The Legend Makes the Story

This week I watched the 2004 film The Alamo, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid, and Patrick Wilson.

I should begin by saying that I listened intently to Mrs. Walsh’s seventh grade Texas History lessons at David Crockett Junior High School. I remember watching the 1960 movie starring John Wayne, and I’ve visited the ruins of the historic mission in San Antonio, Texas. As a child I even watched Fess Parker’s portrayal of Crockett in the Disney serial.

Like scads of other Texans, our family claims distant relations to the heroes of the great Republic.My mom’s family is somehow kin to Davy Crockett’s wife, I think.

I used to sing along with the Disney theme, “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee/ Killed him a bear when he was only three.” I had no idea of what a true legend Crockett really was.

You see, Mrs. Walsh did her best to stick to the basics. She told us all about the pantheon of Texas revolutionaries—men with dreams of a new country—but for the most part, she kept to the script of the textbooks.

The tour guides and brass plaques installed at the Alamo give all the same information. Where the defenders were stationed during the onslaught, where the men were from, and their signature weapons. The fact that almost every person within the walls of the besieged mission died at the hands of General Santa Ana leaves a distinct lack of documentation.

There was however, the legend of Davy Crockett, Before he traveled to defend Texas, Crockett was already a living legend. The 2004 feature embraced that fact, and used it to show the celebrity he enjoyed, the fears of the Mexican soldiers, and the tradition that Crockett was the single surviving warrior. The textbook version tells that Crockett was probably one of the first to die, but there is evidence that he lasted to face the Mexican general eye to eye.

While initially dubious about Billy Bob Thornton’s incarnation, in the end I was pleased. Thornton brought complex layers to the role that neither the ruggedly handsome Fess Parker nor the rough and tumble John Wayne portrayed.Thornton showed both the confidence of the hero as well as the doubts and fears of the real man behind the moniker.

Any history lover who understands the tweaking required for film will enjoy The Alamo. I did!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

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