film

Texas Standard: February 3, 2021

New executive orders on asylum seekers and family separation policies at the border get a lukewarm reception from advocates for change. President Biden orders an official review of the remain in Mexico policies. Some are asking why not just change the policy? Also COVID-19 and the double squeeze on nonprofits. More demand for their services, but less money to provide those services… We’ll explore. And the governor’s call for legislation to further restrict abortion access in Texas. Are republican lawmakers hoping for a fight in the high court? Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 31, 2020

Election day now almost 2 months away, and new battles forming over who in Texas gets to vote where and how. The Texas Secretary of State’s office threatens legal action over Harris county’s plan to send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the county, we’ll have the latest. Also a mass shooting in Odessa one year on, and the effort to hold the seller of the firearm legally accountable. And Daron Roberts on athlete activism and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 13, 2020

Defunding the police: It’s gone from a phrase on a protest sign to a real discussion as cities finalize their budgets, we’ll have the latest. Also, Hispanic communities have been especially hit hard by the Coronavirus. But why? We’ll dig in. Plus a contact tracing technology experiment of sorts in a perhaps unlikely venue: the GOP convention. What it might mean for the general population. And one of the darlings of Sundance this year was a documentary about a bunch of Texas boys. We’ll have the story. That plus more on schools and COVID-19, today on the Texas Standard:

How Texas Became A Desert

By W. F. Strong

To much of the world, and to many people in the U.S. who have never been to Texas, the state is a vast desert. It is not the Sahara, but instead a high-plains arid region studded with rocky mesas, sweeping wall-like cliffs, dusty canyons, and sometimes adorned with thousands of Saguaro cacti – native to Arizona, not Texas. Certainly there are parts of west Texas that have some aspects of these images, but more than half the state is green with rolling hills, lush forests and vibrant coastal plains. Yet the desert images dominate minds in distant lands. For that, we can thank Hollywood. 

There are many John Wayne westerns with story lines that weave through Texas, but the films were shot in Utah and northern or southern Arizona. The most jarring example to me is The Searchers. To my mind, The Searchers was John Wayne’s best film. Here’s a clip where Mrs. Jorgensen, a tough frontier woman, defines these early Texans: 

It just so happens we be Texicans. Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb. This year and next, and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Someday this country’s gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.” 

As she says this on her front porch, she is looking at a view of Monument Valley, Utah.  Wayne made five movies in Monument Valley, even though two of them, The Searchers and Rio Grande, had storylines that based them in Texas. Wayne actually said, “Monument Valley is the place where God put the West.”

Another Wayne film that is shocking to a native Texan is The Comancheros. The plot has Wayne playing Texas Ranger Jake Cutter. Great name. He arrests an outlaw for murder on a boat arriving in Galveston and tells him he will return him to Louisiana: 

Regret:   Well, I’ve committed no crime in Texas.

Cutter:    Right. But you killed a man in Louisiana. My job’s to take you to the Ranger Headquarters where a Louisiana Marshall will pick you up. They’ll take you back to New Orleans and the gallows. You know we’re getting real obliging to the states down here in Texas. A lot of folks want to join the Union. 

Regret:  I have a couple of hundred in gold in that jacket. That give you any ideas,  friend? 

Cutter:   I’ve got what you might call a weakness. I’m honest. 

As Cutter exits the boat in Galveston with his handcuffed prisoner, Paul Regret, in tow, he walks right into Southeastern Utah where the film was shot in Professor Valley and the La Sal Mountains, among other places near Moab. Stunning country for cinemascope technology to capture, but not Texas.    

Rio Bravo and El Dorado were two John Wayne Films with Texas settings shot in and around the Sonoran Desert west of Tucson. The landscape there is dominated by thousands of saguaros, enormous 40-foot cacti that look like sentinels of the desert.  Such sights don’t exist in Texas.  

Clint Eastwood’s For a Few Dollars More is set in and around El Paso, but it was actually shot in the Tabernas Desert near Almería, Spain. Fort Bravo, also called Hollywood, Texas, is a movie set town built there in the sixties and has served as a backdrop for many classic Western films like Once Upon a Time in the West and the famous Spaghetti Westerns. Not all of those have Texas storylines, but some do. For a Few Dollars More does, and at least in this case, the landscape of Almería is a good match for the El Paso region.  

