The Real West From the Smithsonian

True Grit (2010 film)
True Grit (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This is a documentary about the factual side of the novel, True Grit, and its two movie versions. I found it illuminating and I think you’ll enjoy it as well.


In America, we often assume that in the past was a nation of bedrock religious belief, hardworking, nose to the grindstone solid citizens and just general goodness. It wasn’t like that. It was messy and cruel – and for much of American history, religious beliefs were simply not that big a deal. Lincoln, for instance, was elected in spite of the fact, he was not a church goer, did not believe in life after death and possessed many other beliefs disturbing to the religious minded. Robert Ingersoll stood a good chance of being elected to the Presidency in spite of the fact, he is also known as the “Great Agnostic.” Don’t believe me – look these things up – find that reality that is American history.


Here’s my promise: if you study American history in detail and with a determination to understand from the point of view of a regular citizen, you will find a complex story full of sex, scandal and intrigue; and you will also find an incredible saga of courage and determination to build a nation unlike any other. I promise you that will love this country more as you work to understand it.


James Pilant



From around the web.


From the web site,


I can’t recommend reading the novel highly enough – both films fail to
capture much of the story, although because it’s a short book with vivid
dialog, both do follow it faithfully far better than Hollywood usually
follows an original novel.  The novel is dense with fictional details
that just don’t come out in the movies.  Also, the novel is all about
the voice of Mattie Ross, and neither movie captures that.  Movie makers
consider voice over narration the kiss of death, but I wish they could
have put more of book Mattie’s thinking into movie Mattie’s
performance.   And strangely Portis sense of the dramatic appears
superior to each set of movie makers because when each film diverts from
his plotting and scene setup they suffer.  Portis had a keen sense of
plotting and drama that both films wisely copy fairly thoroughly. 



Sterling Hayden On “Career”

These wonderful paragraphs are by Sterling Hayden, a Hollywood actor. He was a man of many talents and I’ll think you’ll like the writing. This is from the Wikipedia entry to which I am indebted. JP

The sun beats down and you pace, you pace and you pace. Your mind flies free and you see yourself as an actor, condemned to a treadmill wherein men and women conspire to breathe life into a screenplay that allegedly depicts life as it was in the old wild West. You see yourself coming awake any one of a thousand mornings between the spring of 1954, and that of 1958 ‑ alone in a double bed in a big white house deep in suburban Sherman Oaks, not far from Hollywood.

“The windows are open wide, and beyond these is the backyard swimming pool inert and green, within a picket fence. You turn and gaze at a pair of desks not far from the double bed. This is your private office, the place that shelters your fondest hopes: these desks so neat, patiently waiting for the day that never comes, the day you’ll sit down at last and begin to write.

“Why did you never write? Why, instead, did you grovel along, through the endless months and years, as a motion‑picture actor? What held you to it, to something you so vehemently professed to despise? Could it be that you secretly liked it—that the big dough and the big house and the high life meant more than the aura you spun for those around you to see?

“‘Hayden’s wild,’ they said. ‘He’s kind of nuts‑but you’ve got to hand it to him. He doesn’t give a damn about the loot or the stardom or things like that—something to do with his seafaring, or maybe what he went through in the war . . .'”[2]:151

I believe we all tussle with the issue of whether to write or not to write. I have erred on the side of writing. There may be those of you who think it would have been better if I had remained silent. But here I am. I feel very much like he did some of the time. I think many of you do too.

James Pilant

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