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Blogging SXSW :: Tilda Swinton, Lady Valor & Veronica Mars

by Kevin Langson
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Mar 9, 2014

This is a good time to begin blogging because I hit a blissful high point in my festival-going, having just come from Jim Jarmusch's vampire flick for thinking folks, "Only Lovers Left Alive," featuring a resplendent-as-usual Tilda Swinton as a bohemian vampire in a century old, transcontinental love affair. Her character, Eve, resides in Tangiers, where a local man keeps her in supply of uncontaminated blood. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston's Adam is a fame-dodging rock musician in a Detroit that is beloved for its abandonment and renegade spirit.

I spotted Tilda being photographed in the lobby of the Stateside Theater, and it struck me that she was like a graceful and exotic creature on display. I'm more of one to get excited by directing talent than acting talent, but there is something so unconventionally charismatic about Tilda, and I was smitten while listening to her talk about wolf hair wigs, vampire lore, how much she loves Austin, etc. after the screening.

To bite or not to bite

A new Jarmusch film is a big event in the American indie world, and this was a sold out show. I sadly removed my book bag from the seat beside me when my friend texted that he couldn’t get in, but then I quickly became engrossed in this film.

There is an underlying somberness to it (this is, after all, a philosophically inclined vampire film), but there is also a playfulness with which Jarmusch fans are familiar. His trademark cleverness peeks out in the way he plays with vampire convention (got to love Tilda lifting her eyebrows in barely-veiled lust when an airplane passenger across the aisle cuts his finger and bleeds onto a napkin); as well as his characters’ references to interactions with historical figures, especially scientists and artists.

As Tilda mentioned in the Q/A, this is not a film that is about ’to bite or not to bite’ or the chase. It is about a long, passionate love affair. It is also a music enthusiast’s film, Jarmusch bringing his rock talent and insight to the film. Interestingly, one of Eve’s quirks is that she can tell how old an object is by touching it, which she does quite sensuously to musical instruments throughout the film.

Leaving that screening I felt as though I had made up for my initial failure of missing the opening night screening, as well as the annoyance of queuing for hours in the rain. How does a well-intentioned film writer miss opening night, you might ask? By insisting on a haircut, letting a man go before him at the barbershop, and waiting on a South Congress bus that never comes. Ah, but it left me with a determination to make it into every desired screening from here on out. I’ll have to catch up with Chef later on.


Dazed and disappointed after being turned away from the Paramount, I wandered into a showroom/social drinking space for SX Interactive, the technology portion of the festival. It was a tad disorienting because I didn’t always know what I was looking at, but I picked up a bunch of free mags and admired plans of a planned community in East London.

Moving on from my misstep I actually opened the fest with "LADY VALOR: the Kristin Beck Story," an effectively straightforward documentary about a decorated Navy Seal who decided after retirement to begin living as a trans-woman, an urge that he suppressed during his career of a mind-blowing fourteen deployments. I would venture to say that if you could only see one trans-related film this year this would be the one to see.

Beck is quite an interesting subject because of the way she complicates or smashes clich├ęs. Her brother testifies that he didn’t see the transition coming, that he "never saw the dress" as they were growing up; and, not only did Beck have to be tough while in service, but even now as she sports heels and dresses, she also shoots guns alongside his family and military buds in tiny Wellsville, New York and exhibits masculine traits beneath the make-up she has learned how to apply late in life. She epitomizes the grey area of gender in a way that is refreshing and inspiring and is admirably bold in confronting the disdain of some of her former comrades and family members. The guilt she feels for not being a present father to her sons is harder for her to confront.

Tough challenge

I opened Day Two with a fiction film about clients confronting difficult feelings. In the case of "She’s Lost Control," a sexual surrogate in New York works with clients who have a fear of intimacy. Ronah (Brooke Bloom) is getting her Masters in Behavioral Psychology and enjoying the individualized, sometimes sexual sometimes platonic, attention she gives the troubled men willing to dole out good dough for her contrived affection and therapist concern... until one particularly tough challenge shows up in her sterile room, in the form of the scraggly-bearded, highly guarded Johnny (Mark Menchaca).

The film deals in ambiguity much more that American films usually do. Sometimes it is frustratingly tough to gauge Rona’s sincerity and her intentions, yet this also reflects the nature of such interactions. It left me with a mild curiosity about sexual surrogates, and director Anja Marquardt just touched on the research that she did for the film during the Q/A.

Sneak peek of "Veronica Mars"

Mid-afternoon brought the much-hyped world premiere of the big screen version of "Veronica Mars." Now, I’m not a TV person at all, so this was my first foray into the charming world of the titular teenage private eye. In this film, she is an adult who has escaped her life fighting corruption alongside her father in Neptune, California, and is on the brink of becoming a lawyer at a high profile New York firm. When she learns her ex is in trouble because it looks like he murdered his celebrity girlfriend, she heads west to do a little detective work for him. Predictably, she gets sucked in by the dirty thrills of her old life.

For anyone else who may be new to this game, Veronica (Kristen Bell) is a sharp-tongued, sharp-minded good-looker who doesn’t take any bullshit. Judging from the response in the packed theater, the fans -- and this is truly a fan-supported project; as director Rob Thomas explained, it wouldn’t have happened without the Kickstarter campaign -- dug the storyline and the witty one-liners. I know I did. The humor varies in sophistication, but overall it’s a fun journey through Californication, knocking out the bad guys while finding your true calling.

SXSW being my calling for the week, I’ll be back to report on the next few days of film-hopping...


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