Best Proof that Talent Scouts Have Been Ignoring the D-FW Area for Too Long

American Idol

Grand Prairie's Nikki McKibbin was one of the final three contestants, and Burleson's Kelly Clarkson won the whole shooting match. Maybe A&R reps will start paying a little more attention. Then again, what good did winning a televised battle of the bands do for Flickerstick (since bought out of its contract with Epic Records) or D-FW as a whole? Discuss.

Fourteen months ago, Dallas was home to but a single art-house movie theater: the Inwood, as rundown as an Industrial Boulevard "masseuse." Then the Angelika pulled into Mockingbird Station, and where once there were three screens, suddenly there were almost a dozen. Then, earlier this year, the Magnolia opened in the West Village, adding five more screens to the mix, and the stagnant had suddenly become vibrant--exciting, even, as the three theaters began vying for titles in what has turned into an all-out bidding war. The Magnolia's been forced to suffer the most: Film distributors would prefer giving their movies to the Inwood, owned by the once-and-could-be-mighty-again Landmark chain, and the Angelika, which has a handful of theaters, simply because they have more screens nationwide; to dis them would be bad for business. Yet the Magnolia's proved this town's big enough for all comers by taking the Angelika's--and, for that matter, everyone else's--quality cast-offs (including, oh, About a Boy and Tadpole) and wringing more money out of them than anyone expected; indeed, the Magnolia actually ups grosses, making it not only this town's best first-run theater but also its best second-run venue. And the audience wins all around, because not only do we get titles that were long forced to skip Dallas, but they also last longer; we don't miss the good stuff anymore.

Whew. Talk about a way to make enemies. They've all got their niches, as well as their weaknesses--oops, we mean quirks. Here, then, a few peeves and observations. Some of the "top" galleries in this town (no names here) are way too tuned in to the biennials for our tastes. Others (no names) try way too hard to be hip. And of the few good galleries in this town, only a handful--we're talking three, maybe four--fundamentally get what art is about. Too many get caught up in marketing and PR and society columns and party pix and Who Attended What Opening and all that folderol that, in the end, undermine art's only legitimate purpose: the promotion of ideas and honest debate. We know we're sounding a bit puritan here. And we've got nothing against a good party. But we should never forget that making, selling and writing about art are silly and frivolous occupations that mask very serious purposes. In the words of one theoretician, they are "wasteful, privileged endeavor[s] through which very serious ideas are sorted out." Oh, sure, artists have gotta eat, and gallery owners have to pay rent, and it helps to move a canvas here and there. But way too many galleries in this town are more concerned about selling than about serving as good, old-fashioned marketplaces of ideas. And so, with reservations, we're going to have to pick Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art. Yeah, we know. They don't do emerging artists; they don't take big chances. And in a recent, rather unpleasant instance, they seemed to be unable to understand the difference between art criticism and promotion. But the folks at the top, particularly Ted Pillsbury, get the marketplace-of-ideas thing. And it's the one place in town where you can always see something worthwhile. Honorable mentions go to Mulcahy Modern and Photographs Do Not Bend, two places run by folks who are in it for all the right reasons. If they had the space and resources of Pillsbury and Peters, they'd be vying for the top spot.

Is there anything this woman can't do? When she's not producing, directing or designing some wild and woolly experimental thing for Kitchen Dog Theater, her home company down at McKinney Avenue Contemporary, this Texas native and SMU theater grad can take center stage and act up a storm. As "Sister Woman" in WaterTower Theatre's spring production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, she waddled around looking 14 months' pregnant (thanks to heavy padding) and drenched her pit-viper dialogue with Southern Comfort, outright heisting the show from Maggie the Cat. In the summer's Henry IV at Shakespeare in the Park, Parker bounded onstage in punk gear as Poins, a role traditionally cast as a man. Parker possesses that elusive element of stardom, the "It Factor." Her eyes sparkle, her smile beckons. Her technique is awesome, too. Great voice, unbridled energy. She may never play the ingenue, but who cares? She's a talent of consequence, best compared to fellow SMU alum Kathy Bates. Parker's also just a real nice down-home gal. Witness her funny preshow speeches to the audiences at Kitchen Dog, where she greets the crowd with a hearty "Howdeeeee!" and then warns theatergoers to switch off their cell phones and pagers...and deactivate any house-arrest prison ankle bracelets.

