Road to Austin: SXSW Review
The late Stephen Bruton leads a concert film made to support an artist-wellness charity.
AUSTIN – Out-of-town music lovers are badly served by SXSW by their inclusion of Gary Fortin's The Road to Austin, which is described in the fest schedule as a comprehensive history of the city's legendary and remarkably eclectic music scene. In reality, the film is a slight concert movie interesting only to fans of Stephen Bruton, the much-loved guitarist -- best known outside Texas for his work with T-Bone Burnett on the 2009 Jeff Bridges vehicle Crazy Heart -- who died of cancer in 2009. Destined to be released on disc as a fundraiser for a musicians' wellness fund (an ad for the DVD was tacked on to the end of the film), it is unlikely to play in theatrical venues beyond Austin.
The doc's history component is limited to 15 minutes or so at the start, a superficial chronology focusing mostly on the importance of venues like the Armadillo World Headquarters, where (cue the Music Capital of the World Cliche Machine) hippies and rednecks discovered they could have fun together so long as the music was good. Much of this history is just a list of names, citing important acts who played for this famously mixed crowd.
The movie then shifts to straight performance document, without even interviews breaking up footage that varies from pretty good -- Kris Kristofferson singing "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" -- to eyebrow-raising: Since when is "Layla" a song associated with Texas? Some stars visible in the background (Joe Ely, for instance) don't make the final cut, for reasons one can only guess. Viewers puzzled by a lineup that hardly represents the city's best need to understand that, title notwithstanding, the event was more a celebration of Bruton's musical circle than anything. He's onstage throughout, playing guitar and receiving hugs from guests like Bonnie Raitt.
Photography and editing is undistinguished. The film is bookended by comically awkward intro/outros by Kristofferson and hairdressing/spirits entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, whose relevance to the music scene is never explained. Their dialogue feels as stiff as scripted award-show banter between two celebrity presenters who've clearly never met, and does little to enhance this well-intentioned but clumsy presentation.
Production Company: Formax
Director: Gary Fortin
Screenwriters: Gary Fortin, Marshall Wriggin
Producers: Gary Fortin, Ken Kushnick, Alison White
Executive producers: Rob Donnelly, Gary Fortin
Director of photography: Vance Holmes
Editor: Molly McDermott
No rating, 72 minutes