SXSW Film 2016: ‘Sidemen: Long Road To Glory’

'Sidemen' features the incredible photography of over 15 shooters that captured these legendary bluesmen over the course of their long careers. These three images of Pinetop, Willie and Hubert capture the film's essence. | Credit: Photos by: Jerome Brunet and Sandro Miller
‘Sidemen’ features the incredible photography of over 15 shooters that captured these legendary bluesmen over the course of their long careers. These three images of Pinetop, Willie and Hubert capture the film’s essence. | Credit: Photos by: Jerome Brunet and Sandro Miller

Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith were some of the greatest musicians to ever play the blues. Director Scott Rosenbaum had an idea to bring them together for a documentary that would culminate with a big reunion show inspired by “The Last Waltz.”

When all three men died in 2011, Rosenbaum had to completely refocus his plan. The end result made its world première last night on the first evening of SXSW.

These musical geniuses played with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, pioneers of electric Chicago blues. Over the years, their riffs and beats would power some of the most iconic songs ever to be recorded.

Their work struggled to be recognized in the mainstream until the early 1960s when British teens, removed from the racial lines that divided the music in America, started to fall in love with American blues music. It ended up influencing an entire generation of artists from England like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton who helped to turn American teens on to these musicians who were right in their backyard.

Perkins, Sumlin and Smith all rose out of the Jim Crow South and ended up in Chicago, music already deep in their blood. Perkins ended up on piano and Smith behind the drums for Muddy Waters while Simon played guitar for Howlin’ Wolf. They were always in the background, but their impact on the music was undeniable. They helped to establish the cornerstone of rock and roll and this film lovingly tells their stories.

Thankfully, the filmmakers were able to get over two years worth of interviews under their belt before these titans of the blues passed away, meaning that we get to hear many stories in their own words. Comedian and podcaster Mark Maron narrates the story, providing a little extra context to the important history and legacy of these players. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman and Johnny Winter are among the artists who shared stages with these men over the years who are also interviewed and recount some of their favorite memories.

At the post-film Q&A, a local audience member asked why Clifford Antone’s story of supporting the blues in Austin didn’t make it into the film. It was argued that he was the one who convinced Pinetop Perkins to spend his final years living in town and to continue playing. Rosenbaum admitted that there were hundreds of hours of footage that had to be narrowed down and that, in shaping the final cut of the film, a lot was left out.

“Sidemen” is an important story of friendship, perseverance, and passion. In the end, it seems fitting to have focused on who these men were and tell the stories of how they all went from humble, if not difficult, beginnings to become the greatest blues musicians who ever lived even if their names weren’t on the marquee. These are stories of skill but, also to a degree, of chance. Had they not been in the right place at the right time, who knows how different their legacies might be.

Other screenings: 10:45a.m. Wednesday, Alamo South Lamar; 1:45 p.m. March 19, Topfer Theater.

Famed photographer Rose Hartman is introduced to Austin

Rose Hartman, the fashion and celebrity photographer who captured some of the most iconic moments of the famed New York club Studio 54 in the late 1970s, dropped by the American-Statesman offices this morning to talk about the new documentary, “The Incomparable Rose Hartman.”

Rose Hartman
Rose Hartman

 

Jerry Hall, in a Rose Hartman photograph.
Jerry Hall, in a Rose Hartman photograph.
Bianca Jagger atop a birthday party horse at Studio 54. Taken by Rose Hartman.
Bianca Jagger atop a birthday party horse at Studio 54. Taken by Rose Hartman.

Directed by Otis Mass, the film details how the New Yorker became friends with Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell and gained access to the VIP area at the club, before the dividing curtain was lifted at 11 p.m. and the dancing and partying began.

Probably her most iconic photograph is of Bianca Jagger atop a white horse during her birthday party at the club. But she was also one of the early chroniclers of model Jerry Hall, the Texas native who recently married Fox News mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Before showing up at the Statesman offices, Hartman had an interview on “Good Morning Austin,” a program on Austin’s Fox affiliate. She was asked about Hall’s recent marriage to Murdoch, and she said, in her typically blunt way, that she regarded it as “beauty and the beast” to the somewhat surprised co-anchors.

Hartman was also mystified that the next guest on the show was a cat. Yes, it was Grumpy Cat. And Hartman couldn’t figure out why a cat would be on an interview show. Welcome to Austin, Rose.

At any rate, the documentary is a hoot, and so is Hartman.

It premieres at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at the Alamo South, followed by screenings at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Alamo Slaughter, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Alamo South and at 3 p.m. March 19 at the Alamo South.

She’ll also be signing books of her photography at the Austin Convention Center at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The two books are “Incomparable Women of Style” and “Incomparable Couples of Style.”