By: Chris Allen
The 2017 SXSW Film Festival kicked off Friday night at the Paramount Theater with the world premier of hometown hero Terrance Malick’s Song to Song– a cinematic poem to the city of Austin and its creative inhabitants. Attendees of the sold-out screening (many of whom waited hours to get in) were treated to a preshow Q and A with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara.
Malick was characteristically absent for the premiere, although whether he was in disguise in the 1,100 seat venue to secretly observe audience reaction remains unknown. (He did however participate in a surprise morning discussion at the Convention Center alongside Michael Fassbender, lead by Rickard Linklater)
As for the film, it’s a project only an auteur like Malick would or could pull off. Gosling himself referenced that Terrance Malick is one of only a few filmmakers who are recognizable as a film’s creator by frame one. And some of the on-set tension that Fassbender referred to in the Q and A certainly translated onto the screen. Full of magnificent naturalistic wide-angle cinematography of Austin environs that are juxtaposed with jerky camera angles closing in on the main characters, the film encompasses both the exhilarating aspects of fighting for a place in the Austin music scene and the potential business transactions that become burdensome and soul questioning.
Much of the film features voiceovers and melodic music simultaneously, with characters musing on their situation ostensibly from their own nonverbal consciousness. The film is not explicitly plot driven. There is Fassbender as a morally suspect record producer offering a Faustian handshake to the independently spirited Gosling. Portman-gorgeous, troubled, lovelorn- plays her role beautifully with quiet certitude. A love triangle (quadrangle?) ensues and prospective lovers are rearranged. However, the meat of the film is the end result of a marriage between these various artistic mediums- music, photography, acting (even some stand-out Val Kilmer hair chopping dances) that when joined tell a story in that universal cinematic language. Song to Song may not win over fans of traditionally tidy Hollywood fare, although they should give it a shot. There is an international, almost cosmic appeal to the film. And the excellent cameos from the likes of legends Patti Smith, Flea, Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten are an appreciated cinematic recess from the consistent high-octane barrage of imagery.
An explosive effort not made from Hollywood cloth- a city of illusions, but Austin, Texas- a city of sounds.
Song to Song in wide release March 17