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In early autumn, 1994, I called my friend Maggie Renzi to suggest that, instead of our planned road trip to Vermont and then, maybe, to Toronto, she come down to Austin and we drive over to Acuña, Mexico -- where Robert Rodriguez was shooting Desperado. If you had asked me directly, I would have vaguely remembered one late night sitting around a friend's pool, drinking wine and shivering with Maggie as we talked to John Sayles, her companion of the last 20-plus years, about future film projects he was considering. Among other projects, he briefly discussed a border movie set in Texas. I wasn't thinking about that movie when I called. I was thinking it would be fun to watch Rodriguez work and to cruise West Texas with Maggie and our friend Fred, a reporter who would be joining us if there weren't any major national or international calamities.

Renzi, of course, thought of the movie; that was her job. Producer of eight of Sayles' 10 films, she had -- as with all his projects -- heard this border story more than once. She soon called back, and not only was she coming but so were Sayles and R. Paul Miller, her producing partner. The trip was, though I'm not sure anyone exactly realized it, turning into a scout.

When Sayles is on vacation, however, his idea of a good time is not visiting other directors' film sets. It would sort of be like a butcher on vacation visiting meat, Maggie pointed out. Knowing I needed to do a bit more planning, I phoned Texas Monthly senior editor and expert on all things Texas, Joe Nick Patoski, who gave me the first in a series of phone numbers which led to my renting a houseboat on Lake Amistad for three nights.

Shortly before our start date, U.S. troops went into Haiti, so we correctly figured Fred was not going to come on this road trip. Miller, Sayles, Renzi, and I drove to Del Rio, spending the night on the way in San Antonio. Driving across the border, we visited the Desperado set in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Hanging out with Elizabeth Avellon, Rodriguez's wife and co-producer, we watched him work, the set exploding with action, both in front of and behind the camera. Rodriguez is an athletic presence, a physical, hands-on-the-camera director. No leisurely shot set-ups here. When we arrived, Rodriguez was kneeling in the dirt and dust, running a camera mounted at ground level. The set was in Acuña's Boystown, and though the movie crew had converted much of this little town for the movie, come sundown it was still functioning as a place of business. At first women, and then customers began arriving, the men wandering outside with drinks to watch the movie being shot; we left.

The houseboat was ideal; designed for six, it slept four quite comfortably. Paul had extensive sailing experience -- not that the houseboat needed much, but it helped. We traveled up the Devil's River. We hiked, swam, read, ate, napped, talked, ate, and docked the boat in a cove overnight. The next day we took the boat in, docked, and drove up to Langtry.

As a youthful enthusiast of Edgar Buchanan's TV show, Judge Roy Bean, The Only Law West of the Pecos, as well as a devoted student, if not exactly fan, of John Huston's uneasy near-masterpiece, near-disaster The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (with a script by the always problematic John Milius), I found myself oddly moved by the tiny little shack that once housed Bean's bar and court. The trip to Langtry is all empty West Texas desert with the occasional train track running parallel with the road. There is nothing there except the sky, the desert, and the road cutting through it. Racing down the highway, just before Langtry, we spotted an old abandoned highway bridge off to the side of the road and found, just a little further, the cracked old highway which we followed back to the bridge. The bridge crossed a classic arroyo, all rocks and angles, a rip in the earth. We stood there on the bridge in the quiet of the desert for a long time.

Instead of driving further north as we had planned, we headed back to the houseboat, where we spent our last night, camped on the far side of Lake Amistad, watching the stars.

Not two weeks after we got back, Maggie called to say they were coming back to Texas to make a movie, and they would be back in town soon to begin serious scouting. Early in 1995, they moved to Eagle Pass to set up an office, do pre-production, and then shoot Lone Star.

A few months after that, Fred and I stood on the same abandoned bridge outside of Langtry, Texas but, now, rather than the emptiness, the still and quiet of the desert, 50-plus people were making a movie in the middle of a blistering afternoon. We had just driven up from Austin, bringing, at Maggie's instructions, two portable ice chests full of dry ice and Häagen Daz bars. On the bridge, Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey drove up in a vintage 1950s police car to a truck that had broken down. They repeated this action several times, after which they shot a few more scenes at the truck. Then Kristofferson graciously took his leave of the company, as his last day of shooting was finished, and he headed for the airport.

Sayles, Renzi, Miller, and company were making this movie, the crew and cast were working hard under the broiling West Texas sun, performing the strange rituals and actions of filmmaking. Standing on the same bridge where we had taken tourist pictures not a year before, Fred and I watched. We watched as the movie was being shot and as those cherished ice cream bars spread slowly amongst the cast and crew.

Lone Star has opened to mostly rave reviews. Tonight, Annie and I will finally see the finished film (it was too crazy during the South by Southwest Film Festival, which offered one of its very first public screenings at the Paramount). This certainly isn't an end to this story, probably because this isn't really a story, just a rambling talk on the braiding of journeys, of where things start, where things stop, and how they keep on going.

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John Sayles is everywhere these days but this issue of the Chronicle offers an interview with Maggie Renzi by Margaret Moser, a review of Lone Star by Robert Faires, and a review of the Lone Star soundtrack by Christopher Gray. In the first issue of the Chronicle, in September, 1981, there was an interview with John Sayles. In September, 1996, the Chronicle will celebrate our 15th anniversary, but I don't want to harp on that just yet.

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Talking about film, the first week in August, Quentin Tarantino will present a week of his favorite films at the Dobie as a benefit for the Austin Film Society's Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund. The ever-more busy Austin Film Society will also present a screening of the legendary Sam Fuller's I Shot Jesse James to be introduced by Chronicle Film Editor Marjorie Baumgarten. For more information about either or both of these see Jen Scoville's "Short Cuts" column on p. 34.

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The Chronicle staff offer their sincere congratulations to our much loved senior account executive Jerald Corder for being named Best Newspaper Sales Representative by The Ad Society, Austin Advertising Federation. n

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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