Once upon a time in 1980, a film and music journalist (and future South by Southwest founder) named Louis Black introduced director Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat, The Silence of the Lambs, Neil Young: Heart of Gold) to Austin’s burgeoning arts community. Demme was so taken with what he saw that he assembled six short films from the scene, all shot in either 8 or 16mm, and screened the collection at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York the following year.
Almost 35 years later, Black and Mark Rance have restored all six original films. Those shorts screened together again for the first time since the original New York installation at this year’s South by Southwest, and now the package is making its way to festivals and theaters across North America.
Time has been moderately kind to Made in Texas. Half of the films are really only valuable as historical artifacts from the formative years of the Austin art world. The silent, Buster Keaton-esque Leonardo Jr. offers a bit of charm and a passing laugh, but little else. Horror short Mask of Sarnath shows some cinematographic promise with its shadowy and unsettling aesthetic, but devolves into an awkward battle between brutality and camp. Invasion of the Aluminum People is undeniably a trip, a sort of Dada-esque take on Ed Wood that is ostensibly about the dangers of industrialism and consumerism, but it was obviously much more fun to make than it is to watch.
The other half of the collection definitely has its moments, though. Death of a Rock Star, inspired by the untimely demise of Jim Morrison, is a haunting thrill ride all the way down to rock bottom. Speed of Light is a striking fever dream involving space age paranoia, the Kennedy assassination, and a missing child. And Fair Sisters’ female vigilantes make for a great post-punk romp.
There’s little to tie the films together beyond the fact that they were all, as it says on the tin, made in Texas and once screened together at an art gallery. Made in Texas makes for a disjointed and not entirely satisfying filmgoing experience, but even if it doesn’t succeed as a unified collection, it’s a useful cinematic time capsule.