than anything from the Apatow camp.
My night closed out with Turbo Kid, a Quebec film that I had been excited to catch since first hearing buzz about it from Sundance. Earlier in the day I got the opportunity to interview the creators (no promises on when that will go up, but expect it post-SXSW) and I became even more intrigued after they discussed the way the relationship at the heart of the film became the most enjoyable part of the filmmaking process, rather than the gore and effects. Considering that Roadkill Superstars are splatter experts, their surprise at the effectiveness of the film’s core relationship is a very good sign.
Hyped as ”Mad Max with BMX bikes,” Turbo Kid chronicles the adventures of an orphan boy in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1997, after robots have decimated humanity in a war that now appears to be over with no real winners. Aptly named Kid (Munro Chambers), the boy scavenges in order to get by, dropping his goods off at a makeshift town ruled over by a benevolent world champion arm wrestler (Aaron Jefery) in exchange for water and comics. One day while hanging out at a playground, an overly excited young woman named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) befriends him by slapping a locating beacon on his wrist, making them basically inseparable.
Apple isn’t quite what she seems, but Kid doesn’t figure that out until she is abducted and brought to the gang headquarters of Zeus (Michael Ironside), a despot who likes to make his captives fight in a gladiatorial ring that is really just a dried out pool. In the process of saving her, Kid winds up with the “turbo booster” power glove that belonged to Turbo Rider, an anti-robot hero worshipped by Kid through comics. The glove enables Kid to basically shoot Mega Man beams that cause his enemies to explode, providing a handy excuse for RKSS to indulge in some amazingly gratuitous splatter.
The gore in Turbo Kid is of the early Peter Jackson variety—blood shoots out in epic streams, body parts are hacked off, intestines get hooked up to a bicycle wheel, that sort of thing. This is never a bad thing as far as I’m concerned but it’s to RKSS’ credit that they don’t overuse the effects, in fact the film is honestly sweet and hopeful more often than it isn’t, with Chambers and Leboeuf’s chemistry indeed standing out as the most enjoyable part of a very enjoyable film. Leboeuf in particular is incredible, playing the excitable Apple with enough hyperactivity and grinning to make you initially tense up expecting annoyance to set in but maintaining a charm that makes it impossible to hate her. The BMX element likewise isn’t as gimmicky as you might suspect, the filmmakers are indeed paying homage to BMX Bandits but within the context of a post-apocalypse where there is no convenient power source or fuel, a bike is a pretty logical way to get around.
RKSS also film Turbo Kid as a bright, poppy work rather than the typical drab browns and grays and greens of post-apocalyptic fare, and all the color helps the movie stand out as something really unique. It’s an aesthetic that lends itself well to Turbo Kid’s ultimate message of hopeful defiance against impossible odds and though the film never fails to deliver on the gore and blood, this element is what will make it become a bonafide cult classic in time. Unlike other campy horror and sci-fi works that have been emerging recently, Turbo Kid is less concerned about cool references or gimmicks or campy acting and focuses on heartfelt storytelling and passionate filmmaking. Turbo Kid has the marks of a post-apocalyptic Shaun of the Dead for that reason, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the film became a sleeper hit but either way, it is a brilliant statement from a creative collective that are clearly going places. Here’s hoping Turbo Kid evolves into its own Mad Max-style trilogy.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.