This summer, I was on vacation with my family in the Texas hill country, when I stumbled accidentally into a site of interest for this blog. Cinephiles everywhere can spot the many uses of Monument Valley in John Ford’s westerns, or the LA’s iconic Bradbury Building in everything from sci-fi classic Blade Runner to the silent film tribute The Artist. But it is a real joy to find a hidden gem of a film site, right here in my home state. In the first of what I hope to be a series of posts about lesser known film locations in Texas, I would like to share my discovery of the Old Blanco County Courthouse in Blanco, Texas. You can read about the history of the building, which is now a visitor’s center and event venue, at their website.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s terrific 2010 version of True Grit features a memorable introduction of Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn as a witness in a courtroom scene. This scene and the following one on the staircase are shot in the interior of the Old Blanco County Courthouse.
As you enter the building on the lower floor, the hallways contain various historical photos and memorabilia from the 130 years of the building’s history. As I was perusing a case containing fossils recovered from the area, I spotted a small photo collage with pictures of Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in western costume. I asked the kind lady attending the visitors’ information desk, and she confirmed that indeed, the Coen Brothers had filmed in the upstairs courtroom. She directed me to the elevator, and began to say, “Kids love to run around up there—”
“Oh, no, I won’t let them,” I interrupted.
“Oh, yes, please let them, they will love it! It’s fine!” she assured me. And so we let the children run around the floor, making a ton of noise on the antique wooden boards, to the apparent delight of the lady downstairs.
In the back corner of the courthouse, there was an instrument I had never seen before. They have on display an antique square player-piano. I have seen square pianos and player pianos, but never before one that was both. At first, I thought the label was mistaken, since I couldn’t find the usual piano roll mechanism. But looking underneath the piano, I could see that there was an unusual mechanism that was all housed below. The piano also served to display a local man’s lovingly-crafted, charming wooden scale model of the building.
It’s easy to see why the Coens chose this location. The bright Texas sun beams in through the windows in dramatic shafts, captured so fantastically by Roger Deakins’s Oscar-nominated cinematography. As Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) enters the room and walks across to find a good view, the camera tracks along her POV, giving us a glimpse of the decorated courtroom between the standing row of spectators.
Mattie’s ascent into the courtroom, as well as her meeting of Rooster Cogburn are both also shot on the actual staircase of this historic location.
When Mattie confronts Rooster, you can see this very staircase, and its twin is visible out of focus in the reverse angle.
Where the cabinet in the background of this shot is, now stands the visitor’s information desk.
This was an unexpected treat for a movie lover like me. But it inspires me to be more proactive in the future in referencing other movie locations before I take another trip!
Be sure to comment below if you have had experiences of finding movie locations, or if you have suggestions of other Texas Film Sites I should profile.