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Five Things You’ll Be Talking About in December

By December 2013Comments

Illustration by Josue Evilla

1. Romo Agonistes

You remember Danny White, don’t you? He had the misfortune to replace Roger Staubach as the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback after the beloved number 12 retired with two Super Bowl victories. Though White broke numerous Cowboys records—for passing yards in a season, for touchdown passes in a season, for completions in a season—he never led the team back to the big game. White was the least of the Cowboys’ problems, but fans blamed him anyway, because that’s what fans do when you’re following in the footsteps of a legend. “Why did Danny White wear number 11?” went one old joke. “Because he was always less than number 12.” 
 
So what kind of man is Tony Romo? He has been the starter since 2006, picking up the pieces of a team that was led by washouts such as Ryan Leaf and Quincy Carter, but the memory of Troy Aikman and his three titles looms large over his legacy. Romo has also rewritten the team’s record book—for passing yards in a season, for touchdown passes in a season, for completions in a season—but fans still expect Super Bowls, and that’s where his résumé is thinner than Jerry Jones’s hairline. White, at least, made it to three NFC Championship games (darn you, Joe Montana), but Romo has had only one playoff win in seven seasons. The Cowboys need all the help they can get this month just to make it to the playoffs. The hardest games? At home against the Green Bay Packers, who sit atop their division, and on the road against the Chicago Bears. And though Romo is the least of the team’s problems, he’ll take the blame for another failure to make it to the Super Bowl, whether it’s fair or not. That’s how you measure a Cowboys quarterback. Always has been, always will be. —Brian D. Sweany
 

2. Five Things That Bonnie and Clyde: Dead and Alive Gets Right 

The end credits of Bonnie and Clyde: Dead and Alive offer a disclaimer: “This story is based upon the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Certain characters, scenes, and dialogue have been created for the purposes of dramatization.” There’s your new definition of understatement. It’s customary for movies based on history to promote legend over fact, but this movie needlessly warps the legend. (Clyde Barrow was clairvoyant? No.) But if you consider this four-hour, two-night miniseries (which premieres December 8 and 9 on the A&E, History, and Lifetime channels) strictly as entertainment, it’s not too bad. And every once in a while, it gets something right. —Jeff Guinn

1. In 1930 twenty-year-old Clyde Barrow was sentenced to fourteen years for car theft and possession of stolen goods at Eastham Prison Farm, where convicts were treated as slave labor. One fellow inmate repeatedly raped Clyde until the much smaller man killed him. Bonnie and Clyde: Dead and Alive effectively captures the inhuman conditions of this notorious place.

2. Bonnie Parker aimed to be a Broadway star, award-winning poet, or both, and if notoriety as a bandit was the closest she could get, she’d enjoy every minute of it. As the movie purports, Bonnie kept scrapbooks of all the Barrow Gang press clippings, particularly relishing those featuring photos of her.

3. The Barrow Gang’s 1933 confrontation with a throng of cops in Platte City, Missouri, was their most blood-soaked and chaotic gunfight. Clyde’s brother Buck had part of his skull shot off, and Buck’s wife Blanche’s eyes were pierced by splinters of flying glass. Bonnie and Clyde offers a memorable and reasonably accurate dramatization of all the gory confusion.

4. Bonnie and Clyde has a distinguished cast, but the surprising standout is Sarah Hyland, of ABC’s Modern Family, as Blanche Barrow, a law-abiding young woman reluctantly drawn into her husband’s life of crime. Hyland nails Blanche’s increasing distaste for life on the run without resorting to scenery-chewing; in the unlikely event that this movie earns any awards, they ought to come her way.

5. When offered $180 a month for tracking down the Barrow Gang, retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer demanded that he also be given ownership of their personal possessions. Even that long ago, collectors paid exorbitant amounts for criminal memorabilia. The scene in which Hamer speculates on how much dough he’s going to wring out of his dead victims’ belongings is one of the truest moments in the film.

