Posted by: Kristen Hicks | March 7, 2011

Texas Independence Day Movie Marathon

On March 2, 1836, the mythic piece of land we call Texas was declared a nation.  Ever since, neglecting to think much about our more recent relationship to a certain collection states, the people of the great nation of Texas celebrate the memory of the things that bring us together and make us Texans.

Temporarily stuck in the very non-Texan land of Los Angeles, finding a good way to commemorate the most sacred of Texas holidays this year was of tantamount importance to me.

In this vein, the boyfriend and I planned to spend the Saturday following Independence Day watching movies based in and otherwise devoted to highlighting the history, culture and general greatness of Texas.

Pre-game:

On Friday night, we started our celebration with the iconic and terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Somehow, in spite of my general interest in slasher movies, great love of Texas and ample appreciation of this movie in particular, I had never realized previous to this viewing that this was the first of the teen slasher movie genre.

Let me say that in other words, without Tobe Hooper coming up with this movie in 1974, we’re much less likely to have gotten: the Halloween series, the Friday the 13th movies, the Nightmare on Elm Street films or any of the many, many imitations that came thereafter, not to mention the Scream-started resurgence of the late 90’s on.  The concept of an attractive group of teenagers meeting their doom at the hands of a violent psycho pretty much started here.

You would think that revisiting a movie that inspired an entire genre might make it feel less fresh or original a couple of decades later, but my god would you be wrong.  Having seen many, many horror films in my time (I’ve recently been in the midst of a “slasher film project” of watching all of the aforementioned series and more), this one does not fail to terrify, shock or disgust.  By the time you reach the end, it’s likely you’re feeling much of the crazed, tense insanity well conveyed by Marilyn Burns as the original final girl, Sally.

In short, this movie is not recommended for just any Texas lover, but is a necessity for viewing for anyone interested in horror films.

Saturday:

We begin our full day of Texas film viewing with the only possible way to start a day devoted to Texas cinema: Giant.


This three and half hour epic could have just as easily been named Texas, as the importance the state plays in the film can not be understated.  If the cast isn’t enough to draw to the film (James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson), there’s plenty else to entertain here (although it’s hard to exaggerate how much I enjoy seeing James Dean as Jet).

The movie’s not subtle, but in a movie covering as much territory as this one and doing it as well as it does, you can’t fault them for that.  Elizabeth Taylor (wealthy New Englander) and Rock Hudson (wealthy Texas cattleman) fall in love almost instantly over a heated conversation about the history of Texas at the beginning of the film (she accuses us of stealing it from the Mexicans and he misses a perfect opportunity to take her down a notch by saying “so I suppose you just asked the Indians nicely for the land up in these parts?”).

Jett’s the poor cowhand who resents the wealth of those around him, feeling (probably correctly), that it was made more due to the better luck of their forebears than harder work.  He falls for Taylor pretty quickly as well and its made clear throughout the film that he sees his inability  to be with her as inextricably tied to his poverty and Rock Hudson’s better luck, and herein lies the main conflict of the film (although there are many others).

There’s too much going on in Giant to give much of a good summary here, but suffice to say, it takes on gender issues, race issues, class issues, goes out of its way to constantly remind you where you are (hint: TEXAS), gives us our first appearance of the day of Dennis Hopper, will get the “Eyes of Texas” stuck in your head (but just until the next movie…), displays the awesomeness of James Dean and was the perfect way to begin our Texas day.

Our second movie offered a bit of a break from the epic-ness of the first, as we switched to the much lighter fare of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  A comedy musical about singing and dancing prostitutes in Texas and the evil muckracker tv journalist who tries to take them down is a good time, but one of those movies that from a conceptual standpoint its crazy ever got made.

On the whole, it feels like your typical wholesome family musical, but with whores and thus occasional boobs.  As if I need to tell you, Dolly Parton plays the Madame of the house, called the Chicken Ranch (and based on a real, historic Texas whorehouse), in a role that couldn’t be more perfect for her.  She shares a great love with the local sheriff of the town, Burt Reynolds, in spite of his marriage (the movie plays the wife as not caring at all) and the two together fight the good fight of keeping whoring in town alive in the face of outside opposition.

This movie feels a little bit like it belongs in another world.  Being from Texas, the idea of a community rising up in support of a whorehouse in such a family friendly manner seems pretty foreign, but in spite of its historical basis, and like most musicals, the movie’s not out for realism. It aims to entertain, show some fun and maybe make you reconsider some of your former notions of morality and sex, but it’s not gonna hold it too much against you if you don’t.

It’s also the first movie of the day to bring up Texans’ feelings towards football, much more amply explored in our third movie of the day Friday Night Lights.

I first saw Friday Night Lights in the theatre while living in New York and missing the hell out of Texas.  I never cared about football in High School, if anything, I was actively resentful of the emphasis it was given over the academics and humanities at Temple High School (as if to better epitomize this conflict, good ol’ Temple High School added a jumbo-tron to the football stadium a couple years after I graduated).  In spite of my general dislike for the sport, seeing that story, coupled with the music of my favorite band at the time, Explosions in the Sky, and set to wide, gorgeous shots that demonstrate the vastness of West Texas was just what a homesick Texan needed.

My second viewing did not disappoint and I still found the movie beautiful and moving (although anytime the movie spends more than a couple minutes at a time at a football game, I check out a bit).

Which brings us to our fourth movie and second encounter with Dennis Hopper.  Continuing, in a sorts, with the saga begun on Friday night, we watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  While it doesn’t reach quite the level of perfection in horror movie standards that its predecessor does, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 manages to be pretty darned horrific and uncomfortable.

Made in 1986  (e.g. after the steady stream of teen slasher flicks from the 70’s and early 80’s, but before the ironic resurgence of the 90’s), the movie acknowledges the genre its original created by making much more overt the metaphor of tying sex to violence.  The heroine manages to stay alive for so long because Leatherface (rather comedically) takes a special liking to her and she finds a survival strategy in speaking to him like a girlfriend discussing relationship problems–rather than as the victim of a psychotic serial killer wearing the skin of someone else’s face.

While embracing a certain amount of comedy in the situations it presents us with, the movie never hesitates to keep the gore and terror at the level expected of Tobe Hooper and its a movie that manages to simultaneously make fun of its imitators, while outdoing them in the horror department all the while.

A fitting image to leave you with:

Take that, Santa Anna!

Happy Texas Independence Day!

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