OLDENBURG FILM FESTIVAL 2020 REVIEW! Austin, Texas, is a very special town in the United States that has always attracted weirdos, hence the saying “Keep Austin weird.” I’ve been to Austin only once, and it was during South By Southwest, so I can’t imagine I have an inkling of how the city operates normally, but I do have some concept of the charm Austin possesses.
Buck Alamo (A Phantasmagorical Ballad) is set in Austin on the outskirts of the music scene. We follow an older man named Eli Cody, whose stage name is Buck Alamo (Sonny Carl Davis), as he tries to make his way through his final years with little to no money or friends. After discovering from his doctor that his “body is failing,” Buck tries to make amends to all the people he’s hurt with his years of carousing and country-crooner behavior. Both of his daughters, Dee (Lee Eddy) and Caroline (Lorelei Linklater), would rather not have anything to do with him, especially Dee. He and Caroline reside on the same property, so they can’t altogether avoid each other, but she does the best she can to do so. Buck still spends a lot of time with his grandson Haggy (James Epstein), however. He also spends significant time singing at the local church and has a good relationship with the preacher (Kriston Woodreaux). Preacher, as Buck refers to him, knows things aren’t going great for the singer and helps him out all he can.
“Buck tries to make amends to all the people he’s hurt with his years of carousing…”
The subtitle to the film, A Phantasmagorical Ballad, is really an advertisement for what you’re about to watch when you settle into Buck Alamo. It is a lonely, psychedelic treatise on aging and death. The regrets people have, the people they love, all the things one has to consider as they live out their final days on Earth. There is also a lot of music, which is not surprising considering this film is set in Austin, Texas. Country singer George Ensle even makes an appearance as one of Buck’s friends. The coolest part of the film is that Bruce Dern plays Death and provides periodic narration and some explanation of what’s going on with Buck.
I really enjoyed Buck Alamo (A Phantasmagorical Ballad). The end credits begin with this blurb: “This film is dedicated to the grandmas & grandpas, the worlds they create. If we could stop time, we would.” It was at that moment I realized I saw a lot of my grandfather in Buck. Even though he couldn’t play a tune or sing to save his life, he certainly tried to, and he definitely got mixed up in all sorts of nonsense, leaving behind an interesting tale for me to tell one day. I think this might be what Ben Epstein did with this film. Who knows if his grandfather is the real Buck Alamo, but there are a lot of Bucks out there, and maybe when you see the movie, you’ll realize who the own Buck Alamo in your life is.
Ultimately, we all end up like Buck, and Buck Alamo (A Phantasmagorical Ballad) reminds us to have fun and love the people in our lives while we still have time. It’s quite a precious film, and I can’t wait for you all to see it.
Buck Alamo screened at the 2020 Oldenburg Film Festival.
"…there are a lot of Bucks out there, and maybe when you see the movie, you'll realize who the own Buck Alamo in your life is."