(Daytrotter just posted a session with Dale Watson today)
The best way to describe Crazy Again is an “accidental documentary”. Released in 2006, but only screened at a few film festivals, and to my knowledge never made available to the public in any format until recently through Amazon’s streaming video service, the film follows Dale Watson on a tour starting in his home of Austin, TX, to Atlanta and back, and then features an interview with him in New Mexico where he describes in great detail a period of his life where he goes through a mental collapse and a spiritual rebirth.
The movie was made by filmmaker Zalman King, who met Dale while looking for someone to cast in his movie Austin Angel. Ray Benson referred Zalman to Dale Watson, who was playing that night as he does every Sunday night when in Austin at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, hosting an Austin tradition called “Chicken Shit Bingo”. This is where the film opens, with Dale doing his “Chicken Shit Bingo” gig, and Zalman being so intrigued by Dale, he decides to go on tour with him.
The production of Crazy Again is pretty lo-fi, with a skeleton film crew forced to shoot in cramped spaces like Dale’s tour van, or at concerts without the benefit of sound from the board, just what the camera picks up. The other principle character of the movie is Donnie Knutson, who was Dale’s long-time road manager, and has been Hank III‘s road manager since leaving Dale, and still is currently. One of the first things that happens in the film is Donnie Knutson tells Dale he can no longer work for him because he is getting married. This sets the table for the reflective mood between Dale and Donnie on the tour that helps Zalman capture Dale’s intriguing story that unfolded after his girlfriend Terri Herbert died in a car wreck.
The first hour of the movie is a fairly straightforward portrayal of a Dale Watson road trip, with shots of conversations in the tour van, hanging out in hotels, meeting people along the way as the story of Dale’s life after his girlfriend’s death unfolds, including an instance when Dale locked himself in a hotel room with a gun, and fired a shot as police tried to barge in, Dale hoping the police would kill him so he wouldn’t have to commit suicide.
There are many staged shots and poses that Dale and sometimes Donnie Knutson effect for the camera throughout the film that might be more annoying or unforgivable if Dale wasn’t so damn photogenic. While in Atlanta, Dale’s crew runs into Joe Buck, Hank III’s bass player at that time, and there is some interesting scenes with Dale hanging out on Hank III’s bus with Joe Buck, Andy Gibson, and a very sick Hank III, ragged after 40+ days of touring. Another highlight of the trip is Dale’s stop at The Grand Ole Opry to play the historic Ryman Theater.
Through the first hour of the film, your mind begins to settle into the idea that this is a simple, snapshot look at Dale Watson, peppered with interesting facts mostly centered around the tragic death of his girlfriend that would probably not appeal too intently to people who are not Dale fans to begin with. But when Zalman takes Dale out to his house in New Mexico and sits him down in front of an abandoned house in a New Mexico ghost town to tell the story of his spiritual transformation, it becomes so much more.
Dale tells a wildly insane story that begins with him talking to a spirit guide, his dead girlfriend, and Jesus through a Ouija board, and ends with him in an insane asylum, with preaching in train stations in Europe and trying to meet The Pope at the Vatican and fighting the devil in hotels rooms all in-between.
Crazy Again does a good job capturing and preserving certain important historical elements, like the Sunday scene at Ginny’s, life on the road with Dale in the mid-oughts, and explains the theme behind his progression of album releases between 2001 and 2008. But what I took away from this film was a much deeper appreciation for Dale Watson, who I’ve always loved but never though of as particularly “deep” until this movie. I will never look at the man the same way after knowing the battles he went through. I will never listen to his songs the same, because I will know where the meaning came from them and why the message is so important. And every song he writes and sings from now on will mean that much more, because you know that a on number of different occasions, the world was within inches of losing this man.
Two guns up!