I’m growing weary of the fast paced life I lead. But with triple generations and a personal life to attend to, I need to keep saying, I’m blessed. And I am. Thinking deeply goes by the wayside though and so I’ll do by damndest to say something about the collection of Texas films I’ve led the discussion of at OllI this Fall Semester.
Since the movie industry has been male dominated up until recently, I’d better go with the theme of
WOMEN in TEXAS BASED FILMS.
Hud: Patricia Neal plays Alma, the housekeeper of the ranch. Living with three generations of men; father (played by Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas), son (Paul Newman), nephew (Brandon DeWilde), she has a lot of testosterone to deal with. She soothes herself with card games, Florida oranges, Fig Newtons and cigarettes. Winning the Oscar for this role proves hands down that she is ‘the boss’. Her character’s sexy cool mixed with an inner strength as tough as any bucking bronco, I’m sure her performance gave hope to anyone victim of domestic abuse.
Urban Cowboy: Here’s an unfortunate dichotomy as eleven years later Debra Winger’s Sissy seems resigned to take whatever the abuse de jour might be. Perhaps that’s why her name is Sissy as she doesn’t seem to be capable of standing up for herself, but instead chooses to seethe. You have to give her a hand though for channeling her frustration into perfecting a jaw dropping, erotic performance on the mechanical bull. Who knows how many female A list athletes didn’t also channel negative emotions into award winning performances?
Blood Simple: Frances McDormand’s doe eyed Abby in Blood Simple has a quiet, “I can get what I want by stage whispered statements and a Buddhist mentality of zero expectations”. She leaves Marty for what we assume is abuse and gravitates to a protective, albeit equally stunted, Ray. She at least was attempting to level up, obviously stuck in a place she felt she couldn’t leave.
Paris, Texas: Two women have important minor roles here; the adoptive mother (Anne played by Aurore Clement) and the biological mother (Jane played by Natassja Kinski). Anne speaks up for herself, but much like Frances, more meow than roar when her husband (Dean Stockwell) cavalierly wants to reunite their adoptive son with his brother, the biological father (Henry Dean Stanton). I would have been screaming, especially when the child takes off with this father who has obvious mental health concerns. Then again, blood is thicker than parent skills which is exactly why HDS decides his mission is to reunite his son with Jane, the biological mother. Jane is lost in a sea of regret and just making end’s meet working in a peep show house. She takes financial responsibility for the son, and seems to be happy to reunite with him. We don’t get to see what the long term consequences are, but HDS’s conscience is absolved. In summation, these two women seem to be like Sissy in taking what decisions the men in their lives to choose.
Boyhood: Here we have another Patricia (this time Arquette) who won an Academy Award for her performance as Mom Olivia in Boyhood. Her character seems hell bent on financial success and educational prowess at the sacrifice of quality time and guidance for her children. Considering her recurrent choice of broken men, we’ll have to assume her female role models weren’t the best. At the end of the film we see her sad at having an empty nest. Her breakdown scene is genius, but seems out of character to her former tough love parenting. Then again, as with Sissy, fortitude might be a key symptom of buried emotion.
Red Rocket: Bree Elrod plays Lexi, who seems mired in Texas City with her mother. While they own their own house, Lexi’s backstory is merely skimmed across and we discover she lost her child to Social Services. Considering we see her doing crack with her mother (allegedly for pain relief) we can assume her motherly instincts, at best, are intermittent. Enter her still, long lost husband Simon Rex. Every person on Earth has someone who can charm the pants ff them, and Mikey is her Achilles tendon. Meanwhile at the doughnut shop, we have Suzanna Shone as Strawberry, who at 17 (actual age 26) is easily taken in by hustlers like Mikey and due to her precocious promiscuity at such a young age, we can assume has one or more of the following: daddy issues, is horrifically unsupervised or a former sexual abuse victim. Lexi redeems herself by double crossing the double crosser. Strawberry’s future as the new Lexi is a probable. Hence, the movie shows with age comes maturity and an education at the school of hard knock(s) ups…ok, couldn’t resist that pun.
Women in this set of Texas films, as vast as the state is in size, with the grand exception of Hud’s Alma, seem stuck in the Lone Star’s quicksand. I doubt that’s merely a Texas issue, but more a condition of women without creative problem solving combined with a banal existence of comfort of place and fear of failure of in the even greater unknown.