Two films more true to Texas in landscape were Giant, shot almost completely around Marfa, and No Country for Old Men, filmed mostly in Texas, but some in New Mexico.  Texas Rising troubled some Texans for two reasons: one, being shot almost entirely in Mexico, which seemed sacrilegiously ironic. And two, for scenes of rugged mountains around Victoria, Texas. I think they got their Victorias mixed up. A more recent film called Hell or High Water, starring Jeff Bridges as a Texas Ranger chasing bank robbers in the Panhandle, was largely shot in New Mexico.  

So you see, movie-Texas depicts a greater land of diversity than Texas actually has within it. To much of the world, we are Arizona and Utah and New Mexico, and we are Mexico and Italy and Spain. Mostly desert. Everything is bigger in Texas because Hollywood has subconsciously created a much wider world in the collective mind of moviegoers. 

Texas Standard: April 27, 2020

More Texans out and about over the weekend as the governor makes moves to reopen the Texas economy. We’ll look at what’s next and the implications for safety. Despite steps to get back to business, no end in site yet for a return to normalcy. We’ll talk about steps to stay mentally well under stay at home guidelines. And bankruptcy predictions for a high end Texas-based retailer: an echo of the culture wars or the end of an era? And it’s one thing to cut a student athlete from a roster, but to cut whole teams? A new normal spreads across Texas higher ed. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 9, 2020

It’s too early to know how deep or wide, but we’re almost certainly in a recession. New jobless claims today underscore the gut punch to the economy. The Comptroller Glenn Hegar recalculates the impact of COVID-19 and its impact on our bottom line. Also, tech expert Omar Gallaga on getting and keeping your internet access during a time of heavy use. And speaking of: hot tip for movie streaming. An almost forgotten Texas film that inspired a certain festival called Sundance. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Bathroom Break

Sometimes it seems like movies are getting longer — or perhaps it’s that our ability to make it through the movie without a quick run to the restroom is getting weaker. That was the inspiration for this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Texas Standard: January 17, 2020

As the senate takes up impeachment, it takes up something else in the spirit of bipartisanship with major implications for Texas, we’ll hear all about it. Also, Texas among the states becoming magnets for people from Puerto Rico. As the territory hits population lows, who’s left? And remembering a moment that made Barbara Jordan a household name 24 years after her passing. Plus the week in Texas politics and much more today on the Texas Standard:

10-and-a-Half Frightening Facts About the Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Originally aired: Oct. 31, 2016.

Texas is number one in a great many things: oil, ranching, rodeo, cotton. But you may be surprised to know that we are also number one in horror. That’s right, our very own charming little low-budget film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, is considered by many critics to be the best (and most horrifying) horror movie ever made.

At the time of its release in 1974, the famous film critic Rex Reed said that it was the most “terrifying” movie he had ever seen. When the celebrated master of horror, Wes Craven, first saw the movie, he wondered “what kind of Mansonite crazoid” could have produced such a thing. Stephen King praised the movie. He said it had achieved “cataclysmic terror.” And my favorite critique comes from Anton Bitel who said that the “very fact that it was banned in England was a tribute to its artistry.”

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would help you appreciate this hallowed film; here are 10-and-a-half things you may not have known about the film.

1. Ed Gein is the name of the real criminally insane killer who inspired the character of Leatherface. He did not wear a leather mask. What he wore was worse: a mask made of human skin.

2. Ed Gein only killed two people, not dozens. Hardly a massacre. He did not use a chainsaw. He used a gun.

3. Gein did his killing in Wisconsin, not Texas. I know, disappointing right? Wisconsin Chainsaw Massacre just doesn’t have the same poetic ring to it.

4. So where did the chainsaw idea come from? Tobe Hooper, the director, said that he was in a Montgomery Ward store a few days before Christmas. The store was annoyingly crowded with aggressive shoppers. As he stood in front of the chainsaws he had a disturbing epiphany. He realized that if he started up one of those chainsaws the sound alone would part that sea of shoppers giving him a quick path to the exit. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how iconic art is born.

