Double bill of Austin weirdness

The documentary 'Hell on Wheels' traces the development of women's roller derby in Austin.

The documentary "Hell on Wheels" traces the development of women's roller derby in Austin.

Sex and drugs and rock and roll -- that combination is old news.

But sex and drugs and rock and roll and guinea pigs and stage-diving and wig stores and strap-on fake butts (to be worn in the front, for comical shock value) -- those are just some of the preoccupations of self-destructive real-life Austin character Chad Holt, as showcased in the new documentary "Total Badass." The film screens Tuesday at the Five in One contemporary visual-and-performing arts space at 423 N. Watkins.

Holt -- a beloved/reviled figure in the Texas counterculture -- and director Bob Ray -- the creator of micro-budgeted features, shorts and cartoons for his CrashCam Films production company -- bring "Total Badass" to town as part of what they call "Bob Ray's Down and Dirty Austin Film Tour."

The tour's shock-and-raw double bill also includes Ray's 2007 documentary "Hell on Wheels," a chronicle of the rise, literal fall (with broken ankles) and rise again of Austin women's roller derby, which launched a nationwide revival of the sport. (In Memphis, roller derby is represented by such teams as Women of Mass Destruction and the PrissKilla Prezleys.)

Ray and Holt will introduce the films, and answer questions afterward. A program of Ray's "CrashToons" -- described as "half-assed cartoons for grown folk" -- precedes the features.

Arriving almost two weeks after a fan-promoted screening of Harmony Korine's similarly outrageous "Trash Humpers" at Midtown's Hi-Tone Café, the "Down and Dirty Film Tour" has transformed the Memphis holiday season into a peculiarly fertile period for alternative-venue underground movie buffs.

Tommy Kha of Five in One said a reason to screen films at the gallery was "to introduce the space to people who maybe haven't been here before." The gallery also hopes "to build a relationship with Memphians who aren't necessarily artists or musicians," said Kha, a photographer.

Touted on as "an insanely funny and wickedly debaucherous documentary" for the "discriminating degenerate," "Total Badass" offers a comic/tragic closeup of Holt, an extreme example of the type of scenester -- doesn't every city have one? -- who seems to have transformed his life into a reckless form of performance art.

Described by his mother and father as "a good parent" and "very smart," the uninhibited Holt -- who first came to public notoriety when he was arrested for selling counterfeit South by Southwest wristbands -- is an alternately sympathetic and infuriating antihero. We see him snorting cocaine (he calls his mustache a "cocaine push broom"), engaging in sex, and rolling a big joint in the parking lot after a successful meeting with his probation officer. "This is a tradition I've had," he explains, referring to his celebratory doobie.

Holt's contributions to the Austin arts scene include his raunchy free "alternative" magazine, Whoopsy!, and his participation in such bands as Frontbutt, the Gun Totin' Meat Eaters and Black Face Ensemble, a satirical rap troupe so racially problematic that even one band member insists its name be changed to "BFE."

The film makes it clear, however, that Holt will be remembered more as a personality than an artist. But what kind of personality? Is "Total Badass" a cautionary or an inspirational tale? The film's final shot, which occurs after an apparently newly responsible Holt drops off his kids at school, is either a heartbreaker or a punch line, depending on your point of view.

"Hell on Wheels" -- which previously screened here at the 2007 Indie Memphis Film Festival -- is more conventional but perhaps more purposeful as it follows the development of roller derby in Austin over several years, from its inception to its eventual triumph as an established part of the city's funky subculture.

As promised by the title, "Hell on Wheels" functions, in part, as an inspirational tale of unconventional grrrl power (as dramatized in fictional form in Drew Barrymore's Austin roller derby feature, "Whip It"); also as expected, the film doesn't deny the kitschy "docsploitation" appeal of real-life "sex, violence and rollerskating" (to quote a TV newscaster who appears in the film). After all, this is a sport with players who call themselves Helena Handbasket, Cherry Chainsaw and Veruca Assault.

But the movie is at its best -- and its most unexpected -- as a surprise economics lesson: a paean to the value of collectivism vs. the typical capitalistic business model in which all the power is at the top. Initially regarded as utopian because of its all-female membership and leadership, the original Austin roller derby association falls apart when the skaters feel they are being exploited by the player-manager-owners, who rightly argue that the league wouldn't exist without their hard work.

A splinter group, the Texas Rollergirls, forms, but is forced to create new team names, costumes and aliases when the old group claims ownership of these "assets."

Eventually, the new league demonstrates that ownership and control by the workers can be more profitable than the alternative, at least in this circumstance. The film becomes an action-packed companion piece to Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story," but with the welcome presence of tattooed skaters in schoolgirl outfits rather than a slouchy Michigander with a baseball cap and a bullhorn.


Bob Ray's Down and Dirty Austin Film Tour

Tuesday at the Five in One contemporary arts space, 423 N. Watkins. Doors open at 7 p.m. "Hell on Wheels" screens at 7:30 p.m.; "Total Badass" at 9:30 p.m. Director Bob Ray and star Chad Holt will attend. Ray's animated "CrashToons" precede the features. Door prizes will be awarded. Admission: $5. For more information, visit or


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