Monday, October 03, 2011

Texas Frontier Style vs. John Sayles Amigo

October 3. 2011

Kathy and I attended the Scottsdale Film Festival on Saturday and saw Amigo the new John Sayles film about the Philippine American War. It was quite good and thought provoking (he claims water boarding began in this 1890s war). After the film he took questions and someone asked him about his film Lone Star and he told the story of writing a Roger Corman film about fleshing eating fish (Piranha?). He said they couldn't film in California because of a drought (no rivers with water) so they went to Texas. In addition to the screenwriting gig, he also got a small part in the movie, and on his day off he visited the Alamo. He was turned off by the John Wayne paintings from the 1960 movie and the Daughters' of the Texas Revolution telling a slanted story, so he wrote Lone Star to deal with all the parts of the Alamo story that the official history leaves out (that the Americans wanted to have slaves but the Mexican constitution did not allow for it. They had just kicked out the Spanish, etc.). There's more, but the last line of Lone Star is "Forget the Alamo."

Speaking of Texas, an excellent editorial in the latest issue of Texas Monthly, about "frontier style," as in politics, as in Rick Perry vs. George W. Bush vs. LBJ. For starters, they all share a "swagger and a smirk." Frontier style is a mode derived from "our defining experience—the bloody, multigenerational westward expansion of (mostly) Anglo-American settlers across a vast and violent continent. The leading edge of this expansion, that ragged line of white society, was naturally more rough, more optimistic, and less restrained than anything to be found in the drawing rooms of Virginia, and it supplied the young country with a powerful sense of identity."

This place we inhabit "attracted a certain kind of settler, one who wanted to be left more or less alone and was willing to pay for this solitude with his blood."

"This is the basic idea of the frontier style: every man is more or less for himself, a good neighbor is one who needs no help, and efforts by the government to interfere are not to be trusted."

A historian notes: "a worship of action and accomplishment, a disdain for weakness or incompetence, and a thread of belligerance."

"Son, it is very rude to ask a man where he is from. If he is from Texas, you will find out, and if he's not, don't embarrass him."
—John Randolph, from the booklet "Texas Brags"

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