Could it be that the best movie I’ll see in 2007 is from 1979? Seeing as how rarely I go to the movies these days and now most of my movie watching is done at home, where stacks of older films pile up around me, begging for my attention, this probability is not as odd as it sounds.
This small budget, regional film from Austin, Texas has been lost for years and thanks to the work of Mark Rance at Watchmaker Films its been given a re-birth. Eagle Pennell was only 25 or 26 when he started shooting this tale of two blue collar Texas buddies trying to strike it rich. While it brought him some attention, most notably from Robert Redford who credits this film for inspiring the Sundance Film Festival and Institute, Eagle Pennell would turn out to be his own worst enemy. Often drinking or snorting up future production money, in many ways Pennell is like the lovable losers at the center of The Whole Shooting Match.
Shot in black and white the film is comprised of loose scenes captured in a style that bounces gracefully back and forth between intimate handheld camera work, reminiscent of cinema verite and the more composed and locked-down tableaux of neo-realism. Set in and around the Austin area, long before it became a hotbed for hipness, the film captures a deep regional flavor. Lou Perryman and Sonny Carl Davis provide genuine performances that are both comical and touching. At one instance they feel like cartoon characters come to life, akin to those in King of the Hill. Over time their humorous edge dissolves to reveal struggling, troubled personalities who squander opportunity for simple pleasures.
Introduced by Mark Rance, The Whole Shooting Match is being positioned as the sort of regional film made between the two coasts that captures the wide, varied nature of the American Dream. Even though Rance over-stated a few claims about the cost of film during this era and the relative lack of filmmaking of this ilk during the 70′s, I completely understand that he is simply attempting to promote a relatively unknown film in an already over-saturated film market. Getting people to care about any film, particularly one that is more than 25 years old is difficult.
I’ve waited many years to see this film. Unlike many other ‘unknown’ films that I’ve been able to track down through gray market trades or alternate avenues of distribution, The Whole Shooting Match proved to be impossible to find. Thankfully, the wait was more than worth it. So rarely do you find a film this well balanced in its use of humor, drama, pace, and style. It is even more rare to find a film that cares so greatly for its characters’ faults. Most uniquely, especially in today’s independent film market, it is refreshing to find a young filmmaker producing a rather adult piece of fiction that deals not with the existential crisis of young college students or those young than the filmmaker, but rather with issues of adults inhabiting the ‘real world’. How great it is to see someone looking closely at the American Dream of those blue collar families and not just the navel gazing solipsism of love sick twenty somethings who exist seemingly without parents or family.
On a side note, this is the only film I got to see at this year’s Milwaukee International Film Festival and I greatly thank them for bringing the film and Mark Rance to Milwaukee.