When Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler took to the podium on March 6 and effectively prevented South by Southwest from happening with a new city health order, the longtime film and music festival simply became the first of what would be many COVID-19-related live-event cancellations. Given the late-breaking nature of this one—SXSW was scheduled to start the week after, on March 13—organizers suddenly had to scramble. And when it came to the film portion, SXSW officially settled on transitioning to an entirely digital experience.
Partnering with entities like Mailchimp (shorts-only) and Amazon (any film willing), any project selected for the festival was invited to become available digitally for a limited time so all that hard work could still find an audience this spring. The resulting Amazon initiative started this past week and runs through Wednesday, May 6, no Prime subscription required.
Ultimately… the selection feels a little lacking. Major studio films like Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island declined in favor of forging their own path (that one will go straight to VOD this summer with a theatrical run out of the question), and smaller but compelling movies like the arcade-documentary Insert Coin have kept the rights to their debuts for now in the hopes that a festival season will still exist later in 2020 (since a good debut there can help facilitate lucrative distribution deals and theatrical runs if all goes according to plan). As more film festivals face this reality—Tribeca is already digital, Canada’s Fantasia Festival just announced its intention to do the same—hopefully the industry warms up to the idea.
In total, the Amazon/SXSW initiative hosts only seven feature films out of the originally planned 125-titles-plus feature-film lineup. Even so, there are a few unique offerings (plus Amazon series’ Tales from the Loop, which debuted in full shortly after it was supposed to originally screen at SXSW) worth queuing up for a weekend in these quaran-times. And we’re only counting the stuff we’ve been able to watch so far: Shudder documentary series Cursed Films, about doomed horror productions, has gotten good buzz, and Selfie sounds like ideal satire for these Internet-times.
Le Choc du Futur: Jodorowsky’s tune
Le Choc du Futur, like any film focused on a fictional musician, has a big challenge right off the bat—the song this person or group will inevitably perform/write/release has to be good, or at least believably good within the film’s world. (That Thing You Do would have simply crashed without the late Fountains of Wayne songwriter Adam Schlesinger penning the catchy title track, for instance.) Here, young composer/musician Ana (played by Alma Jodorowsky, granddaughter of the would-be Dune filmmaker) writes commercial jingles and does masseuse work on the side to make ends meet, but she really wants to be a full-time recording artist writing a brand of electronica not really rampant at the time. Fortunately, her manager has gotten a local record producer to RSVP to Ana’s next house party, so the young musician just needs to get her tape together quickly so she can get it in front of industry ears. A new, cutting-edge Roland CR-78 factors prominently.
Whether or not Ana’s song succeeds, Le Choc du Futur does in this aspect—the film’s central track (called “Future Shock“) eventually sounds like “Chromatics or Electric Youth, lite,” a laid-back, atmospheric synth song you might come across on a site like Gorilla vs. Bear. Just as important for this story, it feels totally believable as what an early, DIY electronic musician might gravitate towards and the song particularly flows well from what we see of Ana’s tastes and stylings. Her initial sonic doodles in the film kinda, sorta resemble S U R V I V E (of Stranger Things soundtrack fame), then a wise old French hipster friend who evidently does home vinyl delivery later introduces her to early electronic-y acts like Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, and The Human League. Together, these impulses push Ana to more melodic, pop-oriented synth compositions. The result is something you could hear at a house party or chic retail shop in 2019 (back when those experiences existed) or in 1970s Parisian apartments of the young and trendy.
As for the film at large, my partner walked in mid-way through and perhaps summed up Le Choc du Futur for a non-zero portion of Amazon/SXSW’s potential audience: “This seems so pretentious.” She didn’t even hear director Marc Collin‘s plot description in the film intro, either (“A young woman invents a new way of doing music in Paris in the late 1970s. They’ll call it electronic music 10 years later, but she has to convince people she saw the future”). The dialogue can be a bit over the top, though some of that may be lost in the transition; Ana’s commercial jingle agent expresses his skepticism of electronic music as such: “I know what a stupid beatbox is for. You think it’s going to replace a live drummer? The sound? The energy? You believe there won’t be studios anymore? Musicians? There’s just gonna be this poor guy alone doing music in his home?” Scenes do tend to linger in silence or soft soundtracking often, and the film’s overall pacing can be slow. Musicians creating doesn’t make for really compelling action sequences, after all (montages include Ana in headphones looking at her synth while internalizing her melodic ideas). And if someone playing music for another person who is close by and staring as if they’re a CBS Sunday Morning interviewer makes you uncomfortable, Le Choc du Futur is not for you.
But for me, a self-identified music nerd, things generally worked. Le Choc du Futur‘s aesthetic may ultimately be the point more so than its story, and I’ve found myself queuing up its soundtrack on Spotify more than once in the last few days. Think of it as one long, narrative electronic music video, perhaps, and choose whether or not to hit “Play” accordingly.