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The Epicenter of Pop Culture: South by Southwest

The Epicenter of Pop Culture: South by Southwest

         It was a
no-brainer to say yes when the South by Southwest festival asked if I’d like to
do a live version of my podcast in Austin this year. My colleague Baron Vaughn and daughter Jessie
(my other partner in crime) were all for it. But we never could have imagined
that our guests would turn out to be one of this year’s star filmmakers, comedian-storyteller
Mike Birbiglia, and his producer, Ira Glass, the genius behind NPR’s This American Life. Jessie and I got to
see Mike’s new film Don’t Think Twice
at its debut screening Sunday night and didn’t just like it—we loved it. The
film portrays a tight-knit improv troupe and what happens to its family-like
dynamic when one of its members gets hired by a popular TV show. The cast
includes Birbiglia, Keegan Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard and Tami Sagher.

         Mike and Ira
were wonderful guests, and the response of our audience (which had already seen
us record another episode of the show) sparked everyone’s energy and
enthusiasm. You can hear the results by clicking HERE.

         Jessie and I
made the most of our, all-too-brief, visit to Austin. The festival, which keeps
growing year after year, was cofounded by my pal Louis Black, whom I’ve known
since we were 12. (No, he’s not related to the comedian of the same name who
spells his name Lewis.) He scheduled a panel discussion where we reminisced
about our youthful adventures visiting movie memorabilia shops in Manhattan and
meeting Buster Keaton. I didn’t think anyone would show up for this personal
nostalgia-fest but we actually had a good turnout and they were very receptive.

         Following that
panel, and the double-podcast recording, we zipped over to the Alamo Draft
House movie theater on Sixth Street for a screening of Eagle Pennell’s landmark
Texas movie Last Night at the Alamo,
which Louis just helped to restore with the participation of IFC and Richard
Linklater. Watching this flavorful slice of life from 1984 was a treat,
especially on a big screen in pristine condition. I happily conducted a q&a
afterwards with Louis, Rick, the film’s star Sonny Carl Davis, its
restorationist Mark Rance, and several key people involved in its production. Linklater’s
frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke was in the audience cheering us on.

         All of that
didn’t leave much time left over, but I did get to see one other film, a debut
feature by directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer called The Trust, starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood as crooked Las
Vegas cops who try to pull off a daring heist. If you like Cage when he’s
larger than life you’ll definitely enjoy this film, which showcases him at his
wildest, with Wood doing equally fine work as his wary partner. A nice bonus is
seeing Jerry Lewis in a brief appearance as Cage’s father. (The young
filmmakers said Nic had always dreamed of having Jerry play his dad.)

         South by
Southwest has grown exponentially from year to year, with separate components
for film, music, gaming, internet, and more, and boasted the ultimate
headliners this year for its opening and closing keynote addresses: President
Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. I feel lucky to have been a small part of
it.

 

 

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