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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Schmaltz Across Texas On the Lonesome Trail with the New Western Movies BY DON GRAHAM DANCER, TEXAS, POPULATION 81. Written and directed by Tim McCanlies. STILL BREATHING. Written and directed by James F. Robinson. DEEP IN THE HEART. Directed by Stephen Purvis. here’s a lot of talk in the media about “Texas in the movies, the movies in Texas”: movies, site on the homepage of the imagination, called Holly wood, Texas. Movie actress Sandra Bullock is crazy about Austin. Movie producer Linda Obst has a house in the Hill Country. Gossip columnists are chasing movie stars through the Texas brush. And Joe Everybody has a new screenplay. Maybe from all of this, something worth watching will someday appear on the screen. Maybe. Hope Floats is the title of Sandra Bullock’s latest film set, of course, in Down Home, Texas. I’ve only seen the trailers, but as a right-to-carry-a-concealedweapon Texas citizen, I’m entitled to a shoot-from-the-hip opinion, and here it is: Hope floats, and so does cowshit. Maybe the Bullock opus will lift Texas from its current fatal attraction to vapid sentimentality, built around the highly dubious conceit that Texas is a laid-back Eden compared to Los AngeL.A. any old time over Shitkickerville, Texas, population whatever. Here’s how I’ve been wasting away in Texas movie-vine: going to really bad Texas movies. Numero-Uno Bad is Dancer, Texas, Population 81. The acting is amateurish at best, so I won’t spend any time bashing the going nowhere no-names, but I will say I’m extremely grateful they didn’t get Olympia Dukakis for the role of the overbearing mother who rides roughshod over her wimpy husband and son. Dukakis always comes to mind when I see libelously exaggerated portraits of Texan or Southern women in the movies. Dukakis Dukakis Dukakis starred in the grandmother of all these sappy flicks, Steel Magnolias a libel against American males and Dukakis, along with Dolly Parton \(who has the on-screen presence of Beatty’s sister combined to make Magnolias one of the most offensive motion pictures in history. I know, I know: millions of mothers and daughters loved it. They loved watching big-footed Julia Roberts \(take a look at those die. In my classes of that era, I always had two or three students who rated it as their alltime favorite movie and who, working at the top of their abilities, always pulled low Cs, ’cause I’m basically a softie. If Steel Magnolias is a good movie, Ellen is straight. Now, where was I? Dancer, Texas is conceptually challenged. The film town, with a high school graduating class of five students: four boys and a girl. The four boys are a cross-section: Terrell Lee, kid, and John, cowboy kid. The four of them at the age of nine, mind you made a “sacred vow” \(a phrase that is uttered seventy-four times in the course of Time passes, to which praise God we are not privy, and the story begins the day before they are to depart. Now get this: they are going by bus. Dancer, Texas is located somewhere in Jeff Davis County, near Fort Davis, and from there to L.A., by bus, is a trip of some twenty-plus hours. One of the kids has a perfectly good automobile, a convertible, but it never occurs to these numbnuts that a car might be handy in L.A., city of freeways. So they are going by bus, the tickets for which they purchased two years ago. Apparently they have not been informed that large silver aeroplanes fly back and forth between El Paso and El Lay on a daily basis. It would cost more, of course, but they would arrive there fresh as daisies instead of worn out, smelly, and dazed as they will surely be upon the eventual conclusion to the two-day journey overland by bus. If they escape being sold into male prostitution upon delivery to the Greyhound station in downtown L.A., their lives are likely to be golden out there in golden land. Right. Actually only two of them go, the rich kid and the intellectual, doofus and cowboy staying behind to harvest the new ratio of girls heh, heh and take care of the home folks. The tension over who will go, whether any will go, has about the same suspense level as an old episode of Dragnet. I have no interest in seeing a Porky’s Out West but you’d think that among four eighteen-year-olds, maybe at least one of them might have a hankering for something on the sexual side of human experience. Not so. These boys are sweet as the dew on a cactus rose. They enjoy their male bonding so much they don’t have time for girls, or boys either. I longed for one of them to have transvestite urgings, to turn this inert piece of nostalgia into Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, or jump-start it in some direction that offered the possibility, however remote, of creating interest. Instead we watch them sit in the road in lawn chairs and talk about going to L.A., and are told that one of their favorite things to do is to watch the sunsets, which are said to be beautiful. This town is so sexless you wonder how it ever managed to cough up eighty-one citizens. Director Tim McCanlies told an interviewer that the film’s “a West Texas Our Town, so to speak.” But Thornton Wilder’s Our Town possessed some irony, some artifice \(though as far I’m concerned, it was 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 5, 1998