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The Whole Shootin' Match

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The Whole Shootin' Match
Directed by Eagle Pennell
November 16 through 21
Walter Reade Theater

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Native Texan writer-director Eagle Pennell's allegiance was with the also-rans. In 2002, with seven films to his credit but his hustle gone, he died in his sleep at age 50, lonesome, orn'ry, and mean, unwound by years of couch-crashing and hellraising, having exhausted the patience of everyone who ever believed in him. Much of Pennell's legacy rests on this, his largely forgotten, gently ingratiating 1978 first feature, a lo-fi sweetheart of a movie pieced together on weekends, night-lit with what appears to be a single arc lamp, and padded into shape with acoustic guitar by his kid brother. The film follows two best buddies, rangy spare-parts tinkerer Lloyd (Lou Perryman) and veteran bullshitter Frank (Sonny Davis), both "on the wrong side of 30," ditching one get-rich venture as soon as they can think of another, celebrating themselves into hangovers more than they have any right to, and generally treading the surface of life. Poignancy comes from the sense of real desperation, the final knowledge of dried-up prospects, that's always threatening to cut in on the boys' two-step. It's an everyday movie of the Southwest and, particularly, Austin—this is important, because Shootin' Match stands in roughly the same contrast to contemporaneous good ol' boy minstrelsy like Hee-Haw and Urban Cowboy as Willie and Waylon's kind of country did to gushy Nashville countrypolitan. It's no revolution, but comic-pastoral traditionalism refined to its essence. Knowing and indulgent about lower-middle-class white life, the film lives on talk: Vignettes of Frank cracking Lone Stars at the drive-in with his family, making a never-to-be-fulfilled list of home fix-ups in a moment of temporarily flush euphoria, or settling back to watch a Cowboys game are absolute bull's-eyes.

 
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