One of the last great bastions of indie-dom, next to Athens, GA and Seattle, WA, is Austin, TX. Let's face it, where else are you going to go if you want to express yourself in the "Lone Star" state? Dallas is just too damn big and Houston is, well, Houston. Austin has given us both the prodigious film talents of Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, as well as self-proclaimed hero to fanboys and internet critics everywhere, one Harry Knowles. So it's not surprising that this raucous little gem should come from this creative mecca. By now Austin's SXSW (South by South-West) Festival has become a household name, where critics and fans alike converge to witness local, national and international bands, as well as a selection of films and several other performances over the course of a week. Rock Opera sprung forth from the heart of Austin's local music and arts scene, and chronicles the ups and downs of it's players.
Toe plays in the local band PigPoke (with the film's writer/director, Bob Ray, no less) and dreams of the day when they can head out on an honest to God tour. Of his band's members, he is definitely the most driven, taking his love for weed and turning it into a business opportunity that could raise enough cash to hit the road. His buddy and dealer, Tad is under house arrest for molesting an industrial dryer (don't ask, just watch as Ray show's us every last detail of his crime). Toe first convinces him to give him grass at wholesale prices so that he can sell it and split the profits, but soon he meets Tad's supplier and decides to set up shop on his own and pocket enough of the other green to bankroll PigPoke's first trip out of Austin.
Toe soon finds out that dealing isn't all its cracked up to be as he struggles to navigate the treacherous waters between his psychotic supplier, a rival band, a pair of dissatisfied good ol' boys, some wannabe gangstaz and his own slacker bandmates. His bright idea soon spirals out of control, as he moves further and further away from the local music scene and more and more into the local drug scene. As his supplier has him carrying out more elaborate jobs, Toe decides he's had enough when confronted by the Mexican dealers, Paco and Lupe. After that everything gets F.U.B.A.R., someone winds up dead, another is shot and the move wraps up pretty quickly, if not altogether logically, after that.
While I had a few issues with the ending, like just what the hell happened exactly, I still found a lot to like in Rock Opera. Apparently, I'm not alone as even Austin poster-boy Richard Linklater has voiced his love for this flick, and why wouldn't he? Rock Opera is one of the few films I've seen that captures the same kind of manic energy and effortless charm that Linklater's own Slacker had. Bob Ray may never meet with the same kind of mainstream acceptance and success that Linklater has, but as long as he keep making films like Rock Opera, I'll be happy.
Picture: Rock Opera, is presented in a 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio. The film appears to be shot on 16mm, and benefits greatly from the look. While the film could have just as easily been shot on DV, the handmade look and graininess of the film totally capture the essence of the Austin indie scene.
Audio: There is a 2.0 channel Dolby Digital Stereo Track, which sounds good, especially when one of the numerous bands are playing. As can be expected, there are a lot of bands and music featured throughout this flick. There are also three additional audio tracks (which I usually list under the Extras, but I thought I would just mention now) including a Commentary track, a Drinking Game track and an Instrumental Stoner Jam track by one of Austin's heaviest bands, Tia Carrera.
Extras: Go Kart films have really outdone themselves with the impressive selection of Extra Features they've included on this DVD. In addition to the three extra Audio Tracks, there are no less than 14 Short Films by Bob Ray, five Music Videos (including Nashville Pussy's "Fried Chicken and Coffee"), a "Making Of…" featurette, the Original trailer and a trailer for another Bob Ray project, "Hell On Wheels," about Texas Women's Roller Derby, which I hope Go-Kart Films acquires, as I cannot wait to see it.
Conclusion: As I said in my first paragraph, this is the film that I knew Go-Kart Films would eventually find and deliver. Rock Opera is the real deal, a cheap, fun, in your face flick with great tunes and a style all its own. The best part of this DVD though is making your way through the mountain of Extra Features that have been included, which all contribute to paint a real picture of the Austin indie scene. While it does try a little too hard to be some kind of a crime thriller towards the end, Rock Opera is what it is, a great big drug-fueled fun ride through the pot smoked, beer spilled underbelly of Austin's subculture. Definitely Recommended.