The 1990s is when all the pieces came together for Austin film. After spending most of the '80s building a local film community through Austin Film Society screenings, Richard Linklater made the film "Slacker." Not only did "Slacker" light a fire within Austin but its release is often noted as the starting point, along with "Do the Right Thing" and "Sex, Lies and Videotape," for the American independent film movement of the 1990s. Throughout the decade, Linklater would make a series of highly personal films with bigger budgets including "Dazed and Confused," "SubUrbia" and "The Newton Boys."
The build up of production in Austin from the '80s really hit in the '90s. Hollywood was comfortable shooting productions in Austin; they knew they could rely on the local talent, and that the regional crew base could make it happen regardless of material or budget. You know this is true when the hardest working man in the business, Clint Eastwood, comes to town… and he did for two films: "A Perfect World" (as director/star) and "The Stars Fell on Henrietta" (as producer). Disney also took note, producing two of their biggest live action family films of the era in Austin: "Blank Check" and "The Big Green." Hollywood also discovered some of the brightest new talent in Austin like Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger. Both had worked the indies scene here for a few years before catapulting to bigger and bigger films.
Part of what sets Austin apart as a location are the terrain and small communities surrounding the city that add to a filmmaker’s pallet when shooting on location. It’s the rich farmland to the east and the wild hill country, twisting waterways, rocky ridges and beautiful ranches to the west. In all directions are Americana towns like: Bartlett, Driftwood, Elgin, Georgetown, Lockhart, Manor, Martindale and more. There is no better film that showcases these treasures more than 1993’s "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape" - a small American epic about family, community and the profound strangeness that is life. Something many of us can really appreciate now, more than ever.
There have been around 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. Here is a fact to blow some minds: "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape," "Dazed and Confused" and "A Perfect World" were all released within a half year of each other - proof that production grew exponentially during the period. So, the 1990s will be split into two entries. This entry covers 1990-1995, while the second piece coming next week will hit 1996-1999!
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Stella Weir, John Slate, Louis Mackey, Teresa Taylor
Rated R / 97 minutes / Comedy
Many consider "Slacker" to be the definitive Austin and Gen X film. As Chris Walters with the Austin Chronicle wrote, "Few of the many films shot in Austin over the past 10 or 15 years even attempt to make something of the way its citizens live. "Slacker" is the only one that claims this city's version of life on the margins of the working world as its whole subject." "Slacker" presents a meandering day in Austin as the camera roams from place to place and provides a brief look at the overeducated, the social misfits, the outcasts and the oddballs. Shot in 1989 on a budget of $23,000, "Slacker" premiered at Austin’s Dobie Theater in July 1990. After playing the festival circuit for a year, "Slacker" found a distributor and was released into select theaters nationwide in July 1991. Though it found a small audience at first, "Slacker" became a huge cult film, kickstarting Richard Linklater’s career and the burgeoning indie film scene not only in Austin but in the United States.
Hard Promises (1991)
Directed by: Martin Davidson
Starring: Sissy Spacek, William Petersen, Brian Kerwin, Mare Winningham
Rated PG / 95 minutes / Comedy, Drama, Family
Filmed in Austin, Lockhart and Pflugerville, "Hard Promises" is a romantic comedy for the whole family, starring William Peterson as a man who doesn't like stable work environments. He has been away for too many years and finds out his wife (Sissy Spacek) has divorced him and is planning to remarry. He comes home to confront her, trying to convince her not to get married, aided by the daughter. The couple finds out they still have feelings for each other but must decide how best to handle the contradiction of their lifestyles.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Darlene Cates, Crispin Glover, John C. Reilly
Rated PG-13 / 118 minutes / Drama
The movie that brought Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp to town, "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape" follows a young man in a small Midwestern town who struggles to care for his mentally-disabled younger brother and overweight mother while attempting to pursue his own happiness. Peter Hedges adapted his own novel for director Lasse Hallström ("Cider House Rules," "My Life As A Dog") and thought Juliet Lewis was so authentic as Gilbert’s friend Becky, that she could have written the character better than he did. The all-star supporting cast is a who’s who of famous faces including future "Step Brothers" stepmother and stepson Mary Steenburgen and John C. Reilly. Set in the fictitious middle America town of ‘Endora, Iowa,’ the film was shot just outside Austin. The water tower Arnie climbs and Lamson's Grocery where Gilbert works are both in downtown Manor. The town square, where Arnie is taken to jail. is in Lockhart and the Foodland grocery store is in Georgetown, at the intersection of I-35 and Highway 29. The infamous Grape house is in Pflugerville, which served as the interior set for Roadie.
My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)
Directed by: Bob Balaban
Starring: Andrew Lowery, Traci Lind, Danny Zorn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew Fox, Jay O. Sanders, Mary Beth Hurt, Edward Herrmann, Paul Dooley
Rated PG-13 / 85 minutes / Comedy, Horror
It’s a film that should be more famous than it is. Not only is it the debut of both Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox but it also includes an early appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Director Bob Balaban, known for his supporting roles in "Close Encounter of the Third Kind" and many Christopher Guest and Wes Anderson films, made "My Boyfriend’s Back" a great spoof of 1950’s high school movies by way of a zombie film. The comedy film's title is a reference to the 1963 song of the same name by The Angels and tells the tale of a teenage boy who comes back from the dead because he is determined to win the most beautiful girl in school. The movie was filmed in Austin, Bastrop and Georgetown. The high school is actually CD Fulkes Middle School in Round Rock.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Adam Goldberg, Adam Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Sasha Jenson, Cole Hauser, Nicky Katt
Rated R / 102 minutes / Comedy
"Alright, alright, alright." Richard Linklater’s follow-up to "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused" is probably on many people’s favorite films list, it’s certainly on Quentin Tarantino’s! But, strangely, this ultimate hangout movie was not a success when it was released. Like "American Graffiti" and "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" before it, "Dazed and Confused’s" ensemble cast of unknowns went on to be the superstars of their generation. "Dazed and Confused" focuses on the last day of school for a group of Texas high school and junior high students in 1976. Like the cast, the soundtrack is a greatest hits from the mid-'70s, featuring KISS, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper. With "Dazed and Confused," Linklater decided to stay in Austin and make his film here, something he has echoed throughout most of his career. The film also includes two of Austin's most iconic locations: Top Notch Hamburgers Drive-Thru (playing itself) and the Emporium, which is now the amazing Stiles Switch BBQ.
Flesh and Bone (1993)
Directed by: Seve Kloves
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan, Gwyneth Paltrow
Rated R / 126 minutes / Drama, Mystery, Romance
"Flesh and Bone marks" Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s second Austin-made film in five years after neo-noir "D.O.A." in 1988. Writer and director Steve Kloves’ "Flesh and Bone" weaves a dark character study, focusing on what the secrets and guilt of the past can do to people. Quaid plays Arlis Sweeney, a man haunted by memories of his father Roy (James Caan) murdering a family in a robbery gone wrong. In an effort to avoid his past, he keeps to himself, focusing his energy on his work. One day, the traumatic past that eats away at him returns when he meets Kay Davies (Meg Ryan), a woman connected to the bloody event. Look out for a young Gwyneth Paltrow in one of her first supporting roles as a grifter named Ginnie.
A Perfect World (1993)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Laura Dern, T.J. Lowther, Bradley Whitford
Rated PG-13 / 138 minutes / Crime, Drama, Thriller
"A Perfect World" is set in Texas in 1963 and follows escaped convict Robert "Butch" Haynes (Kevin Costner) as he evades the law with an eight-year-old hostage, Phillip Perry (T.J. Lowther). Butch gladly allows the kid indulgences he has been forbidden due to his strict upbringing, including the wearing of a shoplifted Casper costume. Butch slowly finds himself drawn into giving Phillip the kind of fatherly presence which he himself never had as they become friends. Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood) is in pursuit, determined to recover the criminal and the hostage before they cross the Texas border. Red is joined by criminologist Sally Gerber (Laura Dern) and FBI sharpshooter Bobby Lee (Bradley Whitford). "A Perfect World" marks the debut of Texan screenwriter John Lee Hancock, who would go on to direct "The Rookie" and "The Alamo" remake. Filmed in Bastrop, Driftwood, Manor, Martindale and in Austin at the Texas Capitol, Bastrop, Driftwood, Manor and Martindale, the movie makes great use of one of the area's most popular locations—the Cele Store, which was also featured in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake, "Secondhand Lions," "The Big Green" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction."
