As a new series for the SPTM, we will begin to regularly reprint the writings of Louis Black. Black was editor of the Austin Chronicle for 30 years during which he wrote on film, comic books, music and books, not only for the Chronicle, but also for Texas monthly, the Daily Texan, cinemaTexas, Film Comment and other publications.
Appropriately this first entry is on the legendary independent Texas Filmmaker Eagle Pennell. The pieces will be printed as they originally appeared.
Eagle Pennell directed two films, The Whole Shootin' Match and Last Night at the Alamo, that stand as classics of regional filmmaking and influenced the generations of filmmakers who followed him. Robert Redford made it clear that one of the things that inspired him in establishing Sundance was seeing The Whole Shootin' Match.
"It never occurred to me that my film was about alcoholism"
Review of The Whole Shooting Match
By Roger Ebert
RogerEbert.com, December 27, 2007
….The film shows that Pennell was a born story-spinner and creater of characters. If you Google him and read the tributes and memories in the Chronicle and other Texas papers, you'll find that many Texans believe he came closer to capturing the blue-collar spirit of their state than anyone else. I know my friend Molly Ivins thought so. But Eagle could not sober up; Louis Black remembers times when he went off to rehab, got drunk on the flight home, turned up at the Chronicle to borrow money to pay for the taxi from the airport and more money for another binge. His life must have been torture. But he left behind some lovely work, and "The Whole Shootin' Match" is priceless. I rated it at three stars on its first release. What was I waiting for? Do I ever change a rating. Hell, yes. I'd give it four today, and you'll see why.
The Greatest Independent Films of the Twentieth Century
A counter-canon of masterworks by filmmakers who took control of the means of production.
By Richard Brody
New Yorker, April 28, 2023
“The Whole Shootin’ Match”
1978, Eagle Pennell
The Texan filmmaker Eagle Pennell’s first feature is the movie that inspired Robert Redford to found Sundance. Set in Austin, “The Whole Shootin’ Match” is a downbeat but rowdy comedy about a pair of ne’er-do-wells’ get-rich-quick schemes and the effect of their inflated self-regard on the women in their lives. It’s also a poetic, flamboyant look at life in the rural shadows of a modern metropolis.
The Most Authentically Texan Movie You’ve Never Heard Of
Eagle Pennell’s The Whole Shootin’ Match, a comic tale of two Austin schemers, sets the standard for showing Texans who they are instead of who they’re supposed to be.
By Sean O'Neal
Texas Monthly, April 11, 2022
….The Whole Shootin’ Match, directed by the late Eagle Pennell from a screenplay cowritten by Lin Sutherland, is among the most authentic films to ever grapple with this distinctly Texan malaise—not least because it was made by and about actual Texans. Pennell, an Andrews native who grew up around College Station before he moved to Austin, was well steeped in Texas fables, idolizing classic western-movie directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, and John Huston. But whereas Ford et al. preferred to print the legend, Pennell’s 1978 debut feature is almost defiantly shaggy and naturalistic. It’s about ordinary Texans who dream as big and as wild as all those cowboy heroes Pennell grew up on, but whose realities have left them feeling trapped, unmoored, and uncertain between Texas’s past and its future. ….
….That authenticity earned The Whole Shootin’ Match some powerful fans when it first screened at Dallas’s USA Film Festival in 1978. Among the people who caught one of the early screenings was Robert Redford, who later said it inspired him to create his Sundance Institute so he could help foster more “regional” filmmakers and stories….Pennell’s decision to keep things local would leave a lasting impression on director Richard Linklater as well, who credits Pennell as a direct influence on his own career of making movies in his Austin backyard that star more genuine Texans…..
….The trio of Pennell, Davis, and Perryman did manage to team up once more on 1983’s Last Night at the Alamo, a similarly lo-fi and discursive tale about Houston barflies facing down the final last call at their favorite watering hole, which is soon to be gentrified out of existence. Its screenplay, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Kim Henkel….Davis’s character is even named Cowboy. As he explains to his partner, Claude, played by Perryman, Cowboy nurses a drunken dream of heading out west to become the next John Wayne in Hollywood—someplace he can live out that Old Texas mythos, in the only realm where it still exists.
….“They don’t have those guys out there anymore,” Cowboy tells Claude, adding with palpable disdain, “They got Clint Eastwood, or Robert Redford, or John Travolta. . . . They need guys like us.” Cowboy is right, although not in the way he means it. Film did need guys like that. And our culture got a whole lot richer once there were fewer cowboys and more Cowboys—and more Loyds and Franks—starring in thoughtful stories that saw Texans as complex, fallible people, not just stereotypes in Stetsons. Thanks in no small part to The Whole Shootin’ Match, playing a Texan, just like being a Texan, became a matter of getting your mind right.
Last Night at the Alamo (1983)
by Al Topich
Arkansas Democrat -Gazette, September 23, 2022
Several years ago, I was watching a Richard Linklater interview where he was talking about the filmmakers that inspired him to get into film, and he kept referencing this Austin, Texas, filmmaker by the name of Eagle Pennell. I had never heard of the guy, and I had been in film school for half a decade at that point. Linklater went on to say that this Pennell movie, "Last Night at the Alamo," helped him cultivate the idea for his movie "Slacker." So, being the curious film buff, I went and searched for "Alamo," and I couldn't find it streaming anywhere…..After scouring the internet for hours, I found a copy of it on YouTube. ..That night, I lay in bed, my laptop overheating on my chest, as I watched this shoddy version of "Last Night at the Alamo." And at the end of 81 minutes, I realized the greatness that Linklater was talking about. The movie is incredibly simple, yet its depiction of Southern characters is spot on, creating some of the realest Southerners I've ever seen in a movie.