Last night channel-surfing I stumbled across Coal Miner's Daughter for the thousandth time, and for the thousandth time Bill and I watched it the whole way through, marveling at its genius. The thing moves like an action movie. The scenes don't have title-cards or markers, but Michael Apted the director is so in charge of time and space you can feel the movie moving ahead of you, each scene bumping into the other blissfully. Drama somehow blinks itself alive in each moment, thanks to Sissy Spacek and Timmy Lee Jones, playing Loretta and Doolittle Lynn. Spacek especially has a witchcraft-handle on morphing through teen-age to middle-age without really changing that much physically. It's the way she looks at the camera that does it, super-charged but also shy, meek but furious. Plus she sings the songs like Loretta, full-throated, slightly off-key, and completely real. (Beverly D'Angelo plays Patsy Cline with the same intensity and truly captures her singing style; their scenes together as Loretta and Patsy have such a homey loveliness you want to fall asleep listening to their voices.) Jones has that effortlessness too, giving Doolittle enough exasperation and kindness to allow you to figure him out without judgment or skepticism. You want to be in the backseat of that big car they drive around in, visiting radio stations to plug the first record he and Loretta made, and then the morning they are parked in front of the Grand Old Opry is so matter-of-fact alive and wonderful it's a like a really good memory from your own life you want to hold onto.
Apted, Spacek and Jones all blur that line between what is in your head and in the movie through a total concentration on specifics. Apted especially finds pure poetry in rainy, muddy campgrounds, and old coal mining downtowns with old men sitting out in front of the hardware store, and the windows inside an old schoolhouse with that shiny black glamor of a holiday party at night... By the end I was crying like I always do, not because I was sad, but because Coal Miner's Daughter gets everything right. It truly is a joyous feeling to witness that.
And then this morning I remembered Van Lear Rose, Loretta's album that came out in 2004, the one Jack White produced. I'm going to try to find the CD somewhere around the house here, but I looked up some of the songs on You Tube and caught a performance of "Portland Oregon" that was originally on David Letterman. Both Loretta and White appear, with White starting out with his guitar solo and then Loretta sauntering on-stage waving hello with her microphone. What an incredible performance from an incredible album... That song still resonates in my head, one of those tunes that make life worth living, no matter how much it sucks. I did a little digging and found out that Doolittle is credited as a co-writer with Loretta on "Portland Oregon." He passed away in 1996, but lives on in that song, and in Coal Miner's Daughter, as a truly mythic figure.
Here are the lyrics to "Portland Oregon" by Loretta and Oliver (Doolittle) Lynn:
Well Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz
If that ain't love then tell me what is
Well I lost my heart it didn't take no time
But that ain't all. I lost my mind in Oregon
In a booth in the corner with the lights down low
I was movin' in fast she was takin' it slow
Well I looked at him and caught him lookin' at me
I knew right then we were playin' free in Oregon
Next day we knew last night got drunk
But we loved enough for the both of us
In the morning when the night had sobered up
It was much too late for the both of us in Oregon
Well sloe gin fizz works mighty fast
When you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass
Hey bartender before you close
Pour us one more drink and a pitcher to go
And a pitcher to go [repeat]...