Monday, September 26, 2016

I fested. I feasted. I fled.

So let me tell you about last week, when I made my first ever trip to Fantastic Fest in Austin. Though first I want to thank Kristen, Meredith and Evrim of the FF for making me feel so welcome, because I truly had an awesome time.

Now, I would be remiss in recounting my adventures without mentioning that it was as hot as flaming balls in Austin. It was the kind of heat that hits you like a wall as soon as you step outside, and I have to wonder if it was detrimental to my system to be constantly moving from meat freezer-like interiors to the sweltering outdoors as I was. Anyway, it was all the more incentive to take shelter within the Alamo Drafthouse’s air conditioned theaters.

Our visit started with us being driven into town by the angriest cab driver in Austin, if not the entire world. This was a man who was clearly suffering an existential crisis that could only be relieved by punching someone in the face with one of his gigantic fists—and it took a great deal of verbal ducking and weaving on my part to avoid being that someone. Finally we arrived at our hotel, The Driskill, and things started to improve. Friend of 4DK Carol Borden, upon seeing the accompanying picture, helpfully described our temporary digs as “Not just fancy, but schmancy.” After a shower and a quick dive into the mini-bar we were off to the Drafthouse.

The festival runners spared no expense in decking out the venue for the event, especially with regards to this year’s Bollywood theme. One side of the corridor leading to the theaters was completely plastered with an incredible collection of vintage Bollywood posters. My hands down favorite was this one:

Happily, the Fest was wise enough to use this happy, turban-wearing monkey riding a dog as one of their avatars, and so I was able to acquire it on both a poster and this bitchin’ tee shirt, which I’m wearing as I write this:

The Fest also set up a few elaborate tableaus in honor of certain of the featured films, including this one for The Autopsy of Jane Doe. For some reason, as I looked at it, I couldn’t help being reminded that the hedges back home needed a trim.

As Fantastic Fest novices, my wife and I faced a steep learning curve. On that first day, we learned that the festival’s ticketing practices are not entirely couples-friendly. Because of this, the missus and I ended up watching Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden simultaneously in separate theaters. As the festival went on, though, we figured out how to work the system and were able to see all our other selected films together, thus saving our marriage.

Of course, my primary reason for being at Fantastic Fest was to flak my book, Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Bollywood Action Cinema (now available from all the best online book retailers), and thanks to the above-thanked festival directors, I was able to do a signing event for those people who won the book in the Funky Bollywood Twitter contest sponsored by the festival. That said, I was a little disappointed to see that the festival was not showing any 1970s Indian movies (not surprising, given the scarcity of watchable prints of such films), but I can’t fault their spotlighting the seriously bughouse Telugu actioner Magadheera, from which Die Hard 4 stole one of its most notorious set pieces.

I also managed to catch the live taping of Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies podcast, which was brilliant. Benson wisely chose an all-female panel for the show (Bree Essrig, Lisa Delario, and You’re the Worst’s Aya Cash), which provided a welcome respite from all the neck-bearded, board shorts wearing male energy that otherwise permeated the event. Benson is at this best when he belies his stoned demeanor with his wicked quick-wittedness, and this night he was at his best. I’ve often listened to Doug Loves Movies and always find it amusing, but I have never laughed so hard and as continuously as I did during this iteration of it.

And then, of course, I saw some movies, although not as many as I had initially planned to (fortunately, I was able to see The Zodiac Killer, which screened after we left, on YouTube). Of these, I saw three great films: The Handmaiden, Tobias Nölle’s Aloys, and Dean Fleischer-Camp’s Fraud. I also saw The Dwarves Must be Crazy, a recent Thai film in which a village of dwarves fights a gang of Krasue who like to eat ass. Expect a review in the coming days.

Happily, our failure to secure seats for some of the films we wanted us to see allowed us time to explore Austin a little. I was disheartened to learn from one of our cab drivers that the city was going through some of the same hipsters v. techies v. natives drama that we are here in San Francisco. Still, despite the preponderance of topknots, tech start-ups, and douchey bro bars, you could still find evidence that Austin is indeed part of Texas:

I also have to say that I ate quite well during my stay, despite my finicky dietary restrictions and the fact that every restaurant we dined in was called The Something Grill. Austin is truly a land of beer and meat, but if you, like me, refrain from consuming the hooved animals, you need not fear that they will start stuffing pork sausage down your throat the minute you off board the plane. There are hippies here, after all; even the Alamo Drafthouse had better non-beef option than its San Francisco offspring.

And on that topic, I couldn’t resist making some notes of comparison between our local Drafthouse and its granddaddy in Austin, with the caveat that the SF branch, being younger, has had the benefit of learning from its elder’s experience. Here are my rankings.

Location: SF (The New Mission Theater, where the SF Drafthouse resides, was formerly an honest-to-goodness grind house, located in the gritty Mission district. Austin’s Drafthouse is basically in a mall.)

Food: Austin (very tasty, with far more chicken options than the SF Drafthouse, as well as the best chicken burger I’ve ever had – San Francisco take note.)

Service: Tie (both are excellent)

Seating: San Francisco

Audience: Tie (both cater to the most well behaved movie patrons their respective cities have to offer. Congratulations to Tim League and company for achieving the seemingly impossible.)

Random notes:

1. I saw Elijah Wood, who was my lone star-sighting at the festival (unless you count Harry Knowles). I was alerted to his presence by someone (who will remain nameless) tweeting that “Frodo just spilled beer on my wife.”

2. To whoever’s idea it was to screen clips from Magic Lizard before The Dwarves Must Be Crazy: I will have my revenge.