— Earlier this summer, the Violet Crown Cinema in Austin, TX wrote to see if I’d be interested in screening my first feature film St. Nick (2009) in early August, shortly before my new picture opened at the same theater. I immediately said yes. I’d decided long ago to let the film’s lack of distribution serve as a badge of honor; there was some abstract value to be derived from its scarcity, and I was happy to let this screening foment its reputation. That being said, I hadn’t seen the film myself in over three years. I was cautious towards its qualities. As the date of the screening grew closer, I pulled it up on my computer one evening and pressed play.
Let’s jump forward now a few weeks, to the drive from Dallas to Austin on the day of that screening. In the car with me are Augustine, my wife, and Adam Donaghey, one of St. Nick’s producers. We have endeavored, as a challenge unto ourselves, to listen to the same song ten times in a row. This road-trip pastime, devised by a friend and I over the course of many jaunts between Los Angeles and Texas, might seem like an endurance test, especially when some of the songs we’ve anointed in the past are taken into consideration (that they include some grating quality is always a given), but the hope is always that quantity will give way to some hidden quality, and that within the literally decadent repetition of, say, Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain, endurance will give way to an appreciation that will give way—theoretically—to something approaching ecstasy. To be sure, we’ve never broken down the terms of this auditory dare in such certain terms, nor have we ever derived anything particularly transcendent out of listening to (for example) Give It Away Now by the Red Hot Chili Peppers for nearly one straight hour. But it’s all in the trying.
On this trip, we have chosen a particular pop song by a particular artist who, in the weeks ahead, will gain such notoriety that I now hesitate to cite his or her name—I don’t want this experience to be contextualized by culture. What is important is that the song is particularly good. We are aware of this going into it, and we know that we’re setting ourselves up for an ordeal that will be painless at worst. What we don’t expect is that, after ten listens, we don’t want to stop. As the miles drift by out the window, the song infects us with its ebullience. We ultimately listen to it twenty times over the course of the drive, and upon arrival in Austin we still aren’t ready to quit it. We disembark from our journey full of a rare joy.
This is the happiest memory I have from the past few months. It is linked, emotively, circumstantially, to another recent peak: the moment I skipped past a few paragraphs ago and which I’ll now return to the periphery of. I watched St. Nick that night, after pulling it up on my laptop for what I expected to be a curious, cursory glance. I found that I’d forgotten much of it. And also that I loved all of it. I was watching it for as close to the first time as I could. I saw in it all the confidence which I’d been having trouble hanging onto of late. There was a guileless intent to it all, and an enviable clarity. I’d more than a few times in recent memory brushed this film aside, unsure of its value, and now I saw that it had plenty, that it had more than enough, and that it had matured in my ignorance of it. Exactly as I’d presumably planned.
In this way my first feature’s return to the big screen became an event to which I greatly looked forward to, and there was a second anticipation nested within it, a hope creased gently with certainty: perhaps in two or three or four years the movie that has been my immediate concern and the source of no small amount of soul searching will be open to rediscovery; to a surcease of disappointment; to my liking (I won’t go so far as to say loving). This is a wonderful thought.
I am thinking about this again now, in the afterglow of a second trip to the same cinema in Austin, a few weeks after that more vaulted experience. Many people who had come to see the old also stopped by to look at the new. A lot of folks seemed to like it, but my confidence is still borrowing against the future. Upon arriving home after that three hour drive North, I crawl into bed and look online and find that the song which underscored my previous trip has in the past few hours exploded everywhere. I listen to it again—the 21st time, this time live—and know that, however perverse or ironic or postured this corollary might seem, it will forever be tied in my mind to the promise of good things to come.
David Lowery is an American filmmaker. His work, including the award-winning short film PIONEER, has screened and won awards at film festivals around the world, including Sundance, SXSW, Festival Internacional de Cortos FIB (Spain), and Ashland Independent Film Festival. Filmmaker Magazine named him one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2011. His most recent film AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, received the cinematography award at 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and was part of the Critics’ Week selection at Cannes, 2013.