Monday, May 09, 2016

Top 13 Trailers for Movies with Extra-Astral Texiness

Extra-Astral Texiness: Definitions
First, what do I mean by "astral"? I don't mean "of the stars," but the old-fashioned esoteric concept of the imaginal realm. Yes, I am a mite old-fashioned, and apropos of my most recent book, about the secret book by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, I plowed through a sizable library of antique books on various aspects of the astral. So that's a word I like to sling around! Whether you, dear reader, believe in the astral or not, I think you will agree that (1) everyone has an imagination and (2) the imaginal realm, aka the astral-- or whatever you have a notion to call it-- includes works of fiction and movies. Imagine those works, if you will, floating like little bubbles through the ether. (Well, porquoi pas?)


Speaking of Texas-sized astral bubblies, apropos of my book in-progress about Far West Texas, of course my horse (as they say in Mexico) I have a long list of "to dos" that includes grokking Giant, that Rock Hudson-Elizabeth Taylor-James Dean mashup filmed in Marfa and parts thereabouts-- I have watched it and read the Edna Ferber novel it was based on, too. And now I've finished reading Don Graham's Cowboys and Cadillacs: How Hollywood Looks at Texas, in which I first came across the term "Texiness." Writes Graham:
"The Texas Chic-urban cowboy version of the old Western legend offered a sexier version of Texas. Call it Texiness. Frontier values, however romanticized they might have been in Red River or Giant, were supplanted by fashion value, by hype." (p.6)
I hereby redefine "Texiness": I say all that hyper-appealing high-heeled cowboy boot clickin' movie fah-shun goes back to Giant's Rock Hudson and James Dean, and indeed, decades yonder: the Founding Pope of that Whole Hamburger-Helper Enchilada was John Wayne. And a big tip of the sombrero, along with a shake of the pepper flakes, to Italian director Sergio Leone for corralling Clint Eastwood. (Maestro of the concept, Leone himself was definitely not Texi.)

(Film historians: sorry, Tom Mix looks pasty-faced and nerdy, and antiques including Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers don't count. Nope, movies based on Karl May and Louis L'Amour novels and Buffalo Bill shows neither.)

In The Air-conditioned House of Mirrors

If you're at all familiar with my work on Mexico, dear reader, you know that I like to take cliches, stuff them in a cannon, and light the fuse. That this "Texiness" stuff exemplifies the real world of Texas.... let's just say I am preparing to launch that idea, along with its ostrich-leather Luccheses, into orbit around, say, one of the moons of Neptune.

Says Graham, and rightly: "Texans have two pasts: the one they lived in and the one Hollywood created."

What I'm saying is, Astral Texas isn't Texas, exactly; it's a bunch of fancies about "Texas" concocted by a jostling Chinese puzzle of a crowd of screenwriters, novelists, costume designers, executives, and bean-counters of all stripes, many of them New Yorkers, or Danes or Germans or Italians or whatever, who wanted to put butts in seats from Rome to Tokyo and all parts in between, or, to put it in more elegant terms, sell their product which was international entertainment. The Alice-in-Wonderland thing about it is that Texans watched those movies too, with consequences for their ideas about themselves-- or at least concepts of fashion. 

(Yes, the house of mirrors goes back to Zane Gray dime novels. Who was Zane Grey? Never mind. He's hanging out with Mr Mix & Co. in the astral.)

Ten Tropes in Pictures Drippin' with Astral Texiness

1. The leading character is a man of apparent western European descent who wears dusty boots, a hat, and more often than not a pistol and holster on a second belt slung around the hips;
2. He has a languid gait;
3. He squints a lot and says little;
4. With counted exceptions he and other leading characters are of reproductive age, and any leading female characters are of prime reproductive age;
5. Frequent sudden loud noises (mainly from gunshots but also oil gushers, cars exploding, cannon blasts, dynamite, galloping, train whistles, and miscellaneous ferocious banging);
6. There may be guitar music, preferably languid but with some loud banging;
7. Multitudinous scenes of extreme physical peril (enhanced by frequent and sudden loud noises);
8. Ditto extreme emotional peril;
9. Ditto super fast motion (on horses, in cars, on planes and/or trains);
10. Characters not of apparent western European descent may or may not be played by Jewish or Italian actors and with counted exceptions, said characters are helpless victims, cyphers, comic relief, or else very bad. 

