Slash is your typical coming-of-age story about about a weird and repressed kid (Neil) who meet a girl (Julia) and learns how to be comfortable with himself. The atypical part of the story is that both of them write slash fiction, eroticized fan-fiction, which can be based in reality (“celebrity slash” and “pointless boy band orgies”) or on other fiction (your “Dumbledore falls in lust with Gandalf” or sci-fi mashups). As Julia (Hannah Marks) tries to help Neil (Michael Johnston) with the style of his writing — “I think you use too much flowery prose … you say things like ‘he stroked his velvet rod,’ when you should be like ‘he pumped his stone cock’” — the two dance around their own sexuality, which may or may not involve several flavors of the LGBTQ spectrum. It’s a cute film, but it’s disappointing that the character arcs are strongly tipped toward Johnston’s Neil. This is disappointing in part because there are not enough coming-of-age stories focused on female characters, but it’s more disappointing because Johnston is a perfectly fine but unremarkable performer, while Marks offered a much richer and interesting performance. Ultimately, it’s one of those movies that’s easy to watch, with a couple of jokes that may or may not land depending on your mood, and sometimes that’s good enough.
Artist & Repertoire is a documentary about James Lavelle, a DJ and former record label owner who shot quickly into the spotlight as a teenager. After a promising start as a DJ, Lavelle formed the Mo’ Wax record label and had an immediate impact on hip-hop with his signing of Blackalicious, and then earned a spot in music history with the release of DJ Shadow’s fantastic “Endtroducing…..” album in 1996. The documentary follows this rise and Lavelle’s ensuing partnership with DJ Shadow. As Lavelle explains, “the secret of my success is a very strong identity.” This also turns out to be a problem, as we see Lavelle’s struggles, fueled by drugs and ego, that ultimately cost him most of his collaborations, partnerships, and friends. In telling LaVelle’s story, which is given a happy ending of sorts, Artist & Repertoire touches on some interesting themes, primarily the weight of the “ideas” that start the creative process in comparison to artistic efforts to bring those ideas to life. While the documentary could be tighter and about 15 minutes shorter, it’s still a mostly effective story of one man’s impact on a corner of the music industry.
Claire in Motion is basically a star vehicle for Betsy Brandt, who plays a college professor coping with the disappearance of her husband, while he was out on a survivalist retreat. Writing/directing pair Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell have put together a tight film that is not particularly concerned with whether the husband died or ran away. Rather, they focus on the emotional impact of this loss on the wife and son left behind. Fans of Breaking Bad know how great Brandt is, and hopefully more will discovery that through this film, because her performance is killer. Many have commented on a strongly bro feeling to this year’s festival given the slate of Headliner films that have been running. But Claire in Motion (and Miss Stevens, which we’ll be fully reviewing in the coming days) shows that you just have to dig a little deeper in the fest’s lineup to find some female-driven gems.
Slash, Artist & Repertoire and Claire in Motion all had their world premiere at South by Southwest 2016.