Austin became a hotbed for independent filmmaking in the early '90s and the industry has since grown with a great many television series and big budget films made locally. But there is so much to be said for the years prior, when the foundation was set in place for a regional film industry.
In the 1970’s, a who's-who of hollywood filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, George Roy Hill, Sidney Lumet, Gordon Parks and Joe Dante all chose to bring productions to the Austin area, using the diverse central Texas locations to give their films a truly authentic look and feel. These productions showed the world they could film in Central Texas with great results. At the same time, a little regional music program took root on the Austin public television station and two original local voices—Tobe Hooper and Eagle Pennell decided if the studios can do it so can we—making a pair of films by their own rules, put in motion a movement that would change the Austin creative landscape forever.
There have been about 300 films and television series produced in Austin over the past 50 years. In this series, we will look back decade-by-decade and explore those classic #madeinAustin productions that are available to stream from the comfort of home. In this first part we will look at the 1970s.
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Ron Barnhart, Pamela Craig, Allen Danziger
Rated R / 89 minutes / Drama, Fantasy
The debut film by local horror master Tobe Hooper, Eggshells is an experimental allegorical film about a group of hippie students in Austin, who move into an old big house in the woods. However, something else is there and it's influencing them. Eggshells is a fantastic look at Austin when the city was keeping it weird—even before the Armadillo World Headquarters. You’ll even get glimpses of the student protests on the UT campus in this psychedelic indie.
Streaming on: @fandor
The Getaway (1972)
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers
Rated PG / 123 minutes / Action
Along with Steven Speilberg’s The Sugarland Express, The Getaway is credited as a kickstarter for the regional film industry. Maverick director Sam Peckinpah filmed the classic Steve McQueen/Ali MacGraw action film across the state of Texas including near-by New Braunfels and San Marcos. McQueen plays Doc McCoy who has been granted parole and is reunited with his wife Carol, played by MacGraw. The catch is that local businessman Jack Beynon (western character actor Ben Johnson) expects a small favor from McCoy for his generosity: robbing another bank, and it’s a heist certain parties don’t intend to let McCoy walk away from.
Lovin’ Molly (1974)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, Blythe Danner, Susan Sarandon
Rated R / 98 minutes / Drama, Romance
Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel "Leaving Cheyenne," Lovin’ Molly was filmed in Bastrop by the great Sidney Lumet between his award winning films Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Lovin’ Molly spans nearly 40 years as Gid and Johnny, a pair of Texas farm boys, compete for the affections of Molly Taylor, a free spirit who cares for both of them. Told in three consecutive segments, each narrated by one of the three lead roles. Rumor has it Tobe Hooper even snuck on the set and was escorted off after helping himself to kraft services!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, Gunnar Hansen
Bryanston Distributing Company
Rated R / 83 minutes / Horror, Crime, Thriller
The original that started it all and completely reinvented the horror genre. Director Tobe Hooper and writer Kim Henkel inspired a generation of filmmakers and countless knockoffs when they produced The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was intended as subtle art house commentary on the era's political climate. Made for $140,000, the film ended up grossing over $30 million and, to this day, it’s locations are one of the most visited by Austin film tourists. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tells the frightening story of five friends on a road trip to a Texas homestead who instead end up falling victim to a family of cannibalistic psychopaths and must survive the terror of one of cinema’s most infamous characters—Leatherface. If you are ever interested in checking out one of the filming locations, The Texas Gas Station in Bastrop, which featured in the film serves up some mean BBQ and horror movie collectables.
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Starring: Robert Redford, Susan Sarandon, Margot Kidder, Bo Svenson
Rated PG / 107 minutes / Adventure, Drama
Following the huge box office success of their films Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, director George Roy Hill and superstar Robert Redford re-teamed for this central Texas picture, which was shot in Elgin, Kerrville, Lockhart and Seguin. Waldo Pepper is a biplane pilot who missed flying in WWI and takes up barnstorming. Eventually his quest for glory leads to stunt piloting in films and a chance to prove himself in a film depicting the dogfights in the Great War.
Austin City Limits (1976-present)
Starring: Willie Nelson, Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, Leonard Cohen & many more
KLRU & PBS
Not Rated / 60 minutes / Musical
Austin City Limits is the longest running music show in the history of American television. Broadcast on many PBS stations around the United States. The weekly show features epic live performances by an eclectic selection of established singer-songwriters and acclaimed newcomers. Performances range across country, blues, rock, folk, bluegrass and more styles of music—and all are filmed at KLRU/The Moody Theater. The show helped Austin to become widely known as the Live Music Capital of the World®.
Directed by: Gordon Parks
Starring: Roger E. Mosley, Paul Benjamin, Madge Sinclair, Ernie Hudson
Rated PG / 126 minutes / Biography, Drama, Musical
After the staggering success of Shaft, world renowned photographer, civil rights activist and filmmaker Gordon Parks set his sights on blues icon Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. Filmed in Austin, Bastrop, Georgetown and San Marcos, the biopic focuses on the troubles of Leadbelly's youth in the segregated South including his time in prison, and his efforts to use his music to gain release.
Outlaw Blues (1977)
Directed by: Richard T. Heffron
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan Saint James, John Crawford, Michael Lerner
Rated PG / 100 minutes / Action, Adventure, Crime, Musical
Peter Fonda plays an ex-convict who goes after the country music star who stole his song and made it a hit. On the run from the law, the songwriter, with the help of a savvy backup singer, records his stolen song himself, and his version becomes an even bigger hit. Outlaw Blues is also a real showcase of the Austin country scene of the mid-to-late '70s. Watch as Peter Fonda is chased around different venues and landmarks of downtown Austin and witness an amazing boat chase out on the lake which includes a dam jump!
Directed by: Joe Dante
Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies-Urich, Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller
New World Pictures
Rated R / 95 minutes / Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
Talk about a dream team: Piranha pairs Gremlins director Joe Dante, with then-writer (soon-to-be king of the indies) John Sayles and legendary b-movie producer Roger Corman for this gory exploitation movie. Looking to capitalize on the success of Jaws, Piranha may be a gory low budget knock-off, but it’s a ton of over-the-top fun. When a batch of genetically altered, flesh-eating piranhas are accidentally released into a summer resort's rivers, the guests become their next meal. You’ll never feel the same while swimming in the San Marcos River!
The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)
Directed by: Eagle Pennell
Starring: Lou Perryman, Sonny Carl Davis, Doris Hargrave
Not Rated / 109 minutes / Comedy, Drama
To put The Whole Shootin’ Match in perspective, Robert Redford has said that the film was the inspiration for starting the Sundance Film Festival. Eagle Pennell’s hilarious, personal and poetic DIY masterpiece follows Lloyd and Frank, lifelong friends and self-styled entrepreneurs in Austin. The two spend most of their time drinking and thinking of get-rich-quick schemes, since they can't seem to hold down jobs. Stars Lou Perryman and Sonny Carl Davis will keep you laughing throughout with their charming and poignant performances. The Whole Shootin’ Match may be completely different in genre, than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but both films set the seeds for the regional independent film movement to come.
Streaming on: @fandor
Next week in part 2 of the series we will look at the films of the 1980s!