(My actual experience of non-astral Texas is that it involves highways where drivers generally stay within the speed limits and there are lots of exits to lots of shopping malls. On the Texas highways, even in Far West Texas, it is always possible within about an hour to find either a gas station with hot coffee and Snickers bars and/or a Dairy Queen and/or a McDonald's. As for all them guns, I've spent a lot of time in Far West Texas over the past few years and the one and only occasion anyone took out their gun was when, on a private ranch, after touring some rock art, a lawyer and a professor of medieval history commenced popping targets from the back porch. The BBQ expert I interviewed in Pecos carried a pistol in a holster, but that was because he was also the sheriff. Last I checked, among sheriffs that practice is not exclusive to those of the great state of Texas.)

Herewith, in chronological order, my top bakers dozen of trailers for movies with Extra-Astral Texiness. (I'm not necessarily recommending these; just pointing out a characteristic.)

1. Giant (1956)

James Dean steals the show. Based on Edna Ferber's novel, Giant. Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and was a long-time resident of New York City's Park Avenue.

2. The Searchers (1956)

John Wayne versus the Comanches with the magnificent scenery of Arizona, California, Canada, and Utah. Loosely based on a novel by Indiana native Alan LeMay which was in turn loosely based on the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by Comanches in Texas.

3. The Alamo (1960)

John Wayne as Davy Crockett. Do not have a mouthful of popcorn in process when he tells his Mexican sweetheart, "There's right and there's wrong, you got to do one or the other. You do the one and you're living. You do the other and you're walking around but you're dead as a beaver hat." Filmed in Bracketville, Texas.

4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Another shoot 'em up directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne (very Extra-Astral Texi), James Stewart (not Texi) and Lee Marvin (eww).

5. Hud (1963)

An actor's actor Paul Newman was, though Millennials know him better as that old gent who, though passed away, still lends his name and handsome visage to the Newman's Own brand of salad dressings and dog food. As the bully Adonis Hud, Newman exudes Extra-Astral Texiness in the extreme. Based on Larry McMurtry's novel Horseman, Pass By.

6. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

"Four brothers who met gunfire with gunfire!" More John Waynerie.

7. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

"The man with no name: Danger fits him like tight black glove." Not lacking for firearms! The first Sergio Leone "spaghetti western" starring Clint Eastwood in that poncho was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's samurai flick Yojimbo.

8. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The ultimate Spaghetti western. Pow, boom, whack, crack, pow! The ne plus ultra in Extra-Extra-Uber-Astral Texiness! Californian Clint Eastwood does the hat-poncho-gun-cigar thing in Spain. Watch out, the music by Italian composer Ennio Morricone -- a masterpiece--can turn into an earworm. (Listen to the score here.)

9. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

There was a Judge Roy Bean but his biography was more than a bit different from that of the movie character played by Paul Newman. If you can get past Jacqueline Bissette shouting that she is a Bean (oof), you'll hear Anthony Perkins, his hair ablowin' in the wind, assert that "This land abounds in ruffians and varmints."

10. Lone Star (1996)

A deft and complex film by writer-director John Sayles, starring Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, and Matthew McConaughey, the then Prince Imperial of Extra-Astral Texiness.

11. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
This is by far the best of all the films about and filmed in Texas-- a much longer list than this one. Directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga. Filmed in the Big Bend.

12. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Shooting, more shooting, even more shooting and loud crashes plus more shooting with Texan Tommy Lee Jones, and Spanish actor Javier Bardem with creepazoid hair. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel.

13. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Once again, radiating super human intensity, English actor Daniel Day Lewis nails the accent. Gushers o' the black stuff! And the red stuff!

So where are The Wild Bunch (William Holden, too old) and Urban Cowboy (John Travolta, too silly)? Alas, they lack Extra-Astral Texiness.

UPDATE: I debated about The Magnificent Seven, which was filmed in Mexico. Steve McQueen, yes.

UPDATE: Texan friends recommend Lonesome Dove. I didn't count it because it was a TV series about taking cattle north and the leads, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall, struck me as a couple of very un-astral-Texi granpaws. But my opinion isn't the only one. You can check out the trailer for Lonesome Dove here.

Your comments are always welcome.