Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
If you haven't yet seen Bernie, it's on Netflix now, so read this blog then quick go watch it before they take it off. I promise I do actually get to a discussion of this film eventually.
For those of you unlucky enough to NOT be from Texas, my condolences. I realize that other kids from other states are probably raised to think that their state is the coolest state in the Union, but if you're raised in Texas, it really is the coolest state in the Union. We're brought up to believe it's the biggest and the best. It says so in our State Song that we all had to memorize in 8th grade. Can you sing your State Song? I can and believe me, 8th grade was a LONG time ago. To prove my point, here's the first bit:
Texas our Texas! All hail the mighty state!
Texas, our Texas! So wonderful so great!
Boldest and grandest, Withstanding ev'ry test;
O Empire wide and glorious, You stand supremely blest.
God bless you Texas! And keep you brave and strong,
That you may grow in power and worth,
Thro'out the ages long.
In high school I went on a trip to Europe. We visited six countries in three weeks. Our trip happened to coincide with a little t.v. show called Dallas that was enjoying the height of its popularity back in America. The fact that a network t.v. show was set in Texas was not surprising to us. Why wouldn't Hollywood make a t.v. show about Texas? We're the best. It helped that Larry Hagman was a native son and that it was filmed mostly on location in and around Dallas.
But I digress. Everywhere we went, locals immediately pegged us for Americans, but upon further inquiry soon found out we were Texans as well. Once that cat was out of the bag, all sorts of bizarre questions followed and usually our answers were met with disbelief. "Do you live in Dallas?" No. "Do you ride a horse to school?" No. "Why aren't you wearing your hat and boots?" I don't even own a hat or boots. "Do you know JR?" No. Seriously? He's a character on t.v. He's not real. You know that, right? To borrow a British phrase, I was completely gobsmacked that Dallas was even on t.v. in Europe, but furthermore, that the Texan stereotype as portrayed on Dallas was emblazoned upon the European consciousness. Wow!
These days when I see Texas culture represented in film, I end up complaining to everyone within hearing distance about how people from Texas don't look like that, talk like that or act like that. OK, lets face it, anyone I would complain to these days is living in Waco and are most likely from Texas; I haven't lived outside of Texas since grad school (CSULB) in the late 90's My top two complaints are: 1. Texas is NOT part of the Deep South and Texans do NOT sound like they are from Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi. 2. We do not all wear 10 gallon hats, rodeo belt buckles, and pointy-toed boots. Film makers exploit the cowboy stereotype all the time, but for those of us who are actually from Texas, most of the time it falls flat.
There are exceptions. Giant, filmed on location in Marfa, Texas, is one. Excellent Costume Design by Marjorie Best. There are others. However, there are many more that do it poorly. Hope Floats, released in 1998, was filmed in Smithville, Texas, which is right next door to my hometown, Bastrop. Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. (who's from Louisiana) starred in it and I thought to myself, they are gonna screw up the accents. During the filming, the movie was all anyone in my hometown talked about for months. I went to see it when it came out. I had been back in Texas for a year by that point. I remember being majorly disappointed by it. Everyone was wearing boots and jeans and hats and giant belt buckles all the time in every scene, including the women in the street dance scene. All boots and jeans and hats, all the damn time. I thought surely someone on that film would "get" us Texans and do the job right seeing as how they were right there in the middle of Texas, surrounded by Texans. How can you screw this up when your source material is all around you all the time? Happy, Texas was released the next year and it was much, much worse. It was filmed in California. None of the leading actors were from Texas. The costumes were ridiculous, the accents were atrocious. It was so obvious they were trying to make fun of us. It was just plain bad. I still don't understand why British actors can learn to sound American but American actors can't learn to sound like Texans. But that's a topic for another blog and not one I'm qualified to write.
Like I said, my hometown is Bastrop. My dad and my in-laws still live there and told us that someone was shooting another movie in town. This was about ten years after Hope Floats. People shoot movies in Bastrop all the time, but they never amount to much. This one, I was told, was different. This one was the real deal. Shirley MacLaine, Jack Black, and Matthew McConaughey were starring and they're famous. The story was set in Carthage, Texas, and was about a murder that had happened there not too long ago. The script was based on an article that had come out in Texas Monthly. Richard Linklater was directing. So when I heard the news all I could think was, well it must be a comedy if they've put Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey in it. At least McConaughey is from Texas. It'll probably still be crap even with Shirley MacLaine. I heard stories during filming of "star sightings" at the Walmart and the HEB. But mostly it was off my radar.
