QUESTION: What do Bill Paxton, William S. Burroughs and Fort Worth, Texas have in common? ANSWER: “A lot more than you’d think,” says funky town film maven Tom Huckabee
TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN REVISITED—a sparkling new upgrade of the speculative-fiction cult film, starring Bill Paxton (in his first lead role), and co-written by William Burroughs—makes its DFW premiere at the Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase (FWIFS) on Thursday, July 25, in conjunction with its digital release by Vinegar Syndrome.
From Bill Hass, filmmaker and founder of FWIFS: “We are honored to host the Texas debut of Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited, featuring the legendary Bill Paxton and directed by his long-time collaborator Tom Huckabee. We were shocked to learn that no version of this provocative and prophetic film has ever been shown in Tarrant County. And we’re delighted by the sensational quality of its picture and sound.”
From Tom Huckabee, co-creator of Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited: “I’m proud to be featured opening night of the sixth year of FWIFS. Bill Hass is a graduate of my screenwriting workshop, who has become a real force in the DFW film scene, both as a filmmaker and promoter of other people’s work.”
(Also showing: Martini Ranch’s “Reach” [1987, 9 min.] Directed by James Cameron, produced by Tom Huckabee and Bill Paxton, starring Paxton, Kathryn Bigelow, Judge Reinhold, Bud Cort, Adrian Pasdar, Paul Reiser, Lance Henricksen and Jenette Goldstein.)
Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited, a Gold Alchemy Org Production, is loosely based on one of William Burroughs’ most obscure works, the 1979 novella, Blade Runner: A Movie, which has nothing in common with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1982, except that Scott purchased the title, because “Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?” was deemed unwieldy.
Synopsis: In a dystopian future, European feminist terrorists brainwash American draft dodger Billy Hampton (Bill Paxton), 19, and program him to assassinate the Welsh minister of prostitution. Lurching unwittingly toward his goal, Billy makes a series of furtive connections with societal outliers like himself, including a feral child, a gentle prostitute, a sadomasochistic delinquent, a lovelorn androgyne, and a mute nymphomaniac, while fending off predators who would sell him into sex slavery. Eventually, he is forced to focus on his mission and face the dreadful dilemma tormenting his subconscious: to kill or not to kill.
A bold and masterful hybrid of conventional and avant-garde technique, the original version of the film, Taking Tiger Mountain, was mostly shot in Wales in 1974, under the direction of Kent Smith using 35mm short ends from Bob Fosse’s Lenny. After languishing unedited for five years, the project was resurrected and completed by Tom Huckabee—while a student at the University of Texas at Austin—and released in 1983 by the Landmark Theater Chain.
The original screenplay by Smith was radically overhauled by Huckabee with major contributions by Fort Worth native, Paul Cullum, and bits of Burrough’s Blade Runner interwoven into the narrative.
Like many of his classmates at UT Austin, Huckabee was a fanatic for Burrough’s work and intimidated by his outlaw reputation. He recalls Burroughs “scrutinizing the rough cut, muttering ‘I see. Uh huh… interesting…’” At the end he snarled in his inimitable mid-west mumble: “I think you’ve got something there, kid.”
“Of all the reviews I’ve received over fifty years making art and entertainment, that’s my favorite,” says Huckabee, 63, who followed his buddy Paxton out to Hollywood after graduating from Southwest High in 1974. As soon as he arrived, he inherited Paxton’s job working for Smith, a producer of educational films at Encyclopedia Britannica. “Bill and Kent had just gotten back from Wales after running out of money shooting Tiger Mountain,” says Huckabee. “Bill got a job on Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama, so he didn’t get to see the dailies when they arrived from London. But I did and I was impressed.”
Smith introduced Huckabee to the work of William Burroughs and Valerie Solanas (the would-be assassin of Andy Warhol). “They became touchstones after I took over the project five years later. I got the idea to set them against each other in a philosophical dialectic.” Burroughs was notorious for his ambivalence about the distaff gender, and Solanas wrote the book on misandry, SCUM Manifesto. SCUM stands for the Society for Cutting Up Men.
Huckabee also added a science-fiction layer and shot a ten-minute opening sequence on a sound stage in Austin. He produced every stitch of sound, since none had been recorded in Wales. “Kent wrote a script with a lot dialogue but opted to loop all that once he got back to Hollywood, like the Italians do,” says Huckabee. “Only, he could never afford to do that. Nor could he afford to return to Wales to shoot the rest of his script.”
