It's not a typical documentary profile. There's a bit of archival footage and some reminiscing, but most of the film takes place closer to the present, during the nearly three years filmmaker Jacob Hatley shadowed Levon (for a time, living in his Woodstock barn). It covers what might be called the beginning of Levon's comeback, following his recovery from throat cancer (though it seems to be recurring in the film), when "Dirt Farmer," his first album in 25 years, was recorded and the "Midnight Ramble" concerts at his Woodstock farm were in full swing. But most of all, as Hatley said when I interviewed him yesterday, "it's a hangout movie." Levon swapping stories with Billy Bob Thornton. Levon and frequent collaborator Larry Campbell humming and strumming, trying to puzzle out how to complete a long-lost unfinished Hank Williams song. Levon and his daughter Amy casually serenading Amy's new baby with "In the Pines."
It's a collection of small moments that feel honest. You see some of the bitterness Levon felt about how The Band fell apart and how its legacy has been handled. Mostly, though, it's a portrait of a warm, gregarious man with a gift for telling stories and singing songs. It's filmed almost entirely in Woodstock, but Levon's Turkey Scratch roots always show.
Below is a condensed version of my interview with Hatley.
"Ain't in It for My Health" screens at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at The Rep.
What was your initial pitch to Levon? You were with him making a music video, right?
Yeah. It was a pretty easy pitch. It didn’t really come by in a form of a “let’s sit down and let me run something by you.” I was up there, and we had a camera and we’d just break it out between takes of the music video. We did a 20-minute short film/music video thing. The idea was to do a series of vignettes that featured Levon as a personality as an actor and intercut those with him performing a couple of the songs music video style. It’s called “Only Halfway Home.”
When we were filming the stuff between takes, it was so much more fun than filming the music video. A lot of it was Levon hanging out with a couple of sweet corn farmers who live down the road from him, sitting around talking politics. Him hanging out in a seedy motel, playing music and telling stories. We had so much fun during that part, and Levon, I think, more than anyone else had a blast. Levon is an actor. He’s a performer. It felt good to have cameras around and for him to be back in front of it. He was enjoying it as much as we were.
You lived in Woodstock for several years while making the film. When you ran out of money, you lived in Levon’s barn for a while?
That’s right, but when you say “barn,” people think we were really roughing it. But if you’ve seen his barn, it was pretty good living.
Here's one you'll want to tune in for (or set your DVR for, if you're old like me and can't stay up past 8:34 p.m.): Oxford American Editor Roger Hodge will be dueling with late-night pugilist Stephen Colbert on that guy's TV show, The Colbert Report. It's at 10:30 p.m. CST on Comedy Central.
What do you think they'll talk about? Can Hodge hang with Colbert's imposing and at times overwhelming pseudo right-wing charisma and aggressive interviewing style? Will he get a word in edgewise?
OK, we have the winners of our Ralphie May ticket drawing.
Congratulations to Clarke Huisman, Alena Jones, John Wesley Hall, Deanna J. Love and Jamie Dorsey. They each won a pair of tickets to see May perform at Robinson Center Music Hall at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 7.
Times contributor Philip M. Provost recently caught up with May for a chat about growing up in Clarksville, his early standup experiences and what it takes to make it as a professional funnyperson.
Talk a bit about your experience growing up in Clarksville.
It wasn’t the best. It was a hard life growing up. It was a similar story to a lot of people in Arkansas. My mom was a florist. I’m the youngest of four. My father and mother hated each other, and they took it out on us. She’d sue him for not paying child support, then he didn’t pay, and that ended up costing us a lot. Thank goodness for my grandmother, she was a hell of a woman. She was really beneficial, she kept us in a stature way above our means and made sure we were taken care of as far as clean clothes and shoes.
How did you get into comedy?
I used to belong to the Methodist Church in Clarksville, and we had this youth group outing, we had this rally, and they had a talent show. When I was 13, that’s when I did standup comedy. I killed it. I made out with a 14-year-old girl from Alabama. I’ll never forget it. I was hooked on comedy. I got to enter a contest to open for Sam Kinison when I was 17. This was 1989, and he was the pinnacle of standup at the time. He pulled a prank on me: He told me to say the wrong thing, to scream and yell at the audience, to tell them they’re all stupid. It got me booed, and then he came on stage and said, “Can you believe that kid, talking to people like that? He’ll be crying backstage, thinking his comedy career is over, he’ll never be in comedy again.” But Sam loved me, he said it went perfectly.
