Michael W. Dean doesn't define himself as filmmaker. He's also a novelist, a painter and a musician. And though you've probably never heard of him, he makes a living as an artist. Granted, Dean survives on what he calls a "McDonald's salary," but that's not the point. He does it himself, without compromising for anyone. Integrity is one of the main issues at stake in Dean's 55-minute documentary D.I.Y. or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist.
According to Dean, the original idea for his film was "a documentary with the same title that would be about myself." When he finished the project, Dean realized his concept had derailed. "I forgot to put myself in it," he says. The film is a series of interviews with underground American artists. Some are stars, such as Lydia Lunch, Richard Kern, Mike Watt and Jim Rose, but most are virtually unknown. "I wanted to downplay the stardom and up-play talent," Dean says. The result comes off like an alternative exploration of the American dream. In fact, to Dean, "The indie arts scene is quintessentially American." The subjects of Dean's film shun the corporatization of art -- the idea that to be successful they have to work within the framework built by industries that stifle and deceive artists. They discuss what "DIY" means to them and how being independent has enriched their lives, if not (in most cases) their bank accounts. Of course, it's a risk to do it yourself. In Dean's film, recording engineer/musician Steve Albini says, "Keep your day job, and you'll never make decisions you'll regret." All of the artists interviewed in D.I.Y. feel the same way. After going independent, they realize their art is purer when no one's trying to make a buck off of it. Screw film school. Watch this movie, and then go make your own. 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 23. The Proletariat, 903 Richmond. For information, call 713-523-1199. $4. -- Troy Schulze
Some business owners place ads in the paper or sponsor Little League games. Mick Grasberger dons a shiny silver suit and a blue mask and hams it up at the corner of El Camino Real and Ramada in Clear Lake. Residents refer to Grasberger, who owns the Postal Annex, as the "human billboard." Every weekday, except for Tuesdays, during the past two years, he's been out with his dry-erase board. Sometimes his message plugs his store; other times it's got a plain old friendly greeting. On Mother's Day, the sign reads, "Don't forget Mom!" Before daylight saving time: "Clocks Ahead Sunday." And after the Columbia tragedy, it said, "Prayer, Repair, Back in the Air." The human billboard has dressed as a leprechaun, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Uncle Sam -- but he's never seen without his blue mask. Grasberger has learned a lot about people by watching them head to work in the morning. Says the shiny guy, "There's a lot more honking on Fridays." -- Cathy Matusow
It sure would be cool to go to the Oscars -- except for the small matter of rounding up finery for the event. Whatever your gender, you'd have to borrow diamonds worth $100,000, have Donatella Versace dream up an outfit just for you, and spend hours getting buffed and manicured and plucked. What a hassle! At the Academy Awards Viewing Party at River Oaks Theatre, on the other hand, you won't even have to dress up. And you can eat your fill of hors d'oeuvres from Birraporetti's, down booze from the cash bar and compete in trivia contests. Best of all, if you do break out your best duds, the theater will give you a free movie pass. Of course, that's a far cry from the "gift baskets" the stars get for presenting awards, which contain luxury items like perfume and spa trips and are worth more than $20,000. Isn't that rich? The only people on earth who can actually afford those things get them for free. 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 23. 2009 West Gray. For information, call 713-850-0217. $15.-- Cathy Matusow
Become an international man of mystery
Tired of seeing James Bond and Austin Powers bag all the babes, drive fast cars and narrowly escape from power-mad dictators? Now you too can be a secret agent -- on the new reality series Spymaster. The show will run recruits through a grueling three-week course of intense physical and intellectual tests administered (no doubt with glee) by former CIA, FBI and U.S. Special Forces agents. Subjects will include surveillance, driving and interrogation. It's already a hit on British TV, and producers think Yankee contestants will have an advantage over their limey counterparts. "The American sense of adventure and exposure to spy films automatically puts them in the mindset of espionage," says spokesman Toby Fricker. But it's not all cocktails and cool guns. "The first casualty of the truth," he warns, "is simply how tough the job is. It's a case of living on your wits at all times." Aspiring Vin Diesels (of either sex) need only be "over 21 and physically fit" and submit an application to the producers by March 26 (e-mail email@example.com for details). Only chosen finalists will be allowed into the live audition when crews come to Houston in mid-April. Just be sure to leave your exploding cigarette lighter at home. -- Bob Ruggiero