By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (October 25, 2017) — One of the major regrets I had upon moving back to New Mexico from California was not attending the public memorial of New Mexico writer Tony Hillerman. As an admirer Hillerman’s work, I longed to meet the author. When I heard he died four months after our move—on October 26th, 2008 I thought to myself, “I need to attend his funeral.” I didn’t.
But from that moment on I committed to support local authors.
So when I learned that Albuquerque resident, Max Evans’, new documentary Ol’ Max Evans: The First Thousand Years was to play at the Santa Fe International Film Festival with a repeat showing at the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque, attendance was mandatory . Hosted by actors Peter Coyote and Sam Eliot, the movie chronicles the life and exploits of the infamous New Mexico cowboy, author, and painter.
For those not too familiar with Max Evans, a few short words are in store.
Evans’ biographer, Slim Randles, describes Evans’ life as “a rollicking tale of a powerful, if unconventional, literary figure. From his childhood in West Texas to his adolescence as a cowboy in northeastern New Mexico, from D-Day in World War II to the wild world of Hollywood, Max Evans has truly lived many lifetimes. Peppered through all this mayhem were stints as a gold smuggler, mining company executive, artist in Taos, professional calf roper, movie producer, and legendary partygoer.”
As the writer of Hi-Lo Country (turned into a movie in 1999 staring Penelope Cruz, Patricia Arquette, and Woody Harrelson) and The Rounder’s (turned into both a movie starring Henry Fonda and TV miniseries starring Ron Hayes), Mr. Evans has written over 25 books and dozens of short stories.
According to journalist, Margaret Wright, “Evans moved to the Duke City from Taos in the late ’60s, not long after his first two books, The Rounders and The Hi-Lo Country, were published and quickly deemed classics of the Western genre. From there, he has never stopped seeking ways to tell the stories of the vanishing of the wild American West. He always does this in his characteristically vivid, lyrical style. Evans spent his youth living the depictions in his novels: a cowboy, miner, rancher, combat veteran, barroom brawler and painter. He is just as comfortable drinking whiskey in hotel bars with roughnecks as he is hobnobbing with Hollywood actors and directors.”
In Slim Randles’ biography of Evans, he writes, “In Ol’ Max we witness his friendships, the wild horses, the bar brawls, the discovery of his place in literature, the laughter, and a mystical world of shadows and mystery, which date back to the year he spent with his Cherokee grandmother as a boy.”
Novelist, Robery J. Conely said of Evans, “I think [Max] is one of the greatest writers alive. We got to be friends and I felt like the guys who got to sit around and drink ale with Shakespeare.”
Of the couple-hundred-plus people that attended the movie showing in Albuquerque, many would concur with Conely’s statement — Evans’ is a type of a western Shakespeare, writing books that touch on the human condition. And most of the people in the documentary bent over backwards to point out that Evans is not a “western” writer per-se, but a writer of literature that uses the west as his canvas.
The documentary covers the entirety of Evans’ life leading up to his 92nd birthday. Of noted interest is the fact that film editor for Ken Burn’s documentaries, Paul Barnes, was a partner in the film , along with Lorene Mills and David Leach acting as co-producers. The film was awarded Best New Mexico Documentary at the Santa Fe International Film Festival.
After the showing, a time for question and answers was given. And though all the participants in the film were given opportunity to share, I’ll concentrate on Evans’ answers.
When asked what Evans thought of the film, Max joked, “I’m happy you guys are here, and I’m sure happy I’m here to say that to you.” The audience erupted in laughter.
One audience member — who had a crush on Evans’ daughter in High School — asked if Evans knew kids were afraid of him. Evans replied, “No one was ever afraid of me. I just smiled and quoted a little poetry and everything was fine.” Again, the audience gushed with laughter.
One audience member brought up a bar fight Evans was involved with. Evans remembers loosing some of his hair and biting the person’s ear. Yep. He lived that kind of life.
When asked what his favorite moment in the documentary was, Evans replied, “I loved seeing the windy, hi-low country…and the narration [done by Sam Eliot] touched me deeply. Honest to God, I’ve never felt worthy of such a fine film. If it was a sorry film, well, that would be different.”
A particular poignant moment in both the film and the question and answer segment occurred over Max Evans’ attitude change towards coyotes. In his early life he hunted coyotes with great resolve. But after an incident when he saw a coyote give his life for another coyote, he changed his mind towards them — never to hunt them again. When asked about this change of heart, Evans replied, “I suppose that as many words as I have written or said, I’ve not expressed my love and respect — and awe — at that simple thing called the coyote.”
A small girl asked Evans which books were his favorites. Evans mentioned One-Eyed Sky and Blue Feather Fellini, seeing them both as reflective of his entire life experiences.
Another person in the audience asked about his writing process. Evans replied, “I write in spells. I write day and night for a week or ten days at a time, and then stop for a while. I let the thought soak and build up, and then I do it all over again. I don’t write continuously, I write intensely. I can’t do anything else, I’m totally absorbed by it and in it.”
Finally, Evans was asked about his painting process. He said he has an empty canvas set up in his house and he’s been “staring at it for about three months.” Further reflecting, he notes, “And I’ve got all kinds of paints sitting on the table. And I’ve got a great mountain range — the Sandia Mountains, and I haven’t made a stroke on the canvas, but I keep dreaming that I’ll pick up the brush, mix some paint, and slap down something beautiful.”
And maybe that last phrase is how we can remember 93-year old Max Evans: as a person who slapped down “something beautiful” for humanity and “The Great Mystery” (his understanding of God)—in both words and paint.
Max Evans may not have lived a real thousand years, but maybe a thousand years from now some people may still be reading the words of the New Mexico cowboy who wrote and painted about nature, humanity, and the Great Mystery better than most.
Max Evans next novel is tentatively called The King of Taos.
For upcoming showings of Ol’ Max Evans: The First Thousand Years — the Movie, click here: https://www.facebook.com/MaxEvansMovie/
Photo captions: The Rounders. 2) Max Evans at 93. 3) Blue Feather Fellini. 4) Hi-Low Country movie. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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