You might as well give up on radio, because we can assure you, radio has given up on you. At least the people who run it have. It's all about making the numbers instead of making the listeners happy. Not so at The Bone, where they give the people what they want. Which, as it turns out, is pretty much the same thing Q102 and The Zoo gave them 15, 20 years ago. Sure, there are some "new" tunes (Nirvana, Soundgarden, U2, Pearl Jam and such), but those are just side dishes. The meat on The Bone comes courtesy of Jimi and Journey, Led Zep and ZZ Top, Van Halen (both Dave and Sammy incarnations)--just about anything you'd find on a bumper sticker on the back of a sweet-ass Camaro. And the strategy has paid off, both for the station and the long-neglected Dallas rock-radio fan.

Every year, we make the three-hour trip to the, ahem, Live Music Capital of the World for SXSW, and what we find is a city that pales in comparison to our own (entertainment-wise, at any rate), a place that's been coasting on its rep since before Willie Nelson got in trouble with the IRS. We know moving the yearly music fest north means someone will lose money for a few years. And you know what? We don't care. It's not our money. We just wanna sleep in our own beds after drinking from noon to 2 a.m. Is that too much to ask?

Without a doubt, the Kimbell Art Museum's show tracking Piet Mondrian's long, slow evolution into a 20th-century icon. A gloriously middlebrow effort, the show--organized by the Musée d'Orsay and on display through December 8--sets out to "analyze...the disparate influences upon [Mondrian]--aesthetic, historical, intellectual and spiritual." In other words, museumgoers are treated to that guiltiest of pleasures, a narrative of historical progression, a tale of artistic development in all its outré, Hegelian glory. By consigning formalist analysis to the trash heap of jargon whence it belongs, the organizers manage to telescope much of the story of modernism into the tale of Mondrian. Best of all, they also produced a readable, 100 percent jargon-free catalog.

Used to be there was one and only one: the venerable USA Film Festival, co-founded in 1970 by filmmaker L.M. Kit Carson. Now you can't shake a reel of film without hitting someone putting together a lineup of films making the fest-circuit rounds--that is, movies without distribution, and only a few worthy of it (for instance, the brilliant Tribute, a Soderbergh-exec-produced doc that played the USA Film Fest and the Dallas Video Fest this year but can't find a taker because of costly music licensing issues). Forthcoming in the days ahead are the Latino-centric Vistas Film Festival in October and the Deep Ellum Film Festival the next month; and in the mix are fests geared toward fans of gay and lesbian offerings and Asian imports.

To get Clintonian for a moment, what, exactly, is a "visual" artist? One can argue that this must mean movies or video or even performance, since the other folks--your painters and your sculptors and your bits-of-confetti-on-the-museum-floor types--work with physical materials and thus should be labeled plastic artists. But movies and video aren't "art" forms at all, not 95 percent of the time, anyway. But where does that leave photography, which is a "visual" art? And what about actors, and dancers, and their art-world cousins, the "happenings" folks? You can argue that the poor lost souls who never got over Fluxus are the only true "visual" artists, again to the extent that they are artists at all. Don't even get us started on the possible meanings of "best." So here's what we're going to do. We're going to define "best" to mean the critic's favorite, and "visual" to mean "plastic" (also the critic's favorite), and we're going to read "contemporary Texas" into the specs. We're not going to limit the candidates to folks who have had a show in the last year. And now that we've defined things just so, the choice is David Bates, the Dallas painter and sculptor who is far and away the best living Texas artist. Honorable mention goes to an up-and-comer, Longview's delightfully off-plumb Celia Eberle.

Did anyone really think a decade ago that K104 would survive when "flyjock" Tom Joyner left? The station has not only survived but thrived, and the Morning Team, led by Skip Murphy, is the reason. He is the perfect complement to his team--Sam Putney, Chris Arnold, the Wig and the wonderful Nannette Lee. Each morning is at once an intimate hour before work and a freewheeling jazz-comedy session on the day's news and events. And the music is, ah, off the hizzle, fo' shizzle. Or something. But you already know this: The station is consistently No. 1 or 2 in the Arbitron ratings. Wow. We do something right, after all.

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