I’ve gotten some interesting responses to yesterday’s post on the dearth of Texas writers—none yet in the comments section, but I’m crossing my fingers—and one careful reader reminded me that I should have clarified something here. When I refer to Texas writers, I was thinking primarily in terms of prose, poetry, or drama. There’s certainly no lack of songwriters in the Lone Star state.
The reader, a budding screenwriter, pointed out that there’s no void when it comes to filmmakers, either. He’s right. Orson Welles set one of his few true masterpieces, Touch of Evil, in a Texas border town. A fictional Texas border town is the site of one of my favorite movies of all-time (and on which I’m working on an essay). Robert Altman directed an interesting failure, Dr. T and the Women in Dallas, and a cool sci-fi film—Primer—was also shot and filmed in Dallas. Wes Anderson, Terence Malick, Robert Rodriguez, and Richard Linklater all hail from Texas; the latter two continue to shoot most of their movies in and around Austin. Hell, the most famous soap opera of all time bares the name Dallas, so it’s not as if screenwriters haven’t found something in the state.
But cinema emphasizes visual splendor and spectacle, the mad interplay of color and light, and grand vistas. Texas has all of this in spades. Dallas, my hometown, is especially glitzy; it prides itself on spit and polish more than any other place I’ve ever been. But visual pop doesn’t necessarily equate to emotional depth, and maybe the overabundance of the former combined with the lack of the latter is why Dallasites have such a hard time writing about the place. Or, at least, they have a hard time with the city when they know what they write isn’t likely to make it to the TV screen. One recent novel, by the magnificent Poppy Z. Brite, gets my hometown right:
They were in a revolving cocktail lounge atop the glittering orb of Reunion Tower, fifty stories above the city. It was cheesy as hell, but Rickey was glad Coop had brought him here, since he had never before seen anything like this view of nighttime Dallas. If a very rich woman with very gaudy taste had upended her jewelry box onto a huge piece of dark blue satin, it might have looked a little like this. There were buildings that seemed to sparkle with gold dust, buildings topped with ruby beacons, a huge building completely outlined in emerald-colored argon tubing, a slightly smaller one whose lights made a pattern like a DNA helix. Far below, traffic moved in glowing chains among it all.
That’s from Brite’s newest novel, Prime. She gets at how beautiful Dallas is, but also how surface-level that beauty is. You get the sense that there’s little foundation between the glitz. Brite gets more to the point later on, when Coop is further showing off the sights:
“Oh, the Big D on the TransWorld Communication Tower?” said Coop. “That’s just the city fathers’ latest addition to the skyline. It’s going to be the world’s largest D.”
“But why?” said Rickey. “Is it advertising something?”
“Dallas is advertising itself. That’s what they do here.”
That’s perfect. So, maybe it just takes outsiders to get Dallas right. Brite, after all, is from New Orleans.