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    Alamo's Hollywood Roots

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    In the 1993 Malle on Malle, editor Philip French starts his discussion with director Louis Malle (Pretty Baby, Atlantic City, My Dinner with Andre) on his topical mid-1980s project with its touchstone Hollywood roots. He asserted: “Alamo Bay [1985, opening theatrically 32 years ago today] is directly in the tradition of the Warner Bros. social-conscience picture. Darryl Zanuck, who created the genre at Warner Bros., said he would snatch stories from the headlines and make hard-hitting melodramas.” Malle countered: “There was a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine written by a Texan journalist called Ross Milloy. I thought it exposed fascinating contradictions in America: this notion that the Vietnam War was continuing on American soil in Texas. Here were these fishermen who were Catholic and had left Vietnam with their priest and resettled in the Gulf in Florida and Texas. Almost immediately they started competing with the American shrimpers, and because they were terribly good at what they were doing and very organized and hard workers, they started to threaten he American fishermen’s economic survival. That set off a series of ugly incidents. The KKK moved in immediately and tried to organize the fishermen and encouraging violence. I’m always interested when, due to historical events, people are forced into behavior that would not normally happen, that’s created by circumstance. Suddenly people change. They find out who they are – sometimes revealing the ugly side of themselves. This was obviously the case in those fishing towns in south Texas….It gave me a chance to expose the roots of racism….If you compare it to what happened in Europe with the Jews, the similarities are striking. I thought it was an opportunity to examine what seems to be a pattern.” Working with Silkwood screenwriter Alice Arlen and top-flight actors Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Donald Moffat, along with new discoveries Ho Nguyen and Truyen V. Tran, Malle, an accomplished maker of documentaries as well as narrative films, assembled a sharply critical and tension-packed study of cultural clashes about which he felt vindicated.” He told French that despite the reopening of old wounds among the citizenry filming on location: “I was happy with the film when it was all finished. I thought I had made my point, I thought it was accurate, I thought the depiction of the rednecks was not at all a caricature – although that’s what the American critics complained about. The New York and Los Angeles critics know nothing about the redneck culture. I knew a lot more about it after making the movie than they did. I was not expecting that it would necessarily be well received but I thought the film had real integrity.” He was particularly impressed with his leading man. “Ed [Harris], in a matter of days, started to mix with the fishermen and become one of them. He was so much part of the community, so much of a redneck, that sometimes I was not sure if I was dealing with an actor….And that helped us, because the locals in the cast were crazy for Ed, they loved him, they were all buddies. Amy and Ed have always been liberal in the American sense, they’ve always been involved in leftist causes. Yet Ed was practically taking sides with the rednecks. Which is something I wanted – I wanted to do justice to them, in the sense that the presence of the Vietnamese was definitely an economic threat.” And that justice is still served decades hence in a contentious present in which hot-button issues of immigration and livelihood upheavals remain scaldingly relevant. Moodily photographed by Curtis Clark (The Draughtsman’s Contract, Dominick and Eugene) and with the throbbing score by Ry Cooder (The Long Riders, Paris, Texas) showcased on an Isolated Music Track, Twilight Time’s hard-hitting hi-def Blu-ray of Alamo Bay (available here: continues to wear its proud social-conscience mantle well.