‘Giant’ film to close Celebration of Texas program

By Mallory Hisler

The Baylor University Libraries plan to conclude their Celebration of Texas event with a grand — or rather, giant — event at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Bill Daniel Student Center Den.

The Celebration of Texas Film event will include a discussion of the cultural significance of the film “Giant” through clips from the 1956 film and a panel discussion.

“Filmed in Marfa, the movie explores the transformation of the Texas economy from ranching to oil,” according to the University Libraries’ website.

A highlight to the event will be the involvement of 1974 Baylor graduate Kirby Warnock, who made an award-winning documentary about the making of the movie.

Carl Flynn, director of marketing and communications for university libraries, said the event will not show “Giant” in its entirety, because it is more than three hours long.

It will instead feature Warnock’s 50-minute documentary, “Return to Giant.”

Along with the clips, screenings and discussion, organizers hope to draw students in with free food.

“Vitek’s [BBQ] will be serving classic Texas fare, including brisket sliders and sides,” Alison Pruett, digital media and communications specialist for university libraries, said.

Kathy Hillman, director of special collections and one of the event coordinators, said choosing “Giant” and “Return to Giant” to highlight in the Celebration of Texas Film was an easy choice.

“It was just one of those things that came together,” Hillman said. “We were looking for a Texas movie that had cultural significance, and ‘Giant’ immediately came to mind.”

The movie has a personal significance to Hillman, who grew up in Marfa, and whose mother will participate in the event as a member of the panel.

“I listened to the stories growing up,” Hillman said. “I have seen the movie a number of times and I knew the extras. It’s one of those quintessential Texas films about life, oil and the grand state.”

Hillman also had a connection to Warnock, one of her husband’s friends from college.

Warnock, whose father is from a West Texas town near Marfa, saw remnants of the “Giant” set when he was a young boy, but had to wait until he was an adult to see the actual film.

“There was no VHS back then, so if you didn’t catch it in theaters or on TV, you missed it… The first time I saw it all the way through was in 1976,” Warnock said. “I saw the first 15 minutes in 1973 at Baylor while I was waiting for my date. It was playing on TV, and I thought, ‘Holy cow, I’ve been there before.’ But I had to wait like three more years to see it in full.”

Both Hillman and Warnock agree that “Giant” was the first film to more accurately portray Texas culture to the masses than the John Wayne/Roy Rogers movies people were used to.

“It was the first movie that got it right, really,” Warnock said. “That’s what got me fascinated by it. It’s one of the only movies about Texas that was actually made here.”

However, Warnock was also quick to note that he believes “Giant” and the television show “Dallas,” which was popular in the 1980s, were the main reasons there were misconceptions about Texas.

“I think that the other thing is that it gives a few false impressions — that everyone has cattle and horses and if you don’t, you’re a rich oil man,” he said.

Warnock said the residents of Marfa who were able to experience the filming of “Giant” were a part of something special.

“All of those people in Marfa that I talked to, they were talking about that summer. They just talked about it like it was the best time of their life — and they’ve been waiting for it to come back ever since,” he said. “It’s not like they’re still living in the past. They just had a doggone good time.”

Warnock, who was a history major at Baylor, said he took an oral history class in college, and after hearing the stories of the Marfa residents, he knew what he needed to do.

“I had never made a movie before; it was my first,” he said. “But I had learned how to do interviews and capture good stories and stuff like that [because of the oral history class], so I had already had a lot of practice.”

A former Deloitte employee, Warnock is now a self-described freelance writer and freelance producer. He is currently working on a feature film.

Warnock will be on the discussion panel following the showing of his documentary, along with Waco Tribune-Herald entertainment editor Carl Hoover, director of Baylors film and digital media division Chris Hansen and Marfa resident Mary Barton-Robinson, who is Hillman’s mother.

The event is free and open to the public. Both Hillman and Pruett encourage students to check out “Giant” from the library so they can see it for themselves.

“We wanted to show it initially, but it was just too long,” Hillman said. “But the library has a copy to check out for free.”

Warnock said “Giant” was James Dean’s last role before he passed away, and also featured stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Dennis Hopper.

Giant is No. 82 on American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list, and stars Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean are numbers seven and 17 on AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Stars” women’s and men’s lists, respectively.