The page-turning story of Oklahoma on film
A new collection of essays weighs in on the state’s onscreen image and identity.
“There is indeed an Oklahoma literature, or at all costs, an Oklahoma manner. Has anyone ever heard of an Ohio manner?”
This rhetorical question, from the curmudgeonly, eminently quotable American journalist and wordsmith H.L. Mencken, is a rallying cry of sorts for the newly established publishing house Forty-Sixth Star Press. It’s based out of Oklahoma City; Pam Bracken, an English professor at Southern Nazarene University, is its publisher.
When I traded some brief e-mails with Bracken recently, she mentioned that the aim of her small press is to give writers, educators, artists and critics the chance to exhibit such an “Oklahoma manner.” (Thus, the Mencken quote appears, banner-like, on the Forty-Sixth Star Press Web site.)
Which brings us to a new book that’s just been published by this here press, one of the three inaugural titles to appear from Bracken’s publishing venture: “Sooner Cinema: Oklahoma Goes to the Movies.”
It’s a collection of 19 essays — by scholars, authors, journalists, librarians and plain old film buffs — concerning various classic Oklahoma films, along with a few cultish or decidedly unorthodox choices. The pieces comprising “Sooner Cinema” also concern how we Oklahomans live with, grow up with, evaluate or otherwise experience these films. It’s a diverse, diverting anthology that ranges from the professional to the personal, from the footnoted to the free-associative.
Browsers will find explorations of the likes of “Oklahoma!” (1955), “Cimarron” (1931), “The Oklahoma Kid” (1939) and “Silkwood” (1983), along with reflections on “Tulsa” (1949), “This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!” (1971), “Okie Noodling” (2001) and the groundbreaking work of this state’s newsreel cameramen.
Here’s one sample excerpt, from film and literature scholar Larry A. Van Meter, who also serves as the editor of this volume: “Though Will Rogers is perhaps Oklahoma’s favorite son — portraying the folksy, down-home, commonsensical subjectivity that Oklahoma seems most proud of — John Wayne is Oklahoma’s patron saint, always above us, always there, always watching.”
And here’s another, from Aaron Hunter, who’s working on a film studies doctorate in Northern Ireland, and who is here discussing director Hal Ashby’s fine biopic of Woody Guthrie, “Bound for Glory” (1976): “Like many other Ashby heroes — from Harold Chasen (of 1971’s ‘Harold and Maude’) to George Roundy (of 1975’s ‘Shampoo’) to Chance the Gardener (of 1979’s ‘Being There’) — Woody is an outsider who is not all the way out. He’s an individualist who needs society to maintain his sense of identity, but insists on keeping society at arm’s length in a precarious dance so that it doesn’t swallow him up.”
And finally, on the topic of “outsiders,” this is from Ryan Taylor, originally from suburban OKC, who recalls with much fondness — and a certain degree of Okie pride (see “Oklahoma manner,” above) — the original release of “The Outsiders” (1983) during his teen years: “‘As I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house …’ What a fantastic introduction. For my money, it ranks right up there with ‘R-O-S-E-B-U-D.’”
If you’re a person who digs things as disparate as John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) and Milos Forman’s “Hair” (1979) — and who, additionally, is curious to learn about how Machine Gun Kelly’s 1933 kidnapping trial in OKC was captured on film — then “Sooner Cinema” is a book you’ll want to pick up.
And you know who you are. Avid moviegoers tend to be avid readers, and often vice versa — and sometimes the next best thing to seeing one of your favorite films for the umpteenth time is reading a thoughtful essay about said film. That’s the gist of this nifty book.
United we sit (at the Circle, while watching a movie)
Talk about running with the big dogs. Can you name the film festival that will, throughout 2009, make stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, London, New York … and Tulsa? That would be the United Film Festival, which will hit T-Town smack dab in the Circle Cinema (at 12 S. Lewis Ave.; call 592-FILM) over the first weekend of this month (July 31–Aug. 2). Some very cool movies (both new and old) are lined up for the Tulsa United event. Check out the festival’s online flyer (at www.theunitedfest.com/tulsa) for descriptions and showtimes.
Scott Gregory hosts “All This Jazz” on Public Radio 89.5 KWGS, where he also serves as the producer and editor of “Studio Tulsa.”