Blank Check (1994)
Directed by: Rupert Wainwright
Starring: Brian Bonsall, Karen Duffy, Miguel Ferrer, James Rebhorn, Tone Lōc, Jayne Atkinson, Michael Lerner
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG / 93 minutes / Comedy, Crime, Family
"Blank Check" is the first of a pair (see "The Big Green" below) of Disney family films to film in Austin. If you were a child or parent of the '90s, this is one of those kids movies you will remember fondly. "Family Ties" star Brian Bonsall plays Preston Waters, a kid who inadvertently gets a check for $1 million and proceeds to spend it, unaware that the gangsters to whom it belongs are in pursuit. One of the many excess purchases includes buying the famous Texas Historic Landmark, Pemberton Castle. Fun fact: supporting cast members Mary Chris Wall, Angee Hughes and Alex Morris all performed as regular characters on the Texas-made PBS series "Wishbone" after appearing in this film.
Love and a .45 (1994)
Directed by: C.M. Talkington
Starring: Gil Bellows, Renée Zellweger, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane
Rated R / 101 minutes / Crime, Romance, Thriller
The indie film "Love and a .45" tells the crazy story of Watty Watts. Watts is a small-time crook who flees to Mexico to evade the authorities, loan sharks and his murderous ex-partner with only his fiancé Starlene and a trusted Colt .45 in tow. Rory Cochrane of "Dazed and Confused" fame plays Billy Mack Black, one of the killers on their trial. Prior to her breakout as Starlene, actress Renée Zellweger had very small blink-or-miss roles in both "My Boyfriend’s Back" and "Dazed and Confused." Her starring part in "Love and a .45" earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. Zellweger subsequently relocated to Los Angeles, where the rest is history!
Directed by: Kim Henkel
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey
New Line Cinema
Rated R / 87 minutes / Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Speaking of Renée Zellweger, did you know she co-starred with Matthew McConaughey in a sequel to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" before heading to Hollywood? Writer-director Kim Henkel, who had co-written the original Chainsaw Massacre film with Tobe Hooper, is behind the camera for this low-fi caricature of American youth. The film follows a group of teenagers who get into a car crash in the Texas woods on prom night, and then wander into an old farmhouse that is home to Leatherface and his family of cannibalistic psychopaths. Be on the lookout for uncredited cameo appearances from Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, and John Dugan, all stars of the original film. There is some confusion on release dates. Filmed in 1994, the movie was screened as "The Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" at SXSW 1995 before being shelved by the studio. Two years later, it was re-cut and released under the title "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation," after Zellweger and McConaughey had both become major stars.
Streaming on: @VuduFans
The Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995)
Directed by: James Keach
Starring: Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Frances Fisher, Brian Dennehy, Billy Bob Thornton
Rated PG / 109 minutes / Drama
Though scenes were filmed in Abilene and Marfa, producer Clint Eastwood had such a great experience in the Austin-area making "A Perfect World," he choose Bartlett as the hero town for the film "The Stars Fell on Henrietta." The film is based on a short story, "Luck," written by Winifred Sanford and follows an elderly, down-on-his-luck "oil man", Mr. Cox (Robert Duvall), who finds himself in the town of Henrietta. Using unconventional methods, he convinces himself and local Don Day (Aidan Quinn) that there is oil on Day's land. The financially-strapped Day then puts everything into finding oil.
The Big Green (1995)
Directed by: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Olivia d'Abo, Jay O. Sanders, Bug Hall, Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG / 100 minutes / Comedy, Family, Sport
"The Big Green," Disney's second film to shoot in Austin, is a family comedy about the worst soccer team in Texas. Anna Montgomery (Olivia d'Abo) is a teacher on exchange from England who is placed at an underachieving Texas school, where she coaches the children in soccer, improving their self esteem which leads to unexpected success. Tom Palmer (Steve Guttenberg), the town Sheriff's Deputy, becomes co-coach while at the same time becoming enamored of Montgomery. The young co-stars includes a who's who of '90s family movies including Bug Hall (Alfalfa from "The Little Rascals" remake) as well as Patrick Renna and Chauncey Leopardi both from "The Sandlot." "The Big Green" filmed on Austin’s own big green, Zilker Park (home of ACL Fest), but also in the communities of Dale, Elgin, Manor, Pflugerville and Taylor.
As with previous posts, there are some omissions of film gems from Austin's '90s output that are not available to stream. Titles like "The Hot Spot," "The Underneath," "Teenage Catgirls in Heat" and "Ned Blessing" may be found on DVD via your local video store or other retailers. Check out the previous lists of streaming films from the 1970s and streaming films from the 1980s. Next time we cover the film and television output of the second half of the 1990s.