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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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Fax: 540-483-8013

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Morris enjoyed 'Lawless'
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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

By MORRIS STEPHENSON -

The very first thing I want to do in this column is to tip my hat to "Boss Charlie" Boothe, publisher of the News-Post. His review of the movie "Lawless" on the front page of Friday's edition was great! It was a professional type of review and in my opinion, one that '"nailed" the movie, its contents and the quality of the acting. I wish this column could have appeared the same day because I would have selected something else for a topic of this one.

"Boss Charlie" and I saw the movie at the same time during a special media showing, for the lack of better term, a week ago today. In some ways, it seems a lot longer than that. Since then, I've spent a lot of time between opening night and Monday answering questions about my opinion of the moonshine movie, based on Matt Bondurant's fictional novel "The Wettest County in the World." The movie, as stated by another film reviewer, was a story about real life events that happened some 80 years ago.

When questioned, my first reply is always "I enjoyed it." It was the first serious moonshine movie since Robert Mitchum's "Thunder Road," which was released way back in 1958. I'm sure there are a lot of folks around who've never heard of that movie. I think there's been a couple "flicks" about making white lightning, but none really stand out.

But those who haven't heard about "Lawless" must have been out of the county (or country) for a long time. The movie was two years in the making before the book was published in 2008, as I recall. The film was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France earlier this year.

The book and movie are about three Bondurant Brothers, Jack, Forrest and Howard, who made moonshine in the Snow Creek area in the early to mid-1930s. If you have already read the book and asked questions, you would have learned a lot of it is fiction.

I've been a movie "buff" since childhood days in Marion. I do not proclaim to be a movie critic. I just have an opinion about the movie. Later in life, I got away from going to see movies on a regular basis. Growing up in Marion, the beautiful Lincoln Theater was within walking distance of my home. Any time I could scrape up a dime, I'd head off to the picture show. Saturdays were special. For 10 cents, I could see a western and mystery movie, plus a cartoon and