Friday, April 3, 2009
The Ballad Of Lou Perryman.
Image from CINEMA WASTELAND.
Sometime in 2007, I wrote an article for American Vulture about Eagle Pennell. Nothing major. Just lamenting on how LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO affected me and how much I wanted to see the THE WHOLE SHOOTIN' MATCH. Since American Vulture will unfortunately cease to exist after April 13th, 2009, I'll reprint it here:
THINKIN' ABOUT EAGLE PENNELL
by Eric M. Harvey
Whenever I think about making a movie, Eagle Pennell comes to mind.
Eagle was the guy who directed THE WHOLE SHOOTIN' MATCH, a movie that Robert Redford famously championed as the reason he started Sundance. He was also the guy who directed LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO, one of my all-time favorites even though I never mention it when somebody asks, "What're your favorite movies?" (I usually draw a complete blank anyway).
Working at Movies Worth Seeing in Atlanta, LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO hung out in the sleeper section, a catch-all for quirky indie stuff from the 70's up. It was a Continental Video release in the huge big box so it stuck out like a sore thumb. If you read the synopsis on the back and check out the stills, you get a "this could go either way" feeling. Luckily, it did go the way of greatness.
At the time, I'd describe it to the customers as "the redneck CLERKS" just to pique their interest. It also stars Lou Perryman, L.G. from TEXAS CHAINSAW 2, so what more do you really need. For TEXAS CHAINSAW completists, Kim Henkel wrote, produced and co-edited it.
Everybody who took the plunge loved it. I feel bad describing it like that nowadays because it's so much better than that. It's what independent film used to be and I wish could be again: talented people using whatever they got to make a scruffy, likable, minor masterpiece which completely captures the region it comes from and makes film a viable option in life's pursuit of happiness. It's that inspiring.
Eagle Pennell died, pretty much thanks to his alcoholism, in 2002. Around that time, there was a retrospective of his works at the Alamo Drafthouse in his stomping grounds of Austin that included LAST NIGHT as well as THE WHOLE SHOOTIN' MATCH and his short film, A HELL OF A NOTE. His output was miniscule and other than LAST NIGHT, none of them were released on video (if you read this and should have a copy of WHOLE SHOOTIN' or any others besides LAST NIGHT, I'll definitely be your best friend).
Apparently, they're grizzled greatness at it's most sloppy. If they're anything like LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO, then they'd probably become favorites as well which I could blank on at the dreaded favorite movies question.
If you've seen it, I'm preachin' to the choir. If you haven't, do yourself a favor. Track down LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO.
Because of that article, M.G. Wood, grand poobah of American Vulture, recieved an email from Lou Perryman. He forwarded it to me and to make a long story short, it pretty much was a thank you as well as an invitation to contact him further.
I never did. Equal parts laziness, equal parts fear. I don't consider myself a journalist and I'm scared about starting something I can't finish. I do it a lot and lose track of time. Also I think it was mostly fear. What the fuck am I going to say to Claude from LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO? L.G. from TCM2? Looking back, I remember saying to myself to contact him. And then I truly and honestly forgot. My life is a perpetual Bermuda Triangle of time.
My buddy Murphy called me tonight and told me about what happened. I was shocked. I'm even more shocked now that I've had time to think about it. And to read about how he died is even more infuriating, sad and confusing. He was supposed to be part of the TCM reunion at Cinema Wasteland this weekend.
Even more maddening is how underused and overlooked he was, not to mention the great Sonny Carl Davis, his cinematic partner in crime. They were the Matthau and Lemmon of Texas. Possibly even more important in the grand scheme of things for me. Because even though Matthau and Lemmon were schlubs every man could relate to, Perryman and Davis were schlubs every man from the South could relate to. Those characters they created in the Pennell films, I know those people. Those people ARE my family.
I've got a lot of dreams that die by my own self-defeatist hand but there's this script I have half-written that when I was writing it, I had Perryman in mind for the father role. Every time I wrote a line for the father character, all I could hear was Perryman's Claude character from LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO.
I tend to attach people to certain things based on the music or movies they make, and those people make me want to go there. In the late 80's/early 90's, The Replacements/Paul Westerberg's LEFT OF THE DIAL made me want to move to Georgia, which I did.
Perryman and Pennell in the late 90's/early 2000's made me want to move to Austin, TX, which I haven't yet. Now they're both gone. Pennell by his own selfish, fucked up demons (which sadly I can relate to, explaining my Westerberg/Pennell/Peckinpah worship that at most times nowadays I try not to wear as a badge of honor) and now Perryman because of pure insanity.
In a way, I'm glad I made no contact with Lou Perryman. If I had, this would have been more hard to take than it is. In the interviews I've read about him and the interviews I've seen with him, he seems to be one of the most honest and lovable gentlemen ever to walk the earth.
My heart goes out to his family and friends. Please seek out the available work he left behind.
LOU PERRYMAN DEAD at The Onion's A.V. Club.
LOU PERRYMAN homicide info at Austin's KXAN.com.
LOU PERRYMAN and SONNY CARL DAVIS interview at the Onion's A.V. Club.
My original article at AMERICAN VULTURE (while it lasts).
Goodnight, Mr. Perryman. I guess the only thing we can do is play you a song. And I couldn't even tell you why it's this one.
Maybe because I'm just a Florida boy who dreams of Texas.
And thank you, Lou Perryman, for helping make those dreams seem in reach as well as comfortable and familiar.