I decided to see Crazy Again at SXSW because I was intrigued by the idea of Zalman King making a documentary about Dale Watson. King has directed movies such as the 1990 "erotic thriller" Wild Orchid and an adaptation of Anais Nin's Delta of Venus; co-wrote 9 1/2 Weeks; and created the Red Shoe Diaries TV series. I didn't quite understand what inspired him to shoot a film about an Austin country-and-western musician.
As King explains in the movie, he had been in Austin researching potential musician-actors to star in his film Austin Angel, met Watson, and decided he was an ideal casting choice. To learn more about Watson, King joined one of his band's tours through the South, and brought along a digital video camera.
Driving from town to town, Watson and his road manager Donnie tell King the story about Watson's girlfriend Terry, who died in a car accident. Shortly after hearing the news, Watson "went crazy" for a weekend. Afterwards, he mourned Terry by writing songs about her. Everyone assumed he was dealing with her death normally.
After the tour ends, King lures Watson to a house in a New Mexico ghost town and encourages him to tell the rest of the story: his nervous breakdown some months after his girlfriend's death. Watson believed he had heard the voice of Satan. Between this movie and The Devil and Daniel Johnston, people are going to start believing that being a musician in Austin puts you at risk for channeling supernatural entities. Perhaps all musicians wanting to move to Austin should be required to watch these two documentaries first.
It seems unfair to compare Crazy Again with The Devil and Daniel Johnston, though. Crazy Again is not a bad movie at all, but it is a quickly made film that relies primarily on King's road trip with Dale Watson. It doesn't have the layers of archived images and sound that made The Devil and Daniel Johnston such a riveting film.
Crazy Again starts as a charming look at a local musician, at home and on tour. I particularly enjoyed the lively sequence in Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon (although King inaccurately describes it as being "on the outskirts of Austin"—I hope he learns more about the area before shooting a feature film here). Donnie, the road manager, nearly steals the film at times. The transition from a jolly music tour to Watson's recounting of his nervous breakdown is jarring. The movie doesn't quite retain the energy levels from the first part of the movie and the pacing lags during the ghost town sequences.
King narrates the film himself in a fairly personal way (he sounds eerily like Bob Balaban), which is effective until the nervous breakdown story, when King's observations become redundant and even irritating. Another irritation is that King often accompanies Watson's tales with lurid re-creations and flashy montages of images that were not shot during the trip, which are distracting. It would have been better to keep the focus on Watson himself.
The audience at the Dobie appeared to be primarily Dale Watson fans. They liked Crazy Again, although they were so happy to see Watson in person that I think they would have enjoyed any movie about him. They were especially lively during the Austin scenes—I never knew there was a real Ginny who owned the Little Longhorn Saloon, but she got a round of applause when she appeared in the movie and was apparently in the audience.
Crazy Again is a pleasant way to get acquainted with Dale Watson's music, and to watch him on tour charming everyone he meets. But its focus is muddled—it's half a tour film, and half an exploration of a man driven to the brink of sanity, trying to fight the voices in his head. It is an interesting curiosity, but not a must-see unless you are a Watson fan.