Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Who else could make a horny Haitian voodoo goddess, an aid worker turned African diamond smuggler and a bird watcher trapped in the Colombian rainforest seem not only familiar, but infinitely relatable? Only local writer Ben Fountain. The Southwest Review fiction editor, who is putting the finishing touches on a new novel based in Dallas, is the perfect writer for our time. In his collection of short stories, the exquisitely rendered Brief Encounters With Che Guevera, Fountain deftly navigated the world we now live in—one that has become increasingly dense and intertwined. Thankfully, Fountain is just getting started. His first novel, The Texas Itch, will be published early next year.
Admittedly, we were a touch skeptical about the Deep Ellum Film Festival's transition from The Little Indie Fest That Could into The Big-Money Target All-Star Throwdown Jamboree scattered hither and yon. But, just two years in, the thing's a mighty beast—and mighty impressive, as the likes of Lauren Bacall, Charlize Theron, David Lynch and some dude named De Niro have piled into Dallas for a week's worth of screenings and highfalutin wingdings the likes of which most Dallasites never get to see unless their Dallas lives in Highland Park. But Michael Cain's fest makes much of Dallas look shiny and special: The West Village is hoppin', thanks to Magnolia screenings; Mockingbird Station's cram-packed, what with those Angelika screens running hot; NorthPark's packed, in no small part thanks to the red carpet upon which the most famous feet trod day and night; and all of Victory Park's a go-go, courtesy the host hotel (the W, natch). Really, for one week every spring, even we think Dallas is the most awesome city in the history of parking lots.
Denton artist and musician Nevada Hill made quite the mark on North Texas this year, contributing stellar cover art for releases by Record Hop, Dust Congress and Stumptone, the latter a vinyl-only release featuring two cardboard panels screen-printed with an imposing image of reverberating speakers. And while Hill's work for Record Hop is admittedly on a much smaller scale (thanks, CD format), it's hard to deny the appeal of the cover art, a quirky drawing of what appears to be a mangy lion crapping the band's name. You can spot the Photoshop a mile away on most local record covers these days. With Hill's DIY treasures, however, all you spot is blood, sweat and artistry.
Considering the fact that we don't really like The Smiths (blame our college roommates), we weren't really sure about "Phil Collins: the world won't listen," the three-screen video installation presented earlier this year by the Dallas Museum of Art. But damn, if it wasn't the most entertaining thing we've ever seen in a museum, with the 1987 Smiths compilation, The World Won't Listen, repeating on a loop as fans from Colombia, Turkey and Indonesia sang along karaoke-style on each of the screens. We couldn't begin to pick a favorite image, though the chick in the wrestling mask and the unfortunate looking, teary-eyed Asian man certainly burned themselves into our psyche. We liked it all so much, in fact, that we went right out and got a pompadour.
For 23 years, Barry Whistler has brought seriously talented Texas artists to his Dallas gallery walls. And without fail, his exhibitions get the conversations going. From impressions and interpretations to artistic method, Whistler's gallery openings are abuzz with "I wonder..." and "That's so...wow." And that's what makes a gallery successful—when people actually talk about the art. The list of BWG's artists is impressive: Linnea Glatt, John Pomara, Allison V. Smith, Robert Wilhite (who presented audiences this year with one heavily discussed exhibition, The Bomb, featuring a skeletal, scaled-to-size sculpture of the Fat Man Bomb) and others. Plus, the gallery provides art lovers with a lively blog (barrywhistlergallery.blogspot.com) to catch the behind-the-scenes new and upcoming events in the gallery, which readers then discuss via the comments section. See what we mean about creating art dialogue?
When a musical needs a voice that can hit the back row, go through the back wall, into the parking lot and out to the stratosphere, the director calls for Megan Kelly Bates. The bouncy redhead sings, tap-dances and gets laughs, winning hearts and testing eardrums most recently as a yappy pup with a lot of high notes in Theatre Three's A Dog's Life. You've seen Bates, 28, in The Great American Trailer Park Musical and Urinetown at WaterTower, plus shows at Casa Manana, Contemporary Theatre and other stages all over North Texas. And where'd she come by those pipes? "When I was 5 and about to audition for my first show, The King and I, my mom put me in the living room, and we practiced my song. Then she had me sing in the hallway while she stayed in the living room and yelled, 'I can't hear you!' From there a belter was born!"
