Square Lake Film Festival: Lovable Squares + Some Losers

The Seventh Annual Square Lake Film Festival happened last Saturday outside Stillwater. It’s a one day deal – live music and short film programs alternating all afternoon and into the night. It happens on a farm; don’t ask me how to get there. It was Highway 36 to some road to some other road, etc. etc.

The festival’s organizer, Paul Creager, uses his parents farm for the fest. When we got there, about 2:00, people had already pitched tents and the good spots (shady) were taken. We put our tent up under blaze of sun and sweat ran down my back and legs. Just a few days before I’d decided to try out some hippie deodorant, abandoning my Secret or whatever it was I was using. My new one was without those cancer-causing chemicals (has anyone ever gotten cancer from deodorant?) that relies more on baking soda and clay. Bad move. I really, really wanted some chemicals to spread on my pits after putting up that tent.

The mood at Square Lake is very chilled out. There are families there. Filmmakers. People who biked to the festival. Lots of women with armpit hair, which seems to be some kind of gauge for measuring what kind of crowd you’re in. Everyone gathered on the hillside with blankets, picnics and beer and watched the bands. We missed The Dad in Common and To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie but were in time to see Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. Great band, Lucy Michelle has the twang of Patsy Cline and the lonesome sound of Neko Case BUT terrible band name. I can’t remember it even two seconds after I say it.

There was a band called Ragassa. They were worried about the goat skin on their drums stretching out in the sun and heat. Think the Beatles during their time with Maharishi Yogi but without any vocals. It was an instance of the guys in the band being WAY more into their performance than anyone in the audience. Black Blondie was on next – they brought us back to life.

Throughout the afternoon, if you wanted to see short films, you needed to squeeze into a small barn (more like a shed with a curved roof but what do I know?) and if you couldn’t get a seat you could kneel or sit on a shag green rug. Something about that shag green rug gave me the heebies and I didn’t really want to touch it. Yeah, OCD or something.

Square Lake ramps up when the sun goes down and the lights start rotating through the trees and the big outdoor screen goes up. We ate bagels and M&Ms and watched The Owls, Happy Apple and then Fort Wilson Riot. Fort Wilson wrote a score to go along with a silent short film from 1909 called “The Devilish Tenant.” With the music, it was fantastic. The kind of thing you wish you could reproduce in your backyard so you could watch it again and again at night. There were two short film programs sandwiched in there too – the standouts for me were the “Arctic Quadrangle Episodes 1 & 2,” “Beelin” and “Born Into Captivity.”

Maybe it was heat or the boxed wine or just exhaustion but the entire night seemed to slide by in a few minutes and then we were hauling our stuff – blanket, cooler, shoes, food – back to our tent. We went into our tent and listened to the end of Spaghetti Western String Co. Then the rest of the Square crew headed back to their tents and there was the usual sounds of late night revelry. Beers popped open. Someone who knew their way around a guitar played some songs and someone told a story about how high they got after smoking an entire boll by themselves (seemed to involve a lot of shaking and a poor memory the next day). Then things started to quiet down.

Except for The Losers. The Losers decided to sit in their camp chairs and talk as loudly as possible about terrible music. Then they hauled out a radio/stereo/boombox from the 1980s and played some of this music. To them, it was a religious experience. To us, it was torture.

“This song is about my entire life!”

“Here’s the drum solo, man!”

“Hey, go to number 11 next, if you don’t mind.”

“Queue up this disc next. It’s a mix I made for the drive out here.”

Completely oblivious to the sleeping campground and chirping crickets around them, this went on and on. They were the kind of people who really didn’t give a goddamn about anyone else. Then they began to tell their stories about drinking and getting high. Why do people think this is interesting? I’ve been guilty of telling drunk stories myself from time to time, although I try to focus on my more spectacular episodes, but now I fully realize just how boring they are and resolve to never tell them again.

At 3:30 in the morning, the woman in the group cranked yet another tune and cried out, “If I could fuck this song, I would!” This was an interesting, if stupid, statement. It started my brain cranking. What song would I fuck if I could? What movie? What book? This was going nowhere good. Once I start thinking and participating in a conversation in my head, I’m up.

This inspired my move to the car. I wasted an hour there thinking I could sleep in the back with the seats folded down but it wasn’t a perfectly flat surface, so I kept sliding down and had to sleep at an angle to be able to stretch my legs. Finally, I switched to the front passenger seat, where I passed out for a few hours before waking to sunlight and some guy doing tai chi by the house with his shirt off.

Ah, Square Lake. See you next year. But I’ll be going home around midnight.

Up next… The Fashion of Square Lake