New Mexico recently ushered in its second century of filmmaking.
To mark this occasion, Taos Taking Pictures (organizers of the
Taos Film Festival) and Gramercy Pictures (makers of fine independent
movies) will be presenting the Southwest premiere of The Hi-Lo
Country. This new Western is directed by Stephen Frears, produced
by Martin Scorsese and stars Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup, Patricia
Arquette, Penelope Cruz and Sam Elliot.
The Hi-Lo Country got its start right here in New Mexico
under the pen of local author Max Evans. Evans is a noted artist
and writer, a recipient of the Levi Strauss Saddleman's Award,
the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and,
most recently, the Western Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award
from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Among his many Western
novels is The Rounders, which was made into a movie in
1965 starring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda.
Evans' 1961 book The Hi-Lo Country--which the author says
is "based on real experiences" working on the ranchlands
of northeastern New Mexico--was first optioned as a film
by famed Western director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch).
Up until his death in 1984, Peckinpah labored unsuccessfully to
bring Evans' tale of friendship between two struggling ranchers
to the big screen. Eventually, the book ended up in the hands
of director Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), who fell in
love with the characters, the setting and the time period. Set
in post-World War II New Mexico, The Hi-Lo Country examines
the relationship between Pete Calder and Big Boy Matson--two members
of that dying breed known as the American cowboy who go from friends
to rivals over the love of a single woman. Scorsese's schedule
precluded him from directing the film, but he agreed to produce
it and brought British director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons,
The Grifters) on board to helm the project.
In the summer of 1997, after "one or two lifetimes"
of development, Evans saw his story go before the cameras. "I'll
tell you, it took enormous courage to make this film," says
Evans. "It took even more courage for a British director
to do it." The Academy Award-nominated Englishman impressed
Evans, though, by talking to locals, to cowboys, to rodeo riders
and by immersing himself in New Mexican culture.
Evans patterned The Hi-Lo Country after characters he met
and places he saw while working on a cattle ranch in Union County,
N.M. He was delighted when the filmmakers chose to shoot the film
in the very northern New Mexico climes in which the novel was
set. Ever up for adventure, the one-time cowpoke even helped scout
locations for the film shoot.
"Myself and the line producer, we drove 2000 miles over the
northeast corridor of New Mexico on corrugated roads," recalls
Evans. Dozens of picturesque locations on the wide-open plains
along the New Mexico/Colorado border were chosen to give The
Hi-Lo Country an authentic feel. While headquartered in Santa
Fe, the production utilized many nearby farms and ranches. Las
Vegas, Galisteo and the Cook Ranch all served as locations for
the multi-month shoot.
The completed film recently opened in L.A. on Dec. 30 in order
to qualify for Oscar consideration. Evans couldn't be more pleased
with the final result and reserves special praise for actor Woody
Harrelson and his portrayal of Big Boy Matson, a character based
on one of Evan's best friends. "Everyone I've come into contact
with has proved their love and dedication to this project."
Evans concludes. "I can't think of a greater honor to myself
and to the memory of Big Boy."