According to his blog, Pete's Place is "a running commentary on whatever strikes me at the moment," and the result is sharp and thoughtful commentary on issues ranging from college football to national politics. Pete Oppel, former music writer and entertainment editor for The Dallas Morning News, offers up a regular dose of movie and DVD reviews, and he also likes to talk about the Cowboys, Mavericks and Rangers. Oppel, who also served as public information officer for the city of Dallas, pays close attention to local politics and isn't afraid to call out public officials. Most of his posts don't get comments, leading us to believe that Pete's Place is drifting out in the blogosphere, buried among the zillions of other blogs out there. But that much effort can't go unnoticed for too much longer, as Pete's Place continues to slowly find its way into the personal blogrolls of people all over Dallas.
Craving to kick up a heel, cut a rusty or clog with a cutie? The Texas Twisters are a group of gay men and women whose passion is country and western dancing. Nope, you don't have to be gay to take part. Although most of the group is gay folk, membership is open to anyone with an open mind and a love of dance. Founded in 2000, the club's goals promote country and western music and dance, raise money for community charities and establish and maintain a dance team for performances and competitions. Wednesday night dance classes and monthly Club Night Out on Saturdays keep spirits soaring and toes tapping. The Texas Twisters' performance teams have won local, state, national and international awards, and plans are afoot to perform in Texas gay pride parades and to compete in the Texas Gay Rodeo Association Dance Contest. In addition to having fun and making friends, joining the club has built-in fringe benefits. Like finding a partner with rhythm.
The party celebrating The Southern Unknown was one for the books. Too many bands are content to stack a show with their friends' bands and just call it a "CD Release Party." Dove Hunter and the Double Wide actually held up the "party" end of the bargain, hauling out a snowcone machine and bringing in an all-female mariachi band from Fort Worth to open the festivities. Honestly, we had so much fun before Dove Hunter played that the band's actual set is something of a blur—but we certainly remember the party. Here's hoping the band gets to work fast on album No. 2 just so we can go to the bash.
The Barking Dog out to keep Lower Greenville free of "scumbars" and the sumbitches who populate them is a filmmaker now—or, c'mon, don't you read our blog Unfair Park? Because, seriously, every Monday morning we know Avi will provide us with a must-see video in which a drunk or 10 are getting busted by Dallas' Finest. And Avi's no sideline cinematographer: He's up in their shit, taking their taunts, asking for more, getting plenty of action, yeah, that's it, hotter, let the camera see you seethe, bleed. We don't know that it makes one bit of diff—he's become quite the director, not so much the deterrent—but that's half the fun, watching Avi out on the mean streets in search of the trouble that usually comes right to him and, sooner or later, right to us via the Vimeo site to which he's now posting his widescreen wonders for which the Academy thanks him very, very much.
When the City Council debated a living wage for garbage truck crews, Angela Hunt went out and rode a truck for a day. Management in Sanitation Services wanted to put her on one of the new air-conditioned vehicles, but a worker whispered to her that the old un-air-conditioned trucks are the real story. So that's where she spent a very long, very hot day seeing the issues for herself. Of course, we wouldn't name her the city's best council person if she did things like that and then came to totally screwball conclusions. Nor would we choose her if all of her efforts were narcissistic and self-promotional. The overall package here is of high energy, deep focus, rock-hard integrity, a generally intelligent take on issues and an open heart. But more than any of these, the quality that always impresses is her vision for the city. She is a rare gem in a box of bolts—the very best we've got.
Faced with a need to refurbish many aging shade structures and build more new ones, the Park Department has been using shade structures as a way of bringing public architecture into neighborhoods all over the city. Assistant Director Willis Winters, an architect, invited leading architects in Texas and from around the world to submit designs. Scott Marek of Frank Welch & Associates designed a pavilion for the Lake Highlands North Rec Center near Skillman, with a floor that slopes up gradually to form a stage at one end for neighborhood gatherings. It is one of more than 40 unique pavilions that will be built in city parks. The pavilion program includes full restoration of nine 1930s WPA pavilions. When you think about the relationship we have with the sun here in North Texas, there couldn't have been a more thoughtful way to infuse meaningful civic architecture into the day-to-day landscape.