Fort Worth writer Jeff Guinn is the author of Go Down Together: the True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, which is currently in film preproduction.

3. GRAND PIANO

Almost from the day the Kimbell Art Museum opened, in 1972, Louis Kahn’s sublimely proportioned building has been one of the most revered icons of twentieth-century architecture. Not surprisingly, when a Kimbell expansion was proposed in the late eighties, the idea immediately became radioactive—after all, how do you add to perfection? Decades later, however, we have an answer: the Kimbell’s new Renzo Piano Pavilion, which opens to the public November 27. Among the pantheon of active architects, perhaps only Piano could have pulled this off; he once worked for Kahn and remains the most direct heir to Kahn’s mastery of natural light and elegant fusion of classical and modern architecture. Piano’s pavilion is a stand-alone annex, separated from Kahn’s masterpiece by a lawn and reflecting pool, a deference underscored by the low-profile design. Typically in Piano’s buildings a lot of the invention takes place on the roof, which in this case seems almost to hug the ground, a flat, high-tech sandwich of light-regulating glass, aluminum louvers, fabric scrims, and laminated wooden beams. There’s just as much going on inside, however, where transparent, glass-walled spaces are complemented by a spectacular subterranean auditorium. As with all Piano’s museums, it’s the exquisitely engineered details that visitors will come to love: an innovative ventilation system built into the white oak floors, gallery walls that appear to float, and sudden epiphanies of outdoor light channeled deep into the interior. And Piano trumps the master in one important aspect: the roof also generates power, helping to make the new annex twice as energy-efficient as Kahn’s building. —Michael Ennis

4. THE RISE AND RISE OF REVENANT RECORDS

Austin-based Revenant Records, founded by the late guitarist John Fahey and Dell Inc. attorney Dean Blackwood, specializes in discovering and rediscovering lost “raw musics” from the underappreciated likes of Dock Boggs and Albert Ayler. Its best-known collection, a seven-CD anthology of blues guitarist Charley Patton, won three Grammy Awards in 2003. Yet the label’s latest venture, produced in conjunction with former White Stripes front man Jack White, dwarfs even that set. The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1 (1917–1927), memorializing a legendary Wisconsin label, is housed in a massive wooden box (emulating the phonographs the company also manufactured) and includes two meticulously researched books, six vinyl albums, sheet music, and a retro-looking USB drive archiving eight hundred of the label’s thousands of recordings. And the music is every bit as spectacular as the packaging. Shut out of exclusive artist and distribution channels by the major labels, Paramount relied on street contacts to assemble, almost by chance, an unequaled roster of future blues and jazz legends: Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson, Ethel Waters, and—through the recommendation of a Dallas record store owner—a stark, exuberant Texas blues pioneer named Blind Lemon Jefferson, who did virtually all his recording for the label. Honest, mysterious, earthy, and often irreverent, the music Paramount put out—which included songs from such obscure Texas talent as Dad Nelson and Will Ezell—was an antidote to the often-sappy popular hits of the day. Given the label’s lack of diligence, it’s amazing any of these recordings survived. But they did, and this $400 limited-edition collection, the first of two planned volumes, is well suited to its wooden box. It’s an American treasure chest. —Jeff McCord

5. Ward Up! 

When the photographer Peter Beste began work on Houston Rap (Sinecure Books, $49.95) nine years ago, H-Town hip-hop had little visibility outside of a few impoverished neighborhoods. Soon after, though, the scene blew up internationally—a shift that doesn’t seem to have changed Beste’s project much. A handful of famous rappers were interviewed by his collaborator Lance Scott Walker for the text, but the bulk of the book is given over to people you’ve never heard of—strippers, community activists, underground MCs—all of whom trusted Beste and Walker to represent them to an audience that has never set foot in the Fifth Ward. “I really take my hat off to them for compiling a true sense of who we are, at our rawest and at our realest,” the rapper Bun B writes in the introduction. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s something that should be praised.”

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