When Bernie was released in 2011 my in-laws mentioned it again. I didn't even bother going to see it I don't think it even came to Waco. My in-laws went to see it in Austin. They liked it. My dad didn't go see it, but I don't think he's been to see a movie since he took me to Fantasia in Austin in the 70's and only then because Mom probably made him go. He probably only agreed because he knew there'd be Dunkin' Donuts afterwards.
Now for a side-bar. My dad's an actual cowboy, with a small family farm/ranch. The whole nine yards. He lives out there on his land; land that has been in his family for a hundred years. He used to have horses but they were mostly his 2nd wife's thing. Up until a few years ago, there were 300 head of cattle on it too, until he just got too old to manage even that. He rented the land out to another cattleman and his cows grazed there for several years. The cows and horses are all gone, just deer now. Even though my dad's 73, he still gets up every day to put on his boots and Wranglers and go to work. His boots are so old that they mostly are being held together by the duck tape that's keeping the farm out of the hole in the sole of one of them. He has a straw hat for summer and a felt hat for winter. He has a large, shiny rodeo belt buckle that he wears on special occasions. He certainly doesn't drive the tractor wearing it. Either of the tractors. He listens to Willie and Waylon and the boys. Johnny Cash too. George Jones is his favorite. My dad's the real deal. So besides the fact that I'm from Texas, believe me when I tell you, I know the real deal when I see it.
Fast forward three years to the present day, Christmas break. I was surfing Netflix looking for something to watch and I came across Bernie. I thought, I'll give this a try. It'll at least be fun to make fun of it. There was my hometown all over the t.v.! My high school, my Main street, my State Park, my Court House, my gazebo, my Methodist church....ok, not MY Methodist Church, I was Episcopalian, but my friends' Methodist Church. It was so weird. Everyone sounded like they belonged there, everyone dressed like they belonged there. The story-telling was funny, but we, as Texans, weren't being made fun of. I couldn't believe how much I was liking it. I kept looking for people I knew, like they would be walking down the streets or something, but I never saw anybody. Shirley MacLaine was great (as always) as Marjory Nugent, the millionaire harpy bitch that the whole town hated. She was estranged from her family; her own grandkids even sued her over their trust funds which she wouldn't give them after grandad kicked the bucket. Jack Black played Bernie, the town's friendly and popular funeral director who befriended Marjorie after her husband's funeral and became her constant companion, only to end up shooting her four times in the back and hiding her body for nine months in her own deep freeze. Jack Black was singing, but it wasn't a bad Dio impersonation, it was gospel and he was doing it sincerely and well. Matthew McConaughey played Danny Buck, the District Attorney whose job it was to prosecute Bernie for Marjorie's murder. Danny Buck filed for a change of venue because it was going to be impossible to get a conviction in Carthage. That's how much Bernie was loved in the town, or perhaps how much Marjorie was hated. McConaughey was not playing bongos, stoned and naked. He was wearing a white straw cowboy hat and boots, with big glasses and a bad haircut and playing it straight. All he wanted was to put a murderer in prison but the whole town was against him. Everything about this film was clearly trying for a documentary style, but in the same way that Spinal Tap did, not mocking its subject, just highlighting the eccentricities and trying to show the truth as only someone who is intimately familiar with the subject can. Everyone in the film was bloody brilliant. Yes, I'm from Texas, but I'm an Anglophile too.
When it was over I scanned the credits in vain to try and figure out if they'd used any locals or if all the bit parts had been played by actual actors. I couldn't tell. It was that good. So good in fact, that I had to go and do some research. Click on the buttons to read what I found. It'll surprise you.
The NY Times article entitled, "How My Aunt Marjorie Ended up in the Deep Freeze" was written by Marjorie's nephew, Joe Rhodes and includes photos of his Aunt Marjorie and Bernie.
The Wikipedia article enlightened me to the fact that due to the overwhelming response to the film, the real Bernie has been released on parole this year (into the custody of Richard Linklater, how weird is that?) after only serving 15 years of his original life sentence. And that, my friend, is the awesome power of a really well-made movie!
By now I know you are just dying to see who else was in the movie and who-all did what-all for it. So here's the IMDB page for it.
BERNIE Costume Gallery
The costume designer was Kari Perkins. Thank you Kari for your great choices! Here's some stills from the movie so you can see what a good job she did.