Burroughs – the patron saint of Beat culture and the black sheep of the Burroughs’ typewriter fortune – toiled for several years as a cannabis farmer near Conroe, Texas with his wife Joan Vollmer in the late 1940’s. This period of chaotic high-jinks was chronicled in Jack Kerouac’s iconic On the Road (1957) and Burrough’s own Queer, published in 1985, and soon to be a motion picture, directed by Ben Foster, starring Foster and Kristen Stewart. In 1983, Burroughs spent a long weekend in Fort Worth headlining at the opening night of the Caravan of Dreams. He returned to the Caravan three years later to record the spoken-word album, Uncommon Quotes.
Writing about Taking Tiger Mountain’s 1983 world premiere in San Francisco at the Roxy Theater, Judy Stone, grande dame of Bay Area critics, stated, “[It is] remarkably successful at evoking an ominous vision of the future.” Louis Black, co-founder of SXSW, called it “consistently wry and entertaining, thematically rich and effortlessly convoluted.”
It had its detractors, too: “The making is better than the taking,” wrote Joe Leydon in The Dallas Morning News, summing up the opinion of many critics who thought the story behind the making of the film was more interesting than the thing itself. The filmmakers sympathized with the naysayers: “Neither Kent, Bill, nor I were completely satisfied with the original, which is why it was never released on video back in the day.”
In 2016, Vinegar Syndrome, the restoration and distribution company who specialize in refurbishing movies from the ’70s and ’80s, made Huckabee an offer he couldn’t refuse: to transfer the original Techniscope negative to 4K and share it with him, letting him keep American theatrical rights and all rights outside the US and English-speaking Canada. Huckabee used his $1500 advance from Vinegar Syndrome as seed money for a radical overhaul.
With the help of DFW-based filmmakers Calder Cleavlin and Logan Gilpin, Huckabee made significant improvements to the structure and pacing. With the magic of digital technology, they added set-decoration, weather, even an animated butterfly. Huckabee shot a new ending in the countryside just west of Fort Worth, near the Aledo homestead where Bill Paxton grew up. In a flashback sequence, eleven-year-old Fort Worth resident Raines Morrisette and his father Lin Morrisette, a local attorney, play Billy Hampton and his father riding in a Rolls Royce, loaned to the production by Jazz Cafe owner, Nick Kithas. Mark Menza, a top sound engineer in Dallas, did the final mix.
“Because of all the changes made to the original film, it warranted a new title and deserves to be evaluated as a new entity,” says Huckabee. “For all its bells and whistles the new version is mostly distinguished by a better performance by Bill Paxton.” How is that possible, since he died before the upgrade began? “I’m a much better filmmaker now than I was then,” says Huckabee. “And the 4K transfer from the Techniscope negative allowed us to see nuances in Bill’s performance we couldn’t see before, even when it was projected on 35mm.”
The Critics agree:
“Bill Paxton is a joy to watch. He’s able to show so much with just his face… It’s clear from this [that] he would go on to be a star.” — Blood on the Camera
“Paxton brings an inner dynamism and emotional complexity to his role… It is a wholly natural and brave performance.” – Heather Drain, Diabolique Magazine
Never officially released on home video and long viewable only from poor quality bootlegs, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents the world home video premiere of both versions of Taking Tiger Mountain, newly restored in 4k from the original 35mm black and white Techniscope negative.
Directed by: Tom Huckabee and Kent Smith
Starring: Bill Paxton and the townspeople of Llangadog, Llandovery, Llanelli, Gwynfe, Llandeilo and Bethlehem, South Wales
1983 / 83 min / 2.35:1
2019 / 76 min / 2.35:1
• Region Free Blu-ray/DVD combo
• Newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm Techniscope negative
• Presenting both the original theatrical version and the 2019 ‘Revisited’ version
• Director introductions for both versions
• “Taking Over Tiger Mountain” – an interview focused on the original version with director Tom Huckabee
• “Revisiting Tiger Mountain” – an interview focused on the revisited version with director Tom Huckabee
• “Interviews with Welshmen” – a short film by Kent Smith
• Booklet with essay by Heather Drain
• Reversible cover artwork
• English SDH subtitles
Tom Huckabee is a multi-disciplined artist, producer, and educator. A frequent partner with the late Bill Paxton, their collaborations include Traveler, Frailty, and the first annual Lone Star International Film Festival. His semi-autobiographical sophomore feature, Carried Away, won three first place film festival awards and is available for streaming on Amazon.