More after the jump.
Little Rock trio The Tricks just released its debut full-length. Members Gabe Smoller, Alexander Jones and Jason Griswold recently sat down for a chat with Times intern Abigail Nixon about recording their album, their favorite venues and the logistics of long-distance collaboration.
Can you give us a brief history of the band? How did you all meet and how long has the group been together?
Gabe Smoller: Alexander lives across the street from me, we’ve been best friends since we were like 14. We started playing music together just about as soon as we met. We kept in touch [and] decided to take it seriously after we both graduated. Our first drummer left right around the beginning of the summer, actually. Jason moved in here in November and just did us a huge favor and jumped in as a drummer. Jason’s a fantastic drummer, which works out… he’s just kind of like a local legend.
So this new album is your first one. Can you tell us a little bit about the recording process? Did y’all have anyone local that came in or was it all self produced?
GS: It was all three of us. We kind of arranged everything and played all the instruments. We did it over at Jason Tedford’s studios, Wolfman Studios. It was the most fun we’ve ever had.
More after the jump.
On Saturday, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer George Dohrmann will discuss the culture of youth sports as part of the Arkansas Literary Festival. In 2000, the Sports Illustrated investigative reporter started documenting the lives of talented grade-school basketball players in southern California.
For eight years, he followed these players and their fiery coach as they gained national acclaim by becoming the first middle school team to score a shoe deal while producing a player ranked No. 1 nationally among middle schoolers — Demetrius Walker. Dohrmann's work was published in his first book "Play Their Hearts Out," which he will discuss at 2:30 p.m. Saturday during a free appearance on the first floor of the Main Library. Dohrman lives in San Francisco, and finds release from the sports world by building furniture and restoring trolley fareboxes.
Welcome to Arkansas. What brings you to this festival?
Jay Jennings, one of the guys who organizes the festival, is a former Sports Illustrated writer. He reached out to me. I’m happy the logistics worked out and I was able to make it.
Have you been to the state before?
In 2001, I flew into Northwest Arkansas to help report on a guy who burned swastikas and obscenities with acid into the greens at Southern Hills Country Club [in Tulsa], where they had the U.S. Open. It turned out to be this guy who was living up in Eureka Springs. When we found him, he was just playing a guitar.
Wild. Off the top of your head, have you written about any Arkansans?
I was in Las Vegas at Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournament, and I met an Arkansan sitting in the stands. He was a really nice guy, and we started talking. He pointed out his son who was playing and was pretty good. He gave me his card. It turns out he was a CEO, and I think his last name was Tyson. I was like ‘Whoa.’... it sort of struck me as a potential storyline somewhere but it never really worked out.
The Arkansas Times recently spoke with legendary comedian and actor Bill Cosby in advance of his April 1 performance at Robinson Center Music Hall.
Arkansas Times: How would you describe the style of your humor?
Bill Cosby: A friend sitting with friends. Storytelling. Identification, and being very, very specific about making the listener see and understand exactly what I’m talking about.
How has your style changed over the years?
In my young years, in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I would go out and plant my feet to destroy. I’d just not let them breathe. Now, it’s the appreciation, it’s like — the difference between eating great barbecue with the fingers and the sauce and mixing the coleslaw with the French fries and the beans, and the meat at the same time for flavors. Now it’s gourmet time, and there’s an appreciation of getting the tastes for everything, and maybe taking longer to eat, but tasting more. So there are smiles and then there’s conversation. There’s reality, there’s laughter and there’s a lot of face hurting. Because the people are laughing, and laughing hard.
You were a young man when the Little Rock Nine were sent to Central High School. What do you remember about that event? How did it make you feel?
I do think that, when one looks at those photographs, of those angry people … when I look at them, and their faces, where they’re yelling at those children, I see an anger that, although controlled, if not controlled, could really and truly do bodily and physical harm. Because they’ve been taught something, and they’re sick. [Now,] one can see that publicly, in voting, that the numbers have changed. But there’s still this sickness, so that we have the youngsters who have come along … in politics that are still trying to take away the voting rights of black people while looking like they are not really aiming at them.
