Giant (1956)

Viewed May 8th

 

Multi-generational saga about Texas, tradition, and the rush for oil that sweeps up one of the state's largest cattle ranches in the wake of World War II.

Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean are three big movie stars and three big movie stars require a Texas-sized movie in order to support all that wattage. 

In the first half of George Stevens' Giant, they get that. Stevens' builds the world of the Reata Ranch so we sink in. With its sparse landscape punctured by the big old Victorian homestead, Giant projects a mythical, classical allegory for recent history. In the three-and-a-half hour technicolor saga's second half, though, that mythic world shrinks down to size so that we feel as though we're too often listening to people talking in rooms about relatively pedestrian things we've heard before. This shrinking clashes with the what these three big movie stars need in order to keep the film in the air. They stayed big, but the film got small.

On the other hand, though, that shrinking is intentional: it parallels the themes of change to Texas itself in the second half of the twentieth century. The rugged grandeur of the open cattle ranches gave way to the mechanistic and more purely capitalistic oil industry. This move to shrink the scope and grandeur of the film also serves as a meta-commentary on the western genre, in which the old Texas is modernizing with concrete swimming pools and all the loneliness that can come with endless oil money. One of the most disarmingly contemporary points the film has to make is that the story of Texas in the 20th century is driven by oil but is ultimately about race. None of this matters, though, if the world around all these ideas struggles to cohere. When that happens, we can't be absorbed into the movie enough to have its ideas absorbed into us.