Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preview: The Texas Epic

Texas. It's one of the few states that immediately conjures an instant vision. Off hand, the only others that come to mind are New York with its metropolitan landscape and California with it's laid back lifestyle. Alas, thanks to the portrayals of the past, Texas' image is still of ten-gallon hats and cattle herds. They say everything's bigger in the Lone Star state, and I guess that also applies to generalizations about us. To this day, it amuses me when I travel out of state and people ask if we all live on ranches and all wear cowboy hats. I can't vouch for you, but surely don't.

Alas, film portrayals don't help the cause. And although Giant is likely a seminal movie that others use to profile Texas, it's still a truly great film. All in all, I shouldn't really complain. If given a choice between stereotypes, I'd much rather take a moment to counter a portrayal of our citizens as oil ranchers than as a clan of chainsaw wielding killers.

Last year, after years of resistance, I saw Giant for the first time during last summer's Classic Film Series. It was an eye-opening experience, to be sure (one can read about it here). I watched it again earlier this summer during a road trip to Marfa, TX. There we watched the movie at the Hotel Paisano, where cast and crew stayed when the film was being made. Inside, there was a veritable shrine to Giant, and it was amazing to look upon the abundance of props and memorabilia.

That evening, the movie was shown outdoors on a large inflatable screen under a moonless sky. While it was beautiful to behold under the stars and literally in the shadow of the historic hotel, the experience just didn't hold a candle to my first experience at The Paramount. Maybe it was the wind bellowing the screen, maybe it was the passing trains or murmuring crowds during the film. Either way, I knew to appreciate it best I would have to return home.

And so Giant returns again this summer to The Paramount, and I couldn't be happier.

Released in 1956, Giant was directed by George Stevens and stars Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. A multi-generational tale about a cattleman (Hudson) and his East Coast bride's (Taylor) rivalry against a local ranch hand (Dean) and against society itself, the film is an epic on a Texas-sized scale.

On the surface, Giant has no reason to be this good. Based on a best-selling novel by Edna Ferber, it easily could've been translated into a melodramatic soap opera of sorts. In fact, while watching this movie one can clearly see situations that were to be echoed in the overwrought TV series, "Dallas" that was to come two decades later.

What helps this film transcend is the awe-inspiring scope that Stevens took to the material. Although undeniably Texan, it is at its heart an American story, a look at a family and the shifting of social and personal beliefs through the generations.

I can't say enough about the performance here, either. Rock Hudson is great as Bick Benedict, the patriarch and central figure of the story. James Dean is Jett Rink, a rags to riches to decay character who steals nearly every scene he appears in. Tragically, Dean died in a car accident just one week after filming concluded. His role in Giant remains an example of Dean at his finest, and sadly hints at the incredible career he could have had. However, perhaps the most stellar performance belongs to the late Elizabeth Taylor in the movie. As Leslie, Benedict's wife, she represents the heart of the story. Smart, compassionate and strong, Taylor is sublime with an understated power that reaches across generations. She's the catalyst for change, and is tough enough to survive Texas customs and then dig in her own spurs to break a historically conservative culture.

I continue about the majestic excellence of Giant, but after one viewing you would likely be inclined to agree. The superlatives can rattle on and on and on to fill Texas itself. Even in a summer of amazing film classics, it stands tall among like an oil derrick on the landscape. Appropriately, it's cinematic gold. Or should I say... "black gold. Texas tea."

Showtimes for the film:

Thursday, Sept 1st

The Sept 1st screening is also the 2011 Summer Classic FIlm Series CLOSING PARTY.
Film Fans receive FREE admission, drinks, popcorn & a special gift!

Friday, Set 2nd

Saturday, Sept 3rd

Final Note about the screening

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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