In advance of last night's HBO premiere of "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," The AV Club published an interview with Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, the duo behind the "Paradise Lost" documentaries and, arguably, two of the key figures responsible for the eventual release of the West Memphis Three.
Among many other topics, the two discuss how Arkansans' perceptions of the WM3 and of the filmmakers themselves changed over the years, from distrust or hostility to an appreciation of their work.
"Local Arkansans weren’t sure of what to think of us during the making of the first film," Berlinger said. "Some people were suspicious, some not. When we went back to make the second film, we were literally spit upon. People had no use for us in Arkansas. They thought that we had made them look bad purposely. That we had an agenda."
Sinofsky noted that a lot of the local media changed their tune over the years as well, including many of the same people who wanted nothing to do with the filmmakers initially.
Berlinger said "there was a big swing in local opinion. The local media went from convicting those guys during the first trial to championing the cause of innocence in the mid-2000s. By the time we came back for that August 19 hearing, that was the thing that impressed me the most, because I was expecting people to be very negative towards us. I can’t tell you how many regular Arkansans embraced us."
The whole interview is well worth your time, and there are some interesting — reasonable, even — discussions in the comments section.
Well folks, it looks like we’re living in the future, a time when the Cineplex of Babel is at your fingertips and you never even have to leave the house to see just about any movie ever made. So why would you?
Here’s a reason: because auteur Crispin Hellion Glover wants us to confront the profoundly uncomfortable, those taboo subjects that fester, neglected and unexamined, at the core of our culture. To that end he is coming to Little Rock and Hot Springs to screen his latest film, which most likely will never be available on Netflix or On Demand or BitTorrent. In addition to showing the film, Glover will also present dramatic narration accompanying a slide show with excerpts from his eight books, will answer audience questions and will sign copies of his books.
Part two of a trilogy, “It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine.” stars and was written by Steven C. Stewart, who had severe cerebral palsy. His character has a serious thing for women with long hair and seduces and murders several of same, including a mother and then her teenage daughter. Quoth Glover: “Stewart wanted to show that handicapped people are human, sexual and can be horrible.”
Just check out the trailer on his website to catch a tiny glimpse of what that means. This event, booked by Dan Anderson and presented by the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, is awesome news for art-house buffs and fans of the dark and the weird, but should probably be avoided by children, prudes, squares and anybody who gets offended by highly provocative material. The events take place July 2 at Market Street Cinema in Little Rock and July 3 at the Malco Theater in Hot Springs. The shows start at 7 p.m. and tickets are $20 at the door, no presale, cash only.
The Q&A is on the jump.
This Saturday and Sunday, Joe Johnson serves as honorary chairman of Hoop Jams, a three-on-three basketball tournament sponsored by Arkansas Baptist College at the Clinton Presidential Center. In advance of the tournament, the former Razorback and perennial NBA All-Star sat down with the Times to talk about the possibility of a lockout, what Mike Anderson’s return means for the Hogs and his future acting plans.
Why’d you decide to get involved in Hoop Jams?
It’s a chance to give back a little and show my appreciation for what the state and the city of Little Rock have done for me.
That you would appear at Hoop Jams was announced while the Hawks were still in the playoffs. Did you not anticipate making it to the finals, or was your appearance always contingent on how things went in the playoffs?
I think there would’ve been an exception made (laughs).
Hoop Jams seems to be an effort to resurrect the spirit of Hoop Fest. Did you play in it when you were younger?
I grew up playing Hoop Fest. I went to every one, and I played in it three times, and we won it all three years.
I know you’re a humble dude, but could you win this tournament playing only with your left hand with two not-good players for teammates?
Of course. I would find a way. I’d definitely pull it out some way.
You think there’ll be a lockout?
I hope not. The player’s union met [last week] in Miami and from my understanding there’s been progress. I think we will lockout, but by the time pre-season hits, we will be back playing.
Would you consider playing in China or Russia or elsewhere abroad if you’re locked out?
I’ve thought about that. That’s something I would love to do. I think it would be a challenge and something different. I’ve talked to my agent about it. But it’s the liability — if you go over there and get hurt, your contract is void.
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