5. One last thing about Gein. He inspired not only Leatherface, but he was also the demented muse for Norman Bates in “Psycho” and Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs”.

6. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, for the actors at least, was that it was filmed in the middle of the scorching Texas summer. You can see the sweat dripping off, even streaming off, the actors. Hooper said everyone suffered mightily because there was no stopping to wait for cooler weather. And even though
some days were well over 100 degrees, they had to press on to get filming done in a month, come hell or high water – and hell is what they got.

7. In his much-praised book, “Chain Saw Confidential”, Gunnar Hansen, who played the character of Leatherface, said that the name of the depraved family in the first film is Slaughter, not Sawyer. If you look above the Coca-Cola sign at the gas station you will see “W. E. Slaughter BBQ.”

8. Hansen also said that the power of the chainsaw myth they created on film persists with such tenacity in Texas that people would not believe him when he said that no such chainsaw crimes ever happened in the state. People would say something like: “No, they happened. My cousin worked on death row over in Huntsville and saw Leatherface himself get the chair.” But this is understandable because the film falsely marketed itself as “based on a true story.”

9. The film cost less than $300,000 to make, and eventually grossed $30 million in the U.S. The movie had its opening in Austin, appropriately, since its director was a University of Texas professor and documentary cameraman. Though it is hard to believe, he tried to keep the gore and violence of the film to a minimum so he could get a “PG” rating. That didn’t work. He got an “R” rating.

10. Horror and humor are allies. The movie even spawned a hilarious Geico ad that has run the last couple of years – the one where four people are running from a killer and debating where to hide. One suggests they take the running car and another says that’s a horrible idea and suggests that they hide behind the chainsaws. Even Leatherface is astounded by their filmic ignorance.

10.5. The film’s gas station is now a kind of bed and breakfast in Bastrop. It’s called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s “Last Chance Gas Station”. You can get BBQ and spend the night in a cozy cabin. Chainsaw alarm clocks are certainly available. I understand the BBQ ain’t half bad. At least the owners are not, like those in the film, focused only on serving their fellow man.

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

Texas Standard: October 15, 2019

A Fort Worth police officer now charged with murder in this weekends shooting of a woman inside her own home, we’ll have the latest. Other stories we’re tracking: what some think could be the final presidential debate with two Texans on the stage this campaign season. And how water factors into the immigration debate. Plus a meeting at the state capitol in June, surreptitiously recorded at the center of a big political scandal. Now: the tale of the tape. What it means for Texas politics and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Remembering ‘Beneficent Genius’ Bill Wittliff

When I hear the great musical theme of Lonesome Dove, I am immediately grateful to Bill Wittliff because I know we wouldn’t have the deeply treasured miniseries if not for him. We would have Larry McMurtry’s novel for sure, but we would not have Wittliff’s equally brilliant adaptation of that masterwork if not for his undeterred resolve to get it done.

Bill Wittliff died on Sunday. I was, like millions of his fans around the world, and especially those in Texas, sad to see his rare intellectual light and his beneficent genius leave us. He was a man who often worked his magic behind the scenes and so many people were touched by his artistic brilliance without knowing it. He wrote the screenplays for much loved movies like Lonesome Dove, Legends of the Fall, The Perfect Storm, Raggedy Man, and for highly Texcentric films like Barborosa and Red-Headed Stranger. Some say Wittliff launched the Austin film industry.

Though Renaissance man is often overgenerous in its use, it fit Wittliff to perfection. He was a novelist, and a screenwriter, a photographer, a publisher and movie producer, a collector, an archivist, a historian and a lifelong professor who generously shared his knowledge of all things all the time. In more than a few instances over the past few years I’d fire off an email to him to ask for his insights on some obscure subject and he’d invariably surprise me with an authoritative answer within five minutes, sometimes less.

