Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

true grit regret

January sunset, Texas freeway

I very much enjoyed your remake of the movie "True Grit". I appreciated how much your version moves toward the Charles Portis novel, a novel I consider a masterpiece of Arkansas culture. I know that lots of folks issue effulgent praise of your movie, casting asperions at the earlier version. I find both to be very fine movies indeed. I loved the way your film in particular grasps the importance of dialogue, and that the accent coach you got for Mattie (who may have done such a fine job on her own, with diligent pluck). Arkansas accents are not easy for films to capture--and in particular the 19th Century Yell County accent is something Portis' book captures but few movies could.

I am concerned, however, that you do not realize that you left an important character out of your movie. This character is firmly lodged in the book, so that I am surprised you overlooked that character. Actually, it is two characters. One is the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The other is southeastern Oklahoma, and in particular that portion of that state near its eastern mid-section in which are located the Winding Stair Mountains.

I know that for people who spend a lot of time in California or in New York, the outback of all flyover zones is much the same. However, a movie about the wild and wonderful Winding Stair Mountains cannot use the environs of Santa Fe, New Mexico as a fill-in. It is true that parts of western Oklahoma might resemble parts of eastern New Mexico. However, eastern Oklahoma's Winding Stair Mountains do not equate to the semi-arid northern New Mexico landscapes. Similarly, Fort Smith, Arkansas is not much like the terrain of Austin, Texas.

I know that it is a Hollywood tradition to alter landscapes willy-nilly--or, as Michael Myers has his Austin Powers character say, it's amazing how much the English cliffs look like southern California. But "True Grit" is a tragi-comic novel about real places that existed but were nothing like traditional westerns painted them. I will grant you that at least you did not go to Monument Valley or the Santa Monica Mountains. Yet the Winding Stair Mountains are still relatively pristine. They are breathtakingly wild and lovely in places. They would have made a wonderful place to film. I know that you cannot get lattes along the Talimena Trail, though you might see a bear, if you are lucky. In Santa Fe and Austin you no doubt can get all the luxury coffees you can drink. I do not understand why you could not find a western Arkansas area to stand in for Fort Smith and film the outdoors scenes in the places where Mr. Portis set them.

Perhaps, though, is it just as well. Had you shown these areas to the world, then people would flock to them, like tourists hunting Hogwarts school. As it is now, that part of Oklahoma has tons of hiking and lakes and scenery available for nature-lovers' use with a minimum of crowding. Had you set up camp in, say, Broken Bow, a more culturally reasonable locale to fit the novel, then you'd have brought it a glamour it does not need. I think, to reiterate in Old Testament fashion, it may be just as well.

Yet somehow I fear that you missed a near chance to make the definitive film of the Portis novel--and the real film with the right settings, lies a few decades in the future. I will grant you that the story is timeless and not encumbered by place. But place in this book matters, as I recall. Place matters, indeed.

In the meantime, thank you for a lovely film.

Your fan, gurdonark

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