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SXSW 2008: René Pinnell & Claire Huie on “The King of Texas”

SXSW 2008: René Pinnell & Claire Huie on “The King of Texas” (photo)

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It was an oddly complementary pairing at SXSW when there was a mid-festival premiere of “Lou Reed’s Berlin” followed by “The King of Texas,” a documentary about indie film pioneer Eagle Pennell. Like Reed, whose sole album fronting The Velvet Underground inspired a host of imitators, Pennell is cited as an influence for not only filmmakers like Richard Linklater, who picked up Pennell’s loose-knit aesthetic for “Slacker,” but also for the likes of Robert Redford, who was said to have been inspired by the film to commandeer the U.S. Film Festival in Utah in order to make it a forum for regional filmmaking — now known as Sundance. Pennell made two films that suggested far greater things — the laconic, lived-in slices of life “The Whole Shootin’ Match” in 1979 and “Last Night at the Alamo” in 1983 — before his struggle with alcoholism and other personal demons left him homeless and ultimately, dead mere days before he was to have turned 50 in 2002.

Although Pennell’s work is largely unknown outside of Texas, his friend and restoration expert Mark Rance is hoping to change that with a DVD of “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” complete with a new documentary on Pennell made by his nephew René Pinnell and Claire Huie. But make no mistake, the resulting film, “The King of Texas” is far more than your typical DVD special feature. Insightful and pulling no punches, the film chronicles Pennell’s adventures as a filmmaker who was immensely talented and unprepared for success, with interviews with Linklater, screenwriters Bud Shrake and Kim Henkel, and several other of Pennell’s friends and collaborators. Pinnell and Huie spoke about capturing Pennell’s larger than life personality shortly after their film’s SXSW premiere.

You say in the film you didn’t really know about Eagle’s films until he died. When did you first discover them?

René Pinnell: I’d known before [Eagle] had passed away that he was a filmmaker, but I had no idea what kind of movies he made or where. When he died, [Austin Chronicle editor and friend of Pennell] Louis Black organized a retrospective screening of his films at the downtown Alamo Drafthouse. I watched his movies and I was blown away because they were really good. It was totally bizarre to me — I think I was 18 then and had already been making movies since when I was really young. I started doing animation when I was eight or nine, claymation and hand-drawn animation, and as soon as mini DV cameras came out I started working with those. [Filmmaking] had already been a huge part of my life by the time I found out that someone in my family actually made a movie that I liked.

03252008_wholeshootinmatch.jpgWas it a huge shock to find out that you were related to such an accomplished filmmaker?

RP: It was a neat connection, and I remember wondering why I never knew the guy. I knew the basic reason was because he was kind of a drunk and a bum for the later part of his life. But I didn’t really understand why he was never a part of my life at all until I made the movie, because it was only then that I understood the full extent of how difficult my dad’s relationship was with his brother. Before I was born, he and Eagle tried to write a film together. They were trying to write a western and my dad took it really seriously and worked hard and had a lot of hopes riding on it. Eagle would have some good ideas, but he could never sit down and finish it, and never gave the direction that my dad needed. So it fizzled, and I think after that it was just always painful for my dad to do anything with his brother, [for] that and a whole host of other reasons.

Because this is a personal story and you had so many family members involved in the making of the movie, were there things about Eagle that people shied away from talking about?

RP: Claire would probably be the best one to answer that because she was our barometer in terms of making sure that we were honest.

Claire Huie: There were scenes that were difficult, that initially, when Chuck [Pinnell, René’s father and Eagle’s brother] saw them in the edit, he thought we should take out. The scene where Eagle is at his [own] wedding reception and hitting on the [sister of his newly wedded bride], that was hugely painful for every Pinnell involved. At first, [Chuck] said “You have to take it out,” and we decided to leave it in, because you really see just how delusional he is in that moment.

How receptive were people to talk about Eagle?

CH: I think people were very reticent to talk about the bad times, and I think there were a couple of people, like Lin Southerland [who starred in Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match”], who resisted for a long time just to do an interview.

RP: She never actually agreed to an interview. We showed up and were like “Can we at least film Chuck getting the [archival] stuff?” And that’s why we did the whole interview in front of her little shed/barn.

CH: She started talking about everything, and I think it was definitely 15 minutes into the interview before she realized that she was being interviewed. [laughs]

What do you hope this will ultimately say about Eagle’s legacy?

RP: I think the first thing that comes to mind is the myth that he created around himself — the larger-than-life tall tales of Eagle being ridiculous and crazy and drunk, and I think that totally overshadows the fact that he made two good films — “The Whole Shootin’ Match” and “Last Night at the Alamo,” and even his short, “Hell of a Note.” It wasn’t just caricature. There was a man behind that who had complexities and depth. He could be a terrible asshole, but he also had a different perspective.

He made some good films, they influenced some people and then the rest of his life is really just a cautionary tale. I think everybody that makes movies can see a little bit of themselves in Eagle, because it takes a lot of those traits. It takes the ability to pull a group of people together and put your film and often yourself ahead of everyone else, because it’s such a hungry baby that you have to feed. I think that selfishness goes hand in hand with filmmaking, and knowing more about [him] has shown me pitfalls I think I’ll be able to avoid more effectively now that I’ve seen his whole life play out and I know it’s not the road I want to go down.

[Additional photo: Eagle Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” Watchmaker Films, 2006]

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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