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February 20, 2009

The Whole Shootin' Match

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The Whole Shootin' Match
Eagle Pennell - 1978
Watchmaker Films Region 1 DVD

Yes, The Whole Shootin' Match is the title of the film, presumed "lost", and recently found and restored to DVD. The title could also refer to the set which includes not only the movie with commentary tracks, but Eagle Pennell's short film, A Hell of a Note, a documentary on Pennell - The King of Texas, and a CD of music from the film, much of it by Pennell's brother, Chuck Pinnell. If that wasn't enough, there is also a booklet with reviews and articles testifying to the importance of The Whole Shootin' Match. It may be impossible to write about the film without discussing the surrounding legends - that this was the film that inspired Robert Redford to take over a film festival in Park City, Utah, and start workshops for independent filmmakers, and well as the legends surrounding Eagle Pennell.

Frank and Loyd are two guys, well on the other side of 30, in pursuit of the one venture that with a big payday. There's usually not quite enough money to pay the rent, but there are enough cold beers to get them through the day. Frank and Loyd are not even capable of making a go of their light hauling business, letting time slip by due to an overly casual attitude towards their work. The one time that it seems they have an invention, an electronic mop, that will pay off, they discover that they sold off all the rights for one thousand dollars. This is the story about people who try to remain optimistic about the future, even when they can barely keep their noses above water.

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For all the critical acclaim lauded on The Whole Shootin' Match, I liked A Hello of a Note better. The short film says more in about a quarter of the time, about some working class men and misplaced sense of masculinity. One scene which turned out to be prescient has one of the men, flirting with a woman at a bar, embarrassing her with his glib proposition. A similar scene would be enacted in real life by Pennell with a female producer.

The documentary of Pennell looking back at his career just two years after his debut feature played at film festivals, and had a brief theatrical run, indicates that even had he not surrendered his life to alcohol, he was not interested in a Hollywood career. Of the eight competitors at the U.S. Film Festival in 1978, Claudia Weill, Martha Coolidge, George A. Romero and Mark Rappaport have had careers of varying degrees of success, with Rappaport maintaining his status as a truly independent filmmaker. One of Pennell's unrealized projects was a Texan version of King Lear, an idea that was also entertained by Anthony Mann, and later realized by German Uli Edel as The King of Texas. It is quite possible that Pennell had really only had one or two films in him, as the excepts from his other films were of a couple of white guys sitting around drinking or talking about drinking.

While there are some who have liked The Whole Shootin' Match much more than I did, my recommendation is to see the film with the supplements. Some might share my amazement that the U.S. Film Festival chose this over Eraserhead, David Lynch's audacious debut. The supplements not only help in putting The Whole Shootin' Match into perspective of its place in film history, but also serve as a reminder of what independent filmmaking was like in a different era. Even if the quality of the film is subject to debate, the impact, even if unintended, cannot be ignored.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 20, 2009 12:48 AM


As a native Texan, it's sorta been my mission to track down most of Pennel's films, which has become more difficult that I'd imagined! "Last Night At the Alamo" uses alot of the same actors, and Pennel's vicious streak (i.e. drunken outlook, lines of swear words) is firmly intact there as well. I did prefer "The Whole Shootin' Match" over Alamo though. And I've always been fascinated that Richard Linklater mentions Pennel as his influence more than any other filmmaker.

Posted by: Joseph B. at February 21, 2009 02:15 AM