What is the Corral about?

Well, simply, it is a place to round-up ideas, thoughts, comments and anything else you may like to hear about. My original intention was to have a forum but the time to manage such a gathering is really beyond me at this stage. But via email I can gather up your input and get it into the Corral.

So, would you like to make comment?

What is your favorite western story, either as a book or a movie?

Want to tell us why?

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to (regardless if it is a Western or not)?

What do you want to see in future Western stories (grit or romance, maybe both, gunplay or justice, grim reality or happy endings)?

Anything you would like to see in one of my stories?



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June 2012








The death of Nora Ephron on 26 June, from leukemia, came as a shock. I have been a fan of this writer for years and like all fans I just took it for granted that she’d be around for years to come. While her screenwriting is best known with hits like When Harry Met Sally, and Julie & Julia, she was also a journalist, a novelist, a playwright and a movie director. Then there was the personal stuff like her 2010 book I Remember Nothing that showed-off her wit, intellect and forthright sensibility in our odd world of political righteousness and straight-out foolishness. But what does any of this have to do with Westerns? Well, Nora Ephron once dated Charles Portis, the author of my favourite of all Western novels, True Grit. They met in 1962 when Portis, who worked for the New York Herald Tribune, came to work temporarily at Newsweek where Ephron was a young journalist during a newspaper strike.  

Now I know I’ve banged on about True Grit over the years, but I can’t help it. For me it is not just a great Western but also a great comic adventure novel and worthy to be called an American classic. However, most people only know True Grit as a movie – made first in 1969 and again in 2010. And while both are entertaining and stick to the bones of the novel, neither captures what I believe is at the heart of this wonderful tale.

The story is told through the eyes of a 14 year old, but fifty years after the event. It is a mix of fact, fiction, along with a good dose of fantasy that comes from youthful naivety and memory embellishment over the passing of time. However, what is often missed is that this is a romance story of unrequited love for a white knight. That the knight is a one-eyed, drunken, deputy US marshal by the name of Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, who has a shady war-record and propensity for shooting his victims before arresting them, is besides the point. As they say, no one is perfect.

The structure of the story translates well to the screen with its delivery of retribution, disguised as justice, via the chasing down of the villainous culprit. It also has a shoot-out. But no movie can capture the style of Charles Portis with his wonderful prose, dialogue and humour. That Mattie Ross is gilding the lily through her recollection of events is irrelevant. In fact it just makes the telling all the more authentic, as that’s what people do, especially with often-repeated stories from long ago. Families are notorious for exaggerating tales that have been passed down over time, particularly those that show up long-dead relatives in a good light.

The language is exceptionally rich in description and the dialogue is
colourful, colloquial, clever and comic. So when I recently saw this aspect criticized in a discussion group on the Coen brother’s re-make I was a little surprised. Some thought it was unrealistic, and while it is certainly different to the majority of Western movies made by Hollywood, I didn’t find the dialogue out of place, where I did with Deadwood.  

I have read that Portis set out to use dialogue that was as close as possible to the time and place of the story, which is 1878 Arkansas and the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). He did this from his experiences growing-up in Arkansas. Before graduating as a journalist in 1958 he wrote for the Northwest Arkansas Times, covering stories that bought him into contact with those senior citizens who had grown up before the turn of the 20th century. These are the voices that he used as the basis for the characters of True Grit. How accurate they are to the period I have no idea but for me it works, while it didn’t with Deadwood, which seemed to be a 21st century make-over of the Western to give it a unique appeal.

But what did interest me with the debate that I followed via email, was that the participants were only comparing to the two movies and never referring to the book, and they were authors themselves. I was surprised. By not going back to the original source, it seemed to me that the debate had gone down the wrong track. In fact I think it had backed-up into a cul-de-sac with nowhere to go. You either agreed or disagreed with the language, but did so without knowing what was the intent or reason for its use in the first place.

Of course, I don’t suppose it really matters one way or the other, and maybe I have elevated True Grit much like Mattie Ross has done to Rooster Cogburn. And perhaps it is just an opinion-thing anyway. But I still hold firm to the belief that some books, albeit a small few, are so wonderful in their style that they will never fully translate to the screen.

True Grit is a masterpiece and a must read. Yes, the two movies are good but the book is great – and that’s why I worry about the soon to be released Great Gatsby. Maybe it too is untranslatable from page to screen except for the basic storyline. Robert Towne the screenwriter of The Missouri Breaks thought so and said no, when he was offered the job back in the 1970s to adapt the book to the screen. He went off to write Chinatown instead, which was certainly a good move. However, I shall reserve my judgment until I see the movie, and maybe some of that Fitzgerald magic will make it from the page to the moving image. We can only hope. However, if it doesn’t work, so what! We will always have the book. 



July 2012
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