Four years ago I interviewed Bill for his new novel The Devil’s Backbone. Naturally we talked a good deal about Lonesome Dove and I want to share some of that interview because it gives us insights into the making of that masterpiece and into the mind and methods of Wittliff as well.
I first asked Bill about how long it took to produce Lonesome Dove and if he knew it would be the huge hit it turned out to be?

“For me Lonesome Dove was a solid two years,” Wittliff said. “It was a year writing the script, and then it was another year from locations and casting and all of that, to actually shooting it and then editing and the scoring – all of it – and distribution. Here’s what I did know. I knew, because I saw the dailies every morning – and I knew, you know, that what was going through the cameras was incredible stuff, incredible performances. What I didn’t know was that the audience would take to it the way they did. That I didn’t know. I knew it was going to be great and I knew it was going to be well really phenomenal. It was just incredible to watch – to sit there every day and watch Duvall and Tommy Lee and all of them deliver those lines. You simply could not be there and not know. But what I didn’t know is that the audience would take to it the way the did.”

One reason for this surprise, Bill told me, is that in 1988 there was only one thing deader than Westerns and that was the miniseries. And, he said, “we were making both.”

I was curious about his method of adapting the novel for television. I asked him how, out of this tumultuous novel of nearly 1,000 pages, he could choose what to include and what to exclude.

“Here’s what I did,” Wittliff said. “At that time I was driving a pickup. Suzanne, my partner, had someone read it on tape. We have a place on South Padre Island. It’s six hours to drive down there. So I would strike out in my pickup, which is to say you were in a closed in space. And start playing that and listening to it. You could see it. In listening to it you would say oh I don’t need that or oh that’s too close to this. Because I was driving I could kind of see a version of the movie unfold as I drove along. In six hours, as it turned out, of listening to Larry’s novel was just about one episode. So I’d drive to South Padre and when I got there I then I would start adapting that six hours, boiled down to two hours. Anyway, that’s how I did it.”

Finally, since McMurtry had written a number of screenplays himself, I asked Bill why Larry hadn’t written it himself.

“When they asked me to do it, I called Larry and I said, ‘Don’t you want to do this,’ and he said, ‘no, I’m cooked,'” Wittliff said. “Larry’s always been smart about movies and his books. I don’t know what Larry had his thumb on when he wrote it, but boy it rang all the bells. And Larry got up from the typewriter and walked off from it at least three times maybe four times. He said ‘well, no, that’s enough,’ but then he always came back. And Lonesome Dove, both Larry’s book and now the miniseries, have absolutely become a part of the American fabric. It’s just astonishing. I’ve got calls from Ireland, Europe and England, caught up in the Lonesome Dove thing as much as Americans and Texans are. It’s just been astonishing.”

You notice there how he shuns credit for his success. He was a selfless man. That is why he created the Wittliff Collections with his wife Sally at Texas State University. There you can find the papers of great Southwestern writers like McCarthy, Dobie, Graves, Cisneros and some of McMurtry’s, which will be his greatest legacy, because it provides a place and resources for young writers, and artists, and filmmakers to come and dream about works they might animate and worlds they might create.

Steve Davis the curator there, said, “Bill embodied the best of Texas — he was incredibly creative and was very generous to others — as seen in this wonderful collection that he founded, which will continue to inspire others for generations to come.”

Finally, it is only fitting that we hear from McMurtry himself. Larry sent this touching note to me just yesterday.

He wrote: “I met Bill years ago when he and his wife asked permission to publish IN A NARROW GRAVE, my first volume of essays under their singular and distinctive Encino Press. It is the most impressive of my more than fifty published volumes. He was an absolute genius photographer, as you can see from his Wittliff Collection photos. Bill skillfully adapted LONESOME DOVE into a beloved miniseries, and I know he will be deeply missed by Texans everywhere.”

Bill lived a beautiful, fun and inspirational life. I believe firmly that in thinking about his life he would agree with Gus McCrae, who said, “It’s been quite a party, ain’t it?”

History of Film Censorship with AFS Cinema

Listen back to”Censorship & Its Discontents” as KUT partners with the Austin Film Society to explore Hollywood’s Amazing Pre-Code Era.

KUT’s Rebecca McInroy along with AFS lead programmer Lars Nilsen, and Dr. Donna Kornhaber author of Charlie Caplin, Director talk about the films of the early 1900s that were way ahead of their time; featuring strong female protagonists, gay and lesbian characters, and anti-heroes in crime and gangster films that allowed the audience to decide for themselves who was actually good or evil.

Texas Standard: May 2, 2019

Reading, writing, and a rush to judgement? Some Texas lawmakers seem somewhat unsettled by a school finance bill racing to the floor of the Senate, we’ll have details. Also, the white puts in a multi billion dollar request for emergency border funds. This time, it’s not about a wall but humanitarian relief. Some in congress are unconvinced. Also the future of ugly food, why your next pet might be virtual, and actor and filmmaker Edward James Olmos is in the studio. All of that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: February 26, 2019

A Texas led rebuke for President Trump? Congressman Joaquin Castro tells us how he’s pushing back against the border emergency declaration. Also, military defectors in Venezuela raise the stakes for strongman Nicolas Maduro after days of violence over aid supplies, we’ll have the latest. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott raising millions and millions of dollars, for what exactly? We’ll take a look. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: February 15, 2019

Second shutdown apparently averted, but the focus remains on the border as the fight over a wall looks set to shift to a new venue, we’ll have the latest. Also, a property tax cut that could carry a high price tag for Texans. And honk your horn if you’re behind on your car payments…what a record number of auto loan delinquencies tells us about the health of our economy. Plus 10 oscar nods for the movie Roma: why the spotlight comes at a crucial moment for Mexico. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 14, 2018

Fighting fire with…Texans. Crews from the Lone Star State travel west to help Californians battling historic blazes on several fronts. Also, some believe it could be both a watershed moment in the so-called drug war and a cultural moment – as the drug kingpin known as El Chapo heads to trial. Plus, are citizen militias really headed to the border to meet a migrant caravan? Politifact checks it out. And spoiler alert: it won’t be the Amarillo Jerky after all. The Panhandle city picks a name for its minor league ball club… and not everyone’s a fan. All that and more, today on the Texas Standard.

Texas Standard: March 9, 2018

For the first time in history a US president will meet with the leader of North Korea. Vindication of a strategy or something else? We’ll explore. Also, an accused pedophile has his conviction thrown out because a judge used electric shock to coerce testimony. What happens to the judge? Nothing, so far. So who’s policing the bench? And a new vision for computing as apple reaches out to visually impaired coders in Texas. Plus fangs for the memories: 60 years of the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup.That and the week in politics from the Texas Tribune and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: February 20, 2018

86 cents of every dollar donated to state-level campaigns in Texas went to Republicans. We’ll do the numbers. And it’s here: early voting is underway for the Texas primaries. We’ll explore the rules behind where you can cast a ballot and why. And a city on the Texas coast is making plans to become the first new cruise ship port-of-call in about half a century. We’ll talk with the mayor leading the effort. Plus, a big U-S company is changing the way they do healthcare and it’s turning some heads. It may surprise you which company it is. And we’ll also hear from the filmmakers behind a new movie about an event that thrust one Texas city into the national spotlight a few decades ago. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: February 6, 2018

ISIS: mostly defeated. But is the Taliban gaining ground? Military engagements may be changing overseas but the message to troops here in the US: deploy or get out. We’ll take a closer look at the situation. And a new TV series is retelling the story of the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco. Why it wasn’t filmed in Texas. Plus… What’s the deal with that proposed Dallas to Houston bullet train? We’ll check in on that and on the state of the state’s private space industry. And pinning down the shakeup that is Texas High School UIL realignment. Those stories and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: October 26, 2017

Some see it as the start of a new chapter in Texas politics, but some so-called moderates fear it could turn into a horror story. Joe Straus was seen as a voice of the republican establishment, a defender of business who steered the house chamber clear of some of the most contentious issues raised by social conservatives. In a state where republicans already hold the reigns of power, what happens next? Also, how much do Texans value a college degree? And with education costs rising, is it still a good value? The results of a new statewide survey. And members of the military in a fight for the right to sue Uncle Sam. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard: