Editor's Note: The mission of TheaterJones is to cover the performing arts in North Texas, but over the years we have dipped our toes into the waters of film. We've always reviewed feature films and documentaries related to performing arts, such as feature films of plays by Shakespeare and other writers, musicals, documentaries about choreographers and other arts-makers, filmed performances from National Theatre Live and Metropolitan Opera, and even performing arts-themed feature films, some of them Oscar winners. (Black Swan, anyone?) We've also started covering some local film festivals, including the Dallas VideoFest, Oak Cliff Film Festival and, most recently, the third South Asian Film Festival.
So it seemed like a good time to start a film column as we're expanding our roster of columns penned by local creatives. Luckily, we scored none other than the king of the local film world, Bart Weiss, founder of Video Association of Dallas and Dallas VideoFest and a film professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
In Film Notes, which will run on the first Monday of the month (although it's the second Monday this time), Bart will discuss film festivals and events, trends, industry issues, the politics of filmmaking, the intersection with live performance, and other film topics. You won't see red carpet reports or reviews of mainstream movies or even most indie films that swing through DFW. There are plenty of other places to find all that.
Bart's first Film Notes is here.
Now, on with the show.
Dallas — So I hope I don't need to spend each month talking about who died this month but I feel compelled to comment on the passing of two giants in two completely different media universes: Jonathan Demme and Vito Acconci.
Most of the tributes to Demme talk about Silence of the Lambs, which of course was great in so many ways. He made some really great Hollywood films but he was so much more. I think of him as the director with a great ear for music. Every film he made had music that was edgy and perfect. He also made one the best concert films ever, Stop Making Sense, capturing the Talking Heads (and Tom Tom Club) at the perfect time. The film is part music concert, part performance art. It showed a bit ago at the Texas Theatre and it really held up well.
He also did music videos and films for Neil Young, New Order, UB40 and the Pretenders. What other filmmaker could feel comfortable making a Hollywood film and then make Swimming to Cambodia with performance artist Spalding Gray? He also made a great political documentary, Haiti Dreams of Democracy, which we showed at the Dallas VideoFest many years ago. All that and he directed the TV show Shots Fired. He was very close Louis Black from the Austin Chronicle and SXSW, where he showed some classic early Texas films at the SXSW 2015 festival.
There have been very few directors who have been truly independent and creating such a rich body of diverse work, but always with a rocking track. He will be missed.
And light years away was Vito Acconci, was one of the pioneers of video art, and particularly the performance art wing of video art. He put himself though darkish situations and videotaped them. Later in life he moved into architecture but he really set a tone for a generation of art grad students who may have confounded their parents but made powerful work.
Where’s the Fire?
Speaking of experimental work, we just had the second Dallas Medianale, which is our experimental film/video/music performance event. We expected to have some performance and installation at the new MAC in the Cedars. But a week before the show it was closed by the fire marshal, which makes the second time that Dean Terry has been closed down by the fire marshal. So, what I want to know is what is this all about? Do we have an aggressive fire marshal who thinks he is protecting poor unsuspecting citizens who might go into an experimental work space and experience something dangerous?
I don't think there had been a problem with fires, drownings, explosions, and general accidents in Dallas-area arts and alternative spaces. I mean, isn't art in some way dangerous? People who go to these events are being adventurous in some way.
There is a larger issue here. We should be valuing what is going on in the spaces and not trying to kill it. By their nature these places have work that is outside of the mainstream so they are generally not well funded. These spaces are not needed just for their art but for what it brings: the coffee shops, the hip bars, and the craft-everything shops. Then the artists move to the next part of town, and the cycle continues. So these spaces help the city and the developers (maybe they should put in the exit signs and fire extinguishers). But more importantly than real estate and upgrading neighborhoods is what this does for attracting the creative culture that the city needs to thrive in this digital universe. It is the edge culture the fire marshal is going after that this city needs. The fire marshal is doing for the arts what the bathroom bill is doing for conventions and what the Texas lege is trying to do to the film industry by killing or diminishing incentives.
While I am at it, let me bring this to a national topic. The FCC is trying to kill net neutrality, which was bad enough, but now they are trying to ease rules for owning TV stations in the same market. In a time when we need more diversity, this will give us less diversity. Their rules were put in place to make sure local stations cared for the communities they were in, and not just about profits. All this is depressing, I know.
Enough about politics, lets’ talk film
There are a few films you need to check out this month at the Texas Theatre. They are showing some of the great films from director of photography, Michael Ballhaus. He is known for great, long-tracking shots—think of the famous shot in Goodfellas (view it above, or here). It is just amazing to watch as we go into the Copacabana. It was shot with a steadycam operator I went to film school with. This shot, while not the first one in cinema, influenced lots of directors to think about moving in space differently. This shot shows how these characters are shaped by the space they are in and that they control. This same idea was used just a few weeks ago in a scene in Feud, the FX series about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (see the shot here).
They are showing Goodfellas, The Color of Money and After Hours. (See schedule here.) In thinking about Ballhaus’ work you should also look into the great films he shot for Rainer Werner Fassbinder, many of those could be found on FilmStruck, the streaming service by Criterion and TCM. And if you have FilmStruck look for Spilt Screen, John Pierson’s show where he talks about indie media. In one episode, he drove his trailer up to the Dallas VideoFest; I think there is an interview there where my hair is black.
Also at the Texas they are showing a great documentary about John Coltrane called Chasing Trane, made by John Scheinfeld.
And the VideoFest will have the annual 24 Hour Video Race, May 12-13.
On midnight, all the teams will get see the video with the theme location prop and line of dialogue and be off to spend 24 hours of fun, friendship, and perhaps art. The films will be shown the next week at the Angelica Film Center at Mockingbird Station. This year there will be a special wrinkle thrown in.
What is so great about doing this race? Well, thanks for asking. There are many of you filmmakers who keep talking about making that film, but things just keep getting in the way. With the video race, you can get everything else in your life out of the way, and just make this film. It gives you a chance to grow and expand your creativity. The other bonus is that because you only have 24 hours, it gives you a good excuse (“what did you expect, I only had 24 hours”). With that you kill that fear of failure—the great enemy of all creativity—and make a great film.
So just do it.
Have a great month.
Go out and see a good film.
» Bart Weiss is an award-winning independent film and video producer, director, editor, and educator who has lived in Dallas since 1981. Mr. Weiss has taught film and video production at Texas A&M’s Visualization Lab, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin and Arlington, Dallas Community College District and West Virginia State College. He currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, serves on the Board of Directors of the University Film and Video Association, is a past Vice President of the Texas Association of Film and Tape Professionals, founder and past president of the West Virginia Filmmakers’ Guild, and co-founder of VideoFest and the Video Association of Dallas. He has been a video columnist for The Dallas Morning News, The Dallas Times Herald, United Features Syndicate and KERA 90.1 FM Radio in Dallas. Mr. Weiss received an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University in 1978 and a B.A. from Temple University in 1975. Bart can be reached at email@example.com.
» Film Notes with Bart Weiss will run the first Monday of the month.
PREVIOUSLY IN FILM NOTES
- April 2017: Film Notes 1.1