Our Austin-based SxSW writer on the scene Antonio Quintero takes a look at a locally-sourced Austin doc! Be sure to check out all of our reviews and interviews at the menu links above!
Directed by Liz Lambert, THROUGH THE PLEXI-GLASS: THE LAST DAYS OF THE SAN JOSE is a great little time capsule of a time in Austin, Texas that will never return. A time when this was a weird proud little town. The film shows you some of the unique weirdos that lived in Austin, more local businesses and low to no traffic.
The documentary is directed by Hotelier Liz Lambert, the former owner of the hotel. In 1995 she quit her job as a lawyer and decided to buy the hotel San Jose, located in South Congress Street, The main street to Downtown, Austin, Texas. The hotel was a cheap run-down hotel. Most of its occupants were runaways, homeless, unwanted, mentally ill and drug addicts. She bought the hotel so that she could work on getting a bank loan to restore. In the meantime, she must run this crazy hotel. Take care of the crazy tenants and clean up incredibly dirty rooms. The film is made up primarily of footage shot in 1997. The last few months of the hotel San Jose before its massive renovation project.
It was amazing seeing this footage from 1997 Austin. This town looks so different back then. You can tell this was shot with a 90s video camera with the grainy footage. It helps captures the mood of the 90s. I did not realize until watching this documentary that 1997 was focal point in time for Austin. It was the year the Hotel San Jose went thru its renovation which started the gentrification of downtown Austin. This was the moment in which Austin became the place to be and many people started moving here. This was also the year in which The Alamo Drafthouse open downtown. Its unofficial opening was during the 1997 SXSW film festival. I am not saying that progress is a bad thing; but it went too far in erasing many of the things that made it special. At least I was lucky to get see some of that old Austin when I first moved here in 2006. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has made this footage more poignant as Austin will never be like this after the Pandemic is over.
This documentary is real life version of SLACKERS. When you meet all the wacky occupants of this hotel. One of my favorites is a Bass player that it trying to get a record deal. He plays his bass in 6th street. The guy is the soul of the San Jose hotel. Another of my favorite occupants of the hotel is a single mother and her son that are trying to find a permanent place.
If you want to see a 90s-time capsule of the city of Austin, THROUGH THE PLEXI-GLASS is pure nostalgia. It has the unique cast of character you could only find in real life. It’s a unique moment in time that is long gone. Its especially going to be gone after this pandemic. I hope that our local government does something to keep Austin Weird. As someone that has lived in this town for 15 years, I appreciate this footage.
This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!