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joft g eo u xiT MADE OF HIGH STRENGTH MYLAR _ Dragon 45′ $9.00 Cub 25′ $7.00 Super Dragon 75′ $25.00 GROK OOKS 503B West 17thAustin MARTIN ELFANT SUN LIFE OF CANADA LIFE HEALTH DENTAL 600 JEFFERSON SUITE 430 HOUSTON, TEXAS 224-0686 1 BROWSE TILL 10:00 P.M. MONDAY thru FRIDAY Now In Our 13th Year of son** to Austin GARNER AND SMITH-1 *STORE 2116 Guadalupe Austin, Texas 711706 477-9725 to the rosy skyline of a Texas city. Cocktail party chatter drowns out the crickets. And here are the people chattering, milling around in the Fort Worth Art Museum, at the opening of a show. James Surls, George Green, and Robert Wade, the three artists who are the stars of Jackelope, are floating through the crowd; supporting players John Alexander and Letitia Eldridge are also on hand. If you wait for a mike-clutching reporter to appear on screen or an invisible narrator to speak up and tell you exactly who these people are and how to think about what you’ll see and hear, you wait in vain. Don’t expect cinema verite, either: no one in the film pretends to forget that a movie crew is present; all play characters much like themselves. And Harrison has a lot of mean, clean fun with many of the conventions of television documentaries. For in-, stance, you expect a television documentary to be stuffed full of Interesting True Facts. Jackelope delivers. Here are four of my favorites: The cost of stuffing and mounting an adult mule, F.O.B. Waco;’ The origin of the term “high roller” ;2 The method used to cook rattlesnake meat in a fast-food operation; 3 The credential which must be presented when you purchase dynamite in Texas. 4 The Phone Call from the Motel Room, the Academic Lecture, the Informal Discourse Over Drinks and Snacks, the Cross-Country Car Trip Sequence, Scenes of Men at Work, Scenes of People at Parties, the Media Eventthese are to documentaries what arias, duets, trios, sextets, and full chorus numbers are to grand opera. In Jackelope, Harrison treats his documentary set-pieces with a courtly but unmistakably kinky formality. The Phone Call from the Motel Room is used to convey exposition with a blatant glee last seen when stage lights went up on the maid telling the butler about the master’s latest romance. One Informal Discourse on Art and Life is punctuated with a shot of an attentive bulldog; another Discourse is moved forward by a closeup of a noisy electric fan. Throughout Jackelope, Harrison, soundman Michael Apsey, and mixdown recordist Roy Cherryhomes dish out more hilarious audio garbage than is usually decipherable on a monophonic soundtracka further subversion of the squeaky-clean conventions of broadcast documentaries. Basic to the success of any dramatic film is its casting. In choosing Suds, Green, and Wade as his leading players, Harrison took risks which only a director with a strong, 1 Between $1,800 and $2,000. 2 From the broad, steeply upturned brims of the hats once fashionable with gamblers. 3 Place the reptile meat in a wire basket and drop in a vat of hot fatjust like french fries. 4 A driver’s license. all of the artists presented in Jackelope, Surls, Green, and Wade are, “in real life,” fairly good friends; but as men and as artists they are three very different sorts. Harrison has the guts and talent to base much of Jackelope’s narrative structure on these differences. James Surls is a huge, amiable man; of the three leads, he seems most at home with himself and his worlds, and, as an artist, the most direct, unaffected, and original. He is a wood sculptor, the constructor of looming, totemic beings. That the first 25 minutes of Jackelope presents the works and days of James Surls is an easy proof of Harrison’s directorial savvy. Harrison first presents Suds in the role of the artist-as-hard-laboring-good-ol’-boy. In a thicket near Malakoff, Surls and his father and a friend \(painter John Alexanone sweaty disappointment, they find and extract an elm adequate for most of a monumental piece of sculpture that Sufis envisions. Sufis hauls the log into his Dallas studio where, slowly, enchantingly, Blind Bear Holding a Crooked Stick emerges under his cutting tools. Outside his studio, other facets of Surls’ role emerge: paterfamilias, good neighbor philosopher. When he is showing slides of his work in a lecture hall at SMU, Surls says, “This is called, I Saw A Man with Bats in His Hands and Three Birds Stuck in His Head. At this point, I kinda had decided that it was okay to make something that was, uh, `nuts,’ so to speak. It’s okay to do it ’cause it’s sculpture, seeit’s just art; it’s not real. So it won’t really hit you on the head, or anything.” But when Sufis returns to his bear-in-progress, he greets it with a friendly whack on its rump, and when the moment comes for him to blind the bear, Surls is very solemn as he gouges in its eyes with a fiery poker. Then Surls gives the bear its crooked stick and backs away to take in what he has wrought: in bright sunlight, his selfportrait, a bear of raw wood, poised on its hind claws, sightless and saddened, but strong and, by God, holding its magic staff at the ready. Suddenly cocktail party chatter rushes in on the soundtrack and both Surls and the bear are on display at the opening of the “Texas Tough” group show at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. This is one of Harrison’s most telling transitions; with it, Jackelope moves away from James Surls. George Green’s work is a part of the “Texas Tough” show in San Antonio, and here Harrison begins a series of short, elliptical sequences which present Green in the role of the artist-as-a-quiet-man-inwhom-dwell-noisy-demons. In the film, George Green’s drawings and gallery-scale displays are antigens he concocts from the gaudy poisons of commercial iconography, settled piety, and hand-me-down myths. On screen, the best of Green’s work im March 12, 1976 11