Arts & Culture

Russell Brand sparks SXSW controversy

Russell Brand
Russell Brand The Associated Press

Whether you find British comedian/actor — and Katy Perry ex-husband — Russell Brand funny or fake, his persona has become fascinating as he navigates through the choppy waters of stardom from fame to philosopher. He seems to have pretty much given up acting in favor of a clarion-call political activism that has earned him a devoted following among certain factions of the left and the wrath of Sean Hannity and Fox News.

All of this is captured smartly in Brand: A Second Coming, the latest under-the-celebrity-skin documentary from director Ondi Timoner, whose previous profiles of the band Brian Jonestown Massacre (Dig!) and Internet entrepreneur Josh Harris (We Live in Public) have made her a master of the form.

It premiered Friday night at the Paramount Theater as part of South by Southwest and, like Brand himself, came with its own blast of controversy. Brand not only pulled out of a planned appearance but — according to the director, who spoke after the film — also tried to stop SXSW from showing the movie altogether.

“Working with Russell Brand was difficult,” Variety quoted Timoner as saying. “He tried to control every situation. … I really wanted to work with Russell and make him happy, but I also needed to protect the film. ... He doesn’t like to be filmed for a documentary.”

On Friday, Brand released a statement on his website offering an olive branch of sorts but not backing down. “You’d think a narcissist would like nothing more than talking about themselves and their ‘rags to riches’, ‘hard luck’ story but actually, it felt like, to me, my life was hard enough the first time round and going through it again was painful and sad.

“I know Ondi is an artist and I’m told the film is good but for me watching it was very uncomfortable.

“I apologise sincerely to the organisers of sxsw for my non-attendance, especially Janet Pierson, Brian Solis and Rynda Laurel from the interactive festival who were responsible for the keynote talk that I was due to do.”

The film shines a klieg light on the ephemera of fame as Brand moves from a rather dreary childhood to stand-up comedy, briefly marrying Perry (who does not come off well) and then handing out sleeping bags to Occupy protesters. For his fans, it can be seen as a valentine, but it can also be seen by his critics as a case study in the most egregious form of limousine liberalism.

Even its title — referring not just to his name but also a tip to rebranding coupled with a messianic reference — can be taken positively or negatively. If nothing else, Brand: A Second Coming, will have people talking about him again.

‘Final’ cut

The tongue-in-cheek horror send-up has been tried many times, but director Todd Strauss-Schulson gives it a neat twist in the often-hilarious The Final Girls, which also had its world premiere Friday night at the Paramount.

Don’t you just hate it when you get trapped in an ’80s teen slasher flick and don’t how to get out? That’s what happens to Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her pals (including Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley) when they attend the screening of a film that stars her late mom and end up part of the action.

In a talk before the film, Strauss-Schulson said he was partly inspired by a showing of Sam Raimi’s underrated horror film Drag Me to Hell at SXSW several years ago. The Final Girls isn’t that good, but it shows that the man has good taste.

Cary Darling, 817-390-7571

Twitter: @carydar