REEL 13 DOUBLE FEATURE | GIANT
This week’s double feature begins with Giant, the epic 1956 western drama directed by George Stevens.
Adapted from Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel, Giant lives up to its title, offering a sprawling cinematic chronicle of 20th century Texas history, recounted through the family saga of Jordan “Bick” Benedict, Jr., a Texas cattleman played by Rock Hudson, the proud owner of the massive 500,000 acre “Reata” ranch. The film opens in the mid-1920s as Bick travels back east to Maryland to buy a prize stallion; there he encounters Leslie Lynnton, the horse owner’s daughter played by Elizabeth Taylor, an outspoken young woman who initially seems to clash with Bick’s more conservative values. Yet as they say, opposites attract, and Bick and Leslie are soon traveling as newlyweds back to the surreal isolation of Bick’s grand family home. But for Leslie, life at Reata presents its challenges, starting with Bick’s sister Luz, played by Mercedes McCambridge, who is threatened by Leslie’s position as the new lady of the house. Of Reata’s large staff, Leslie takes particular notice of Jett Rink, a scruffy cowboy memorably played by James Dean in his final film role, who also harbors a resentful rivalry with Bick. And Leslie is shocked to discover the appalling living conditions in Reata’s “village,” the shanty town where the ranch’s Mexican laborers live in squalid segregation. With the state’s burgeoning oil industry promising staggering fortune, can Texas evolve beyond its racist past to embrace a progressive future?
Edna Ferber received inspiration for her novel Giant after meeting real-life oil man Glenn McCarthy, who became a millionaire by age 26. Ferber accepted producer-director George Stevens’ bid for the film rights due to his pledge to remain faithful to her book and its core theme of racism in American society. With Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and William Holden all expressing interest in playing Bick, Stevens decided to cast Rock Hudson with the rationale it was easier to age a younger star than make someone older look young. Torn between Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor to play Leslie, Stevens asked Hudson to help choose, with Hudson giving the nod to Taylor. James Dean was eager to play Jett, but as soon as he was cast he began clashing with Stevens; irritated by the long waits to film his scenes, as well as Stevens’ fondness for multiple takes, Dean allegedly urinated on set one day in full view of the cast, crew and other onlookers. Hudson did not understand Dean’s method acting approach, and with the film’s two leading men often at odds, Elizabeth Taylor became the glue holding everything together, simultaneously forming close friendships with both Hudson and Dean during the grueling location shoot in Marfa, Texas. A car racing enthusiast, Dean had his new Porsche Spyder sports car delivered to set on his last day of shooting; the 24-year-old star was killed just three days later in a head-on collision on his way to a car racing event. Released a year after Dean’s death, Giant was a major box office success and garnered ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Mercedes McCambridge and Best Actor for Hudson, with a posthumous Best Actor nomination for Dean; George Stevens won the year’s Oscar for Best Director.
REEL 13 DOUBLE FEATURE | INEZ & DOUG & KIRA
This week’s double feature continues with Inez & Doug & Kira, a 2019 suspense drama written and directed by Julia Kots.
The film opens on a funeral reception at the home of Doug and Kira, an engaged couple played by Michael Chernus and Talia Thiesfield, who are also expecting their first baby. The funeral was for Kira’s fraternal twin sister Inez, played by Tawny Cypress, who has taken her own life after a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse. However, with no note left behind, questions begin to mount for Kira and Doug, along with guilt and regret. But as the couple begin cleaning out Inez’s apartment and try to reconstruct the timeline of her final night, Doug notices troubling details that trigger unsettling memories and dreams. It gradually emerges that the trio’s history is more complicated than it first appears. Intricately layered flashbacks disclose Kira’s sibling rivalry with the ever-troubled Inez, as well as Doug’s complex relationship that went from being Inez’s AA sponsor to…well, something more. As Doug’s investigation grows more obsessive, his relationship with Kira begins to unravel, bringing him face to face with his own demons.
After graduating from film school, Inez & Doug & Kira’s writer-director Julia Kots worked as an editor for film and television, while trying to get her first feature film off the ground. After nearly a decade of various projects falling apart, she decided to write a story small enough in scale to finance without an outside production company. The resulting exploration of mental illness, suicide, moral ambiguity and complex co-dependent relationships reflect topics that Kots has previously explored in her earlier scripts and short films. Produced on a micro budget in just 16 days, Inez & Doug & Kira was filmed on locations sourced from various friends’ homes. Kots edited the film herself on nights and weekends, while she continued to edit for hire during the day. The film’s impact is maximized by the powerhouse performances of the three lead actors: Michael Chernus may be familiar to viewers from his recurring roles in Apple TV’s Severance, CBS’s TOMMY, and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black; Tawny Cypress is best-known as a lead on Showtime’s Yellowjackets; and Talia Thiesfield’s credits include roles in CBS’s FBI and HBO’s Succession. The film’s haunting score is written by Berlin-based neoclassical composer Lambert, a mysterious personage, whom Kots met and worked with entirely via email.
Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema.