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Semifinalists for the "Texas, My Texas" film series

I did a whole lot of research on Texas-made films for this series. There were a number of films that just didn’t make it into the final list. Some of them didn’t make it because the Library doesn’t have copyright to show them. Some of them didn’t make it because there wasn’t enough time to present every possible film. However, you can imagine a whole other series that would have had at least some of these films in it. And, when you select DVDs for your Netflix queue, you might give some of these runners-up a thought. And, by the way, I plan to see Bernie (2011) with Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine because I’m sure it’d be a runner-up here, too.

Brewster McCloud (1970). Robert Altman’s fantasy, set in Houston’s Astrodome, with Bud Cort, Shelley Duvall, and Sally Kellerman. It’s a cult film, or it was one. It was more than a little self-indulgent. Its director could do no wrong in the Hollywood of the early Seventies, a pretty self-indulgent period generally in films. However, I remember some striking visuals: watching Bud Cort fly like Icarus with the Astrodome’s structure visible in back, and the scars of amputated wings on Sally Kellerman’s back.

Terms of Endearment (1983). Family drama focused on a grown-up daughter’s struggle with cancer, directed by James Brooks, with Shirley McLaine as the mother, Debra Winger as the daughter, and Jack Nicholson. Larry McMurtry (who also wrote The Last Picture Show) wrote the book on which it was based. It picked up a huge number of Oscars (for best picture, for Brooks as best director and for the screenplay, for MacLaine, for Nicholson) and many nominations as well. It would have shown the life of the wealthy in Texas cities (MacLaine’s character lives in River Oaks in Houston) better than any film in the series, except perhaps Bottle Rocket, which is about rich kids in Dallas. Ultimately, though the progress of the film is rather slow, and I wish I liked Shirley MacLaine’s Aurora Greenway more.

A Trip to Bountiful (1985). I was sorry to discover that this movie, for which Geraldine Page won the best actress Oscar, was not on one of the Library’s copyright lists. Geraldine Page plays an old woman living with her son and his difficult wife in late 1940s Houston. She dreams of returning to her home town, Bountiful, Texas. And one day she escapes to do just that. The script was written by Horton Foote. Frankly, a Texas series consisting only of scripts written by Horton Foote (from Wharton, Texas) and Robert Benton (from Waxahachie, Texas) would be the most wonderful thing possible. In the series I screened I was able to present Foote's Tender Mercies, and Benton's Places in the Heart and Nadine. A Trip to Bountiful was directed by Peter Masterson. Page’s son is played by John Heard, probably one of the most memorable non-stars in late twentieth century Hollywood. If you like him here don’t miss Cutter and Bone (1981), where he stars with Jeff Bridges, or Sweet Land (2005).

1918 (1985). Horton Foote also wrote this remembrance of his family’s experience with World War I and the flu epidemic in small town Texas. This film was directed by Ken Harrison and stars William Converse-Roberts, Hallie Foote (Horton’s daughter) and Matthew Broderick. The movie carefully and lovingly recreates period settings of that time.  It was filmed in Waxahachie, just south of Dallas, as so many Texas films of the Eighties were, and it is a lovely visual and emotional experience.

Lonesome Dove (1989). This was not a film, but a TV miniseries based on Larry McMurtry’s bestselling novel. Lonesome Dove pulls out all the stops, and touches all the bases that a Western should, while keeping exceptionally faithful to the times and places it depicts. Set in the late 19th century it depicts a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It was directed by Simon Wincer and starred Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover. At 384 minutes in length I could hardly have presented it at the Library, even over successive nights. Luckily, we didn’t have copyright permission to attempt it. It’s a lot of fun, and the supporting actors (including Robert Urich, Frederic Forrest, Glenne Headly, Chris Cooper, Barry Corbin) give memorable performances too.

Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995). This starred Robert Duvall and Aidan Quinn and was directed by James Keach. It’s the story of an old man (Duvall) who comes to a small town convinced that oil will be found there, and how he convinces the locals that this is so. In its oil exploration storyline it hearkens back to Boom Town (1940) with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert and Spencer Tracy. Duvall is good – Duvall is always good – but the movie seemed a little too Hallmark Hall of Fame for me to present to the Library audience.

The Apostle (1997). Robert Duvall gives an exceptional performance here as a hardluck Texan going through a divorce who finds his place in the world as a preacher and evangelist in a small church in Louisiana. Duvall directed, too. The film co-stars Farrah Fawcett, Billy Bob Thornton, June Carter Cash and Miranda Richardson. Duvall was nominated for a best actor Oscar. It isn’t on any of the Library’s copyright permission lists, but if it had been, I would have included it.

The Good War AKA Texas ‘46 (2002). This film is about Italian prisoners of war in Texas after World War II. It was directed by Giorgio Serafini and starred Roy Schieder and Luca Zingaretti (who plays Inspector Montalbano on Italian television). It was OK but seemed perhaps a little tedious to me.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). Tommy Lee Jones directed and starred in this story of a Texas ranch hand who tries to return the body of his friend and co-worker to the friend’s hometown in Mexico. I was trying to find a film that told something of the life of Hispanics in Texas. I thought it was really a good film, but the dead body of the friend is present throughout nearly the whole movie, and the issues of continuing to preserve it are presented in graphic detail. I felt that might not be exactly what I would like to show at the Library.