American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The Royal Theater still stands on Main Street in Anarene, Texas, but it has been closed for 30 years now and the paint is peeling away from its weatherbeaten sign. In the course of "Texasville," Peter Bogdanovich's camera pauses for just a second to regard it, and to my surprise I remembered the name of Sam the Lion. He was the man who used to own the Royal, back before television came along and forced small-town movie theaters out of business.
Sam the Lion and the other characters in Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" (1971) remain somehow fresh in the memory, even though it's been years since I saw the movie and it's still not available on video. The simple, stark black-and-white images of that great film have the poignancy of pictures from your high school days - of earlier, simpler times.
Now comes Bogdanovich's "Texasville," an almost unprecedented reunion of many of the same people, on both sides of the camera. It is, in a sense, like a high school reunion, taking people we last saw in 1951 and continuing their histories in the early 1980s. The story is again by Larry McMurtry, who wrote a sequel to his earlier novel. The screenplay and direction are again by Bogdanovich, who in 1971 was at the dawn of his career and now needs this project as a comeback. Most of the stars are back, too, including Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman and Eileen Brennan (although Ben Johnson, who was perhaps the best thing in the earlier film, and along with Leachman won an Oscar for his work, isn't here because Sam the Lion is dead).
The location is the same, too: a small Texas town where everybody knows everybody, and they all seem to be having affairs, and everybody knows all about it. In 1971, Sonny (Bottoms) had an affair with the coach's wife, and both Sonny and Duane (Bridges) were in love with Jacy (Shepherd), the town's cool and inaccessible beauty. Then Duane went off to fight the war in Korea, and Jacy moved to Dallas, and now, as we resume the story, it's Duane's son who is sleeping with half the women in town. Sonny is the town mayor and runs the convenience store, but he gets confused some days and doesn't seem quite sure what's going on around him. And Duane is married to Karla (Annie Potts) and has met his match.