This is a look at some of the artistic references to Manifest Destiny, an original feature film script by Texas-born writer Mitch Finn.
The fantasy genre, even when written by American authors, almost always refers to an enchanted Medieval Europe. Rarely is America’s past viewed with this enchanted spectacle (at least by the occupying dominant culture). To invent a uniquely American fairy tale, Manifest Destiny presents a world of magical realism pulling influences from American folklore, history and Western film tropes.
Manifest Destiny is thought of as a film embedded in its era and should look like a film from 1969. Warm earthy tones, saturated hues. Reference images from Midnight Cowboy, Five Easy Pieces, The Wild Bunch and The Outlaw Josey Wales.
around Houston Texas, 1969
It was a boom of growth around Houston in the Late 1960s. Buoyed by Big Oil and Johnson Space Center’s successful operations of the Apollo 11 landing, Houston was primed for big steaks and big boots for decades to come through urban sprawl. Manifest Destiny takes place in places that at the time were still wild. Somewhere between the Gulf and Houston, somewhere fifteen minutes from the San Jacinto Monument of Texas Independence, fifteen minutes from the oil refineries of the Port of Houston, and fifteen minutes from NASA mission control.
While the city no longer looks like it did back then, there are some neighborhoods, and small towns, which may pass for older neighborhoods. Mindful of budgets for period films, Manifest Destiny calls for a minimal number of sets.
The Wild West Show
Manifest Destiny features dream sequences that showcase the spirit of the western conquest. Historical events become carnivals, glitzy celebrations and feats of strength that become the folklore of a nation. Images below from Clint Eastwood’s Bronco Billy, and Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians starring Paul Newman.
The Cave of the Worm People
Another sequence mystery features a cave of the uncanny.
Pineywood Forest in Manifest Destiny is a fictional place, however there are some truly wild places yet in Southeast Texas. One such place is a reserve called “Big Thicket” which has a combination of ecological niches. There is also folklore of a special legendary creature who lurks in these woods.
Diana, our heroine, is a back-to-land hippie. She’s a straight-talking young woman with musical talents and a heart for Mother Nature. In 1969, she could have been played by Barbara Hershey or Katherine Ross.
Wild Bill in Character
When Bill calls on the power to help him, the fates lend him a hand in the form of a rather garish magical suit. Roy Rogers to some, Gene Autry to others, although he has another cowboy muse in mind.
The New Mexico Ranch
Early in the story we get to visit a New Mexico commune in the late sixties. It’s a rugged environment with people and animals living together. The commune scenes from Easy Rider are a reference point, as well as historical images from the era.
the uncanny bits …
The mysterious beings yet live in the wild places of America. Manifest Destiny is an origin story of one of our greatest native folk creatures. As well as the spirit of one of our great cinematic folk heroes. Images below from the Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who can Recall His Past Lives, and John Wayne from Horse Soldiers.
1969 was a stellar time for music as were all the late 1960s, making for a stimulating soundtrack. Usually films about this era celebrate the best selling rock music like the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Doors and Jimmi Hendrix, among many others. But in addition to this, Manifest Destiny’s soundtrack can play what the other side of America was listening to, conservative America – folk ballads, country music, gospel.
The most important song in the script is in the public domain. “My Darling Clementine” appears twice, once played, once sung. And it can be beautiful:
A number of heroic western themes and ballads may fit well in the film, such as The Theme to Magnificent Seven, and Marty Robbin’s Big Iron:
Music from the era helps draw the audience into the fantasy of the period. When Diana plays the organ to Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, it evokes memory:
The enchantments reach a pinnacle at the end of the film. Celebrating the moon landing, and a simultaneous landing on mother earth, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon is a song that signifies a mystical union of sorts: