BillyBobapalooza

Billy Bob's Filmography

SLING BLADE (1996)

Distributor
Miramax

Director and Writer
Billy Bob Thornton

Character
Karl Childers

Movie Quote
KARL:  That boy lives inside of his own heart.  Hits an awful big place.  You take care of that boy.

Plot
Karl Childers, a high-functioning, mentally retarded man, has spent the last 25 years--all of his adult life--incarcerated as a patient at the "state nervous hospital" for the brutal murder of his mother and her lover. When the film opens, Karl is declared "cured" and about to begin his life as a free man.  Set adrift, he arrives in a small town and settles into a job at a lawn mower repair shot.  He is befriended by a little boy  names Frank (Lucas Black), Frank's widowed mother Karen (Natalie Canerday), and Karen's kindly, closeted gay boss Vaughan (John Ritter).  Karl gradually forges a basic, but decent life for himself centered around his gentle, protective friendship with Frank.  Unfortunately, Karen's boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) is a drunken, moody, violent character prone to dangerous outbursts.  Doyle harbors a particular distaste for Frank and Karl.  To protect the first loving family he has ever known, Karl must face up to his own, painful  past and make choices that are agonizing on a Biblical scale. 

What Billy Bob Gets To Do
Drawing from his experiences with mentally ill patients he assisted as a recreation director for a rest home, Billy Bob undergoes a surprising physical transformation to become the hulking, slow-witted Karl.  Everything--from his posture to the alignment of his jaw to the pleasant, musical timbre of his voice--changes to a palsied gait, a jaw-grinding tic, a low, raspy voice that sounds as if it has been raked over crushed glass.  Particularly impressive is Billy Bob's ability to dim his keen, smiling intelligence in Karl's eyes.  (To see how startling the transformation can be, check out the comic "The Return of Karl" reel on the DADDY AND THEM DVD.)  Karl is an iconic achievement--one of the most unforgettable characters to flicker before our eyes.

Backstory
Billy Bob wrote, directed, and starred in what many of his fans consider the quintessential Billy Bob Thornton film. Billy Bob conceived of Karl while sweating it out in an uncomfortable costume on the set of THE MAN WHO BROKE 1000 CHAINS.  Seated at his dressing room mirror, he began making faces at himself in the mirror, and before him appeared Karl.  Karl was later written into a one-man show Billy Bob performed on stage.  Then, Karl became the focus of George Hickenlooper's short subject (SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE), which was shot in the hopes that it would raise money for a full-length feature film. Enter The Shooting Gallery production company (Larry Meistrich, Brandon Rosser, and David L. Bushell), which financed the feature-length SLING BLADE.  

Filmed in Benton, Arkansas, the production was a labor of love graced by superb and surprising performances from John Ritter (doubtless his best silver screen work), Dwight Yoakam, Natalie Canerday, Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.), James Hampton, Rick Dial, J.T. Walsh (beyond scary), Christy Ward, Vic Chestnutt, Brent Briscoe, and Mickey Jones.  While ONE FALSE MOVE had established Billy Bob as a respected screenwriter, SLING BLADE put him on the map as a major film presence. The character of Karl became an instant cultural reference, imitated in film, TV, on commercials, in cartoons.  He even spawned a parody (the uproarious SWING BLADE). Over 25 major film critics placed SLING BLADE in their Top Ten lists for 1996.  Word-of-mouth on SLING BLADE was so strong during Academy Award qualifying time at the end of 1996 that stars like Elizabeth Taylor actively lobbied other Academy members to see the film (and Billy Bob subsequently thanked Miss Taylor during his Oscar acceptance speech).  

Awards (for Billy Bob Thornton)
Academy Award (Oscar, Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium) - 1997 - Winner
Academy Award (Best Actor) - 1997 - Nomination
Chicago Film Critics (CFCA Award, Best Actor) - 1997 - Winner
Edgar Allan Poe Award (Best Motion Picture) - 1997 - Winner
Golden Satellite Award (Best Motion Picture Screenplay, Original) - 1997 - Nomination
Golden Satellite Award (Best Actor, Drama) - 1997 - Nomination
Independent Spirit Award (Best First Feature, with David L. Bushell & Brandon Rosser) - 1997 - Winner
National Board of Review (NBR Award, Special Achievement in Filmmaking) - 1996 - Winner
Screen Actors Guild Award (Outstanding Performance, Male Actor, Leading Role) - 1997 - Nomination
Writers Guild of America (WGA Award Screen, Best Screenplay Based on Material previously Produced or Published) - 1997 - Winner

Awards (for SLING BLADE)
Saturn Award (Best Performance, Younger Actor, Lucas Black) - 1997 - Winner
Golden Satellite Award (Outstanding original Score, Daniel Lanois) - 1997 -Nomination
Screen Actors Guild Award (Outstanding Performance by a Cast) - 1997 - Nomination
Young Artist Award (Best Leading Young Actor, Feature Film, Lucas Black) - 1997 - Winner
YoungStar Award (Best Performance, Young Actor, Drama, Lucas Black) - 1997 - Winner

Relevant Links
IMDb Link
Miramax DVD Page
Miramax VHS rental Page
Karl for President! A candidate whose time has come!
Nightmare's SLING BLADE Page
Cynthia Squiabro-Kee's review
Tokyo Weekender: Sling Blade Hits Tokyo
Cinematography.net to learn how the color timing was done on the film
Listen to SLING BLADE voice clips and a prank phonecall by that Karl at EBaum's World
Benton, Arkansas, where SLING BLADE was filmed
Info about the State Nervous Hospital, where Karl lives

Related Merchandise
The Academy Award-winning screenplay of Sling Blade is available from Miramax Books/Hyperion Press.  Daniel Lanois sublime soundtrack is also a must-have.  Odd props, like the Chicken Champ bucket, occasionally pop up on EBay.

Yes, It's the Car That Wouldn't Go Away!

SLING BLADE fan Diann Duty wrote in a while back to tell me about the ghostly persistence of a white '89 Ford Temp that makes a cameo appearance in the dairy bar scene in SLING BLADE. I asked her for photos and she obliged with the following e-mail:

In the dairy bar scene, Mr. Thornton is standing in the order window of the dairy bar and the camera is inside the dairy bar looking at him.  During the scene, a white car appears behind him across the street.  Then, the car disappears, and reappears several times.  I was in that car with my daughter, and we walked across the street to watch filming.  Then the crew asked me to move the car, which I did. But it was nearing the end of the day and light was getting low.  In the final edit of the movie, my car comes and goes throughout that scene.  Thus, an editing blooper!

So here it is, ready for its close-up, her daughter Sarah's '89 Ford Tempo, and a picture of Sarah, to boot. Sarah learned to drive with the car, and she also learned to photo bomb Billy Bob's movie with it. Way to go Sarah and Diann! Thank you for writing in!

1989 Ford TempoSarah at 8 with the notorious TempoSarah Today

1979 Ford Tempo, Sarah long before she learned to drive the Tempo, and Sarah today at 26!


BBT On DVD
Miramax released a widescreen version in 1997, and we heartily recommend it. The justly venerated folks at Criterion released a Laserdisc packed with all sorts o' rarities, including the long-lost, award-winning documentary MR. THORNTON GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.  This left fans panting for a better DVD, and in 2005, Miramax delivered a two-disc set with all the whistles and bells of the Criterion DVD and new extrys, including a roundtable discussion between Billy Bob, Dwight Yoakam, the wonderful Mickey Jones, and producer David Bushnell.  Here's a great review from the the thorough and thoughtful folks at DVD Talk.

 

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© 2011 by . . . Like the Wind Productions/Lonesome Rogues Design. This page is intended for entertainment and reference purposes only and is not intended to make a profit.  Film commentary reflects the opinions of the webmasters Amélie and Sage and not the opinions of Billy Bob Thornton or his representatives.

Photo credit:  1996 Miramax Films