I feel fortunate my parents took me to the movies, took me to everything they saw. I remember seeing All the President’s Men when I was five years old. It’s one of my most vivid early memories. I remember seeing Apocalypse Now, Tender Mercies, Coal Miner’s Daughter, so many great films that opened my mind to the world, made me dream of places beyond myself. My Uncle Joe Heathcock played the sheriff in a film called The Last Picture Show and we had a poster from that film hanging in our basement. In a world before instant streaming and Netflix, with our local video stores limited in their stock and heavy on “blockbusters”, I actually didn’t get to see this film until I was in college. When I finally saw The Last Picture Show it changed my life. It was a beautiful film, and because my Uncle Joe was in the film, and because it was packed with music my father played around the house, because it was set in a part of the country where Heathcocks have long held stake, it seemed to come from me. That’s the only way to explain it—I felt as if the movie had emerged from inside of me. My passion for film has never diminished. Since 1995 I’ve kept a film log, and as of last night I’ve watched 3,177 films in that time. It’s no wonder film figures often into my fiction, with “Fort Apache” being, in part, a love song to cinema. Certainly, beyond being about film, movies informed my aesthetic on “Fort Apache”. Here’s a few films that worked their way into my imagination and back out again:
1. The Last Picture Show: The place was vivid, but the pain was all the more vivid. Very few films have captured the truth of struggle like this film by Peter Bogdonovich. So much is dying in this film, people, love, the town itself… Here’s a scene where Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are told the local picture show will soon close down.
2. Hud: Another film based off of a Larry McMurtry novel (as was The Last Picture Show). Paul Newman as Hud made me buy a cowboy hat and wear it around south Chicago for a week or two. This young Hud-Paul, the wild and dangerous poet cowboy, would be the perfect casting to play Hep. Hud=Hep, get it. Here’s Hud and his nephew (a character a la my Walt) trying to sneak in after a night of drinking. Of course, there ain’t no sneaking in Larry McMurtry stories:
3. Rumble Fish: The stark black and white, the heat, the sweat, the anger. Everything about this movie felt dangerous, and everything about this movie felt beautiful, too. Nobody wrote about the teenaged experience like S.E. Hinton (author of the book, as well as The Outsiders; Tex; That was Then, This is Now), and Francis Ford Coppola made the book feel big and important. Here’s a scene between older brother and younger brother, and the powerful question, “Why?” This directly influenced the final scene in “Fort Apache”:
4. 400 Blows: Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece, a story of a restless boy, only wanting to reach beyond his life, reach the sea. My Walt and Truffaut’s Antoine have a lot in common. I think Walt imagined, in his own way, doing what Antoine accomplishes in this scene from 400 Blows:
5. Days of Heaven: I’m a great admirer of Terrence Malick, and Days of Heaven is perhaps the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. The fire in this film haunted me for a long long time, and certainly the images burned into my imagination leapt onto the opening pages of “Fort Apache”.
6. Killer of Sheep: Another independent film masterpiece, this Charles Burnett film was the perfect balance of tenderness and tough. Truth in every frame. I especially loved the wife in this movie who, in my opinion, was the glue that held everything together, and was certainly an influence on how I wrote the character Frances:
7. Paper Moon: I love the relationship between old and young, and the battle between the world weary and the idealist, all while driving through the countryside, much like Walt and Lonnie in the back of the truck on the way to Selma. Oh, and besides, this is one of the most beautifully photographed films ever:
I could go on and on, as I also see bits of other films in my story, films like Dazed and Confused, Two-Lane Blacktop, Made in Britain, The Outsiders, Andrei Rublev, Matewan, American Graffiti,… Now were going to go on and make our own little bit of film history. How amazing!! Since I was a boy I’ve imagined one of my stories up on that silver screen, and I’m thrilled to know “Fort Apache” will soon be made of light and shadow.