A young Bill Paxton gets mixed up in plenty of weirdness.

Movies

How Tom Huckabee’s 40-Year Obsession Emerged as a Tribute to Bill Paxton

The Fort Worth filmmaker's new version of the 1970s post-apocalyptic oddity Taking Tiger Mountain revisits Paxton's first starring role.

Tom Huckabee admits that Taking Tiger Mountain has been one of those projects best known for its tumultuous history behind the scenes than anything else.

The Fort Worth resident hopes to change that with the recent completion of Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited, a new version of the 1970s post-apocalyptic oddity that marked the first starring role for the late Bill Paxton.

As Huckabee’s career as a writer, filmmaker, and artist produced numerous projects over the last 40 years, his mind kept coming back to his early collaboration with Paxton. And after the death of his close friend and former high school classmate in 2017, finishing the obscure black-and-white film became an avenue for closure and also a way to pay tribute.

“The themes of the film are probably my life’s obsession,” Huckabee said. “We kept talking about clarifying the story and making a more entertaining film that played better.”

Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited will debut for local audiences as part of the Fort Worth Indie Showcase on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn Medical Center in Fort Worth. Huckabee will participate in a Q&A afterward.

It began as an unfinished film directed by Kent Smith and starring a teenage Paxton — loosely based on a sexually explicit cross between Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, with French New Wave influences — shot on a shoestring budget in Wales in 1973 with no sound.

Huckabee found the footage and took over the project six years later, rewriting the script to add a surreal science-fiction element and turning Paxton’s character into a draft evader from the war-torn United States brainwashed by militant feminists to murder the Welsh minister of prostitution. The new project dealt with gender fluidity, sexual identity, psychedelic drugs, and government surveillance.

Around 1980, Huckabee shot some new footage in Austin and Paxton recorded some dialogue and narration. Much of the film’s soundtrack comes from radio broadcasts based on the Blade Runner novella by William S. Burroughs (which, incidentally, is not the same Burroughs book on which the film Blade Runner is based).

Huckabee’s dystopian version received a minor theatrical release in 1983, when both he and Paxton were still struggling to make it in Hollywood. It gained a few ardent fans, although the filmmaker himself wasn’t one of them.

“It was hard for me to sit through it with an audience,” Huckabee said. “It had a lot to do with keeping it alive in my mind, and in believing that there was something buried deep inside that was wonderful.”

After setting it aside for many years, Huckabee altered many shots in the film during a recent digital transfer, re-editing and re-framing many of them, and adding set dressing to clean up the visuals.

“It never had a lot of structure to begin with,” he said. “It was always kind of a dream poem.”

After its local premiere, Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited will be released on DVD and on-demand platforms later this summer.

The festival, which runs through Saturday, will include some other noteworthy grassroots features with North Texas connections, in addition to an array of shorts, music videos, and multimedia projects.

  • Tanner Kalina, a graduate of Jesuit College Prep, stars in Evergreen, a romance about a young couple whose marriage is tested during a wintry weekend at a Colorado cabin.
  • The documentary Pipe Dreams follows five young organists as they compete in the Canadian International Organ Competition. One of them is Alcee Chriss III of Fort Worth.
  • North Texas filmmakers John Burr (Muse), Kodi Zene (Monochrome: The Chromism), and festival director Bill Hass (How to Make a Baby) will screen their latest works.

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