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SXSW 2008: René Pinnell & Claire Huie on “The King of Texas”

SXSW 2008: René Pinnell & Claire Huie on “The King of Texas” (photo)

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It was an oddly complementary pairing at SXSW when there was a mid-festival premiere of “Lou Reed’s Berlin” followed by “The King of Texas,” a documentary about indie film pioneer Eagle Pennell. Like Reed, whose sole album fronting The Velvet Underground inspired a host of imitators, Pennell is cited as an influence for not only filmmakers like Richard Linklater, who picked up Pennell’s loose-knit aesthetic for “Slacker,” but also for the likes of Robert Redford, who was said to have been inspired by the film to commandeer the U.S. Film Festival in Utah in order to make it a forum for regional filmmaking — now known as Sundance. Pennell made two films that suggested far greater things — the laconic, lived-in slices of life “The Whole Shootin’ Match” in 1979 and “Last Night at the Alamo” in 1983 — before his struggle with alcoholism and other personal demons left him homeless and ultimately, dead mere days before he was to have turned 50 in 2002.

Although Pennell’s work is largely unknown outside of Texas, his friend and restoration expert Mark Rance is hoping to change that with a DVD of “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” complete with a new documentary on Pennell made by his nephew René Pinnell and Claire Huie. But make no mistake, the resulting film, “The King of Texas” is far more than your typical DVD special feature. Insightful and pulling no punches, the film chronicles Pennell’s adventures as a filmmaker who was immensely talented and unprepared for success, with interviews with Linklater, screenwriters Bud Shrake and Kim Henkel, and several other of Pennell’s friends and collaborators. Pinnell and Huie spoke about capturing Pennell’s larger than life personality shortly after their film’s SXSW premiere.

You say in the film you didn’t really know about Eagle’s films until he died. When did you first discover them?

René Pinnell: I’d known before [Eagle] had passed away that he was a filmmaker, but I had no idea what kind of movies he made or where. When he died, [Austin Chronicle editor and friend of Pennell] Louis Black organized a retrospective screening of his films at the downtown Alamo Drafthouse. I watched his movies and I was blown away because they were really good. It was totally bizarre to me — I think I was 18 then and had already been making movies since when I was really young. I started doing animation when I was eight or nine, claymation and hand-drawn animation, and as soon as mini DV cameras came out I started working with those. [Filmmaking] had already been a huge part of my life by the time I found out that someone in my family actually made a movie that I liked.

03252008_wholeshootinmatch.jpgWas it a huge shock to find out that you were related to such an accomplished filmmaker?

RP: It was a neat connection, and I remember wondering why I never knew the guy. I knew the basic reason was because he was kind of a drunk and a bum for the later part of his life. But I didn’t really understand why he was never a part of my life at all until I made the movie, because it was only then that I understood the full extent of how difficult my dad’s relationship was with his brother. Before I was born, he and Eagle tried to write a film together. They were trying to write a western and my dad took it really seriously and worked hard and had a lot of hopes riding on it. Eagle would have some good ideas, but he could never sit down and finish it, and never gave the direction that my dad needed. So it fizzled, and I think after that it was just always painful for my dad to do anything with his brother, [for] that and a whole host of other reasons.

Because this is a personal story and you had so many family members involved in the making of the movie, were there things about Eagle that people shied away from talking about?

RP: Claire would probably be the best one to answer that because she was our barometer in terms of making sure that we were honest.

Claire Huie: There were scenes that were difficult, that initially, when Chuck [Pinnell, René’s father and Eagle’s brother] saw them in the edit, he thought we should take out. The scene where Eagle is at his [own] wedding reception and hitting on the [sister of his newly wedded bride], that was hugely painful for every Pinnell involved. At first, [Chuck] said “You have to take it out,” and we decided to leave it in, because you really see just how delusional he is in that moment.

How receptive were people to talk about Eagle?

CH: I think people were very reticent to talk about the bad times, and I think there were a couple of people, like Lin Southerland [who starred in Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match”], who resisted for a long time just to do an interview.

RP: She never actually agreed to an interview. We showed up and were like “Can we at least film Chuck getting the [archival] stuff?” And that’s why we did the whole interview in front of her little shed/barn.

CH: She started talking about everything, and I think it was definitely 15 minutes into the interview before she realized that she was being interviewed. [laughs]

What do you hope this will ultimately say about Eagle’s legacy?

RP: I think the first thing that comes to mind is the myth that he created around himself — the larger-than-life tall tales of Eagle being ridiculous and crazy and drunk, and I think that totally overshadows the fact that he made two good films — “The Whole Shootin’ Match” and “Last Night at the Alamo,” and even his short, “Hell of a Note.” It wasn’t just caricature. There was a man behind that who had complexities and depth. He could be a terrible asshole, but he also had a different perspective.

He made some good films, they influenced some people and then the rest of his life is really just a cautionary tale. I think everybody that makes movies can see a little bit of themselves in Eagle, because it takes a lot of those traits. It takes the ability to pull a group of people together and put your film and often yourself ahead of everyone else, because it’s such a hungry baby that you have to feed. I think that selfishness goes hand in hand with filmmaking, and knowing more about [him] has shown me pitfalls I think I’ll be able to avoid more effectively now that I’ve seen his whole life play out and I know it’s not the road I want to go down.

[Additional photo: Eagle Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” Watchmaker Films, 2006]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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