Normally, movie reviews fly out of the annual South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. But as you know, this year’s fest was canceled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
SXSW teamed up with Amazon Prime Video to launch a virtual film festival April 27-May 6, with some filmmakers opting into the online spotlight. American-Statesman contributor Matt Shiverdecker caught a few of the movies — here’s what he thought about three. Find more at amazon.com/sxsw.
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"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
When I first read the synopsis of this film, I wasn't sure how to react. It introduces us to Brian Belovitch and, in the words of director Karen Bernstein in the introduction that plays before the movie starts, gives us a look at one person and two different lives.
Brian grew up as an effeminate boy in a conservative family at a time when being gay was rarely discussed. By the mid-1970s, he was living in New York City and thriving amid the androgynous world of glam rock. He enjoyed the attention that followed when dressing up as a woman and hitting the club scene.
Increasingly convinced that life as a woman was preferable to living as an out gay man, Brian began hormone treatments and had a sex change, spending the better part of the ’80s as Natalia (or Tish, as her friends knew her). Natalia married a military man and lived out a storybook romance that involved time living in base housing in Germany with her husband, David.
By 1984, Tish was divorced, back in New York and living as a downtown celebrity party girl who earned the attention of people like Andy Warhol and became close friends with Village Voice columnist Michael Musto. Unfortunately, the AIDS crisis also found Tish. By the time she learned of her HIV-positive status, she could not find treatment as a transgender women. In 1987, Tish transitioned back to Brian.
In the time period seen in the film, the notion of nonbinary people or gender fluidity was not remotely in the mainstream public consciousness. It's difficult to fathom how Brian's life had encompassed all of these elements for years and years before most people in America were even comfortable saying the word "gay."
As a feature film, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" is a lot like the life of its subject — fascinating, funny, emotionally charged and a little messy.
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"My Darling Vivian"
The old saying goes, "Behind every great man is a great woman." In the case of Johnny Cash, they were two of them.
James Mangold's 2005 film "Walk The Line" was a well-received biopic about country music legend Johnny Cash, but it glossed over the early years of his life and put the spotlight on his relationship with wife June Carter Cash. It spent very little time on his first marriage to Vivian Liberto, a young woman whom he met while he was stationed with the Air Force in the early 1950s in San Antonio. By 1954, they were married and living in Nashville together, starting to raise a family.
"Walk The Line" may have had you believe she was just a footnote in his life, but this new documentary by Matt Riddlehoover gives Vivian a platform from which to tell her side of the story. From their whirlwind romance to the birth of their four daughters, it was a marriage that lasted for thirteen years
Johnny was becoming an icon (and an addict) away from home while Vivian quietly took care of the family behind the scenes. The four adult daughters (Rosanne, Kathy, Tara and Cindy) participate in this film and share their recollections, as well as read from the personal letters that Johnny and Vivian wrote to each other while he was in the military. It shows how their initial relationship was intense and, ultimately, how Vivian's contributions to his success were mostly written off and ignored for years.
Vivian's love for Johnny never subsided. She waited until several years after his death to release a book of her own: "I Walked The Line: My Life With Johnny" wasn't released until 2007. Johnny and June both passed away a few months apart from each other in 2003.
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"Le Choc du Futur"
In late 1970s Paris, Ana (Alma Jodorowsky) is a musician and composer who is crashing in her friend Michel's apartment, which is packed ceiling to floor with instruments and electronic gear.
She is utterly bored by rock music and stays afloat by taking small jobs to write music for commercials. But Ana is a futurist with an obsession: to write and release her own original music at any cost, even if it means borrowing more equipment or blowing off paid gigs to do her own thing.
"Le Choc du Futur" director Marc Collin is a musician, best known as the co-founder of Nouvelle Vague, a French band that performs covers of new wave songs like Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in a bossa nova style. With this debut feature film, he has created a loving ode to the art of creation and pays homage to a time long before the internet, when the genesis of ideas often came from the magic of a friend handing you a tangible object and sharing something that they love (a book, an album, maybe even a mixtape) with you.
In Ana's case, it is a demonstration of a Roland CR-78 drum machine. It is worth more than $5,000, but she simply must have it for making music and is able to get the owner to part ways with it so that she can use it right away.
Despite being told that she's "not in a business for chicks," Ana doubles down and begins to work with endless layers of cable patches to create danceable, computer-generated beats. She records a single that she hopes to get into the hands of a popular record producer at a party.
Even though this is a narrative tale that doesn't tell any specific woman's story, Collin dedicates it to the female pioneers of electronic music. The title itself translates to "The Shock of the Future" in English, and this is a breezy and enjoyable film for music nerds and gearheads. It's also the kind of film that (at least in the U.S.) probably wouldn't get much play beyond the festival circuit, but in many ways, the easy availability of a film like this is one of the greatest elements of SXSW’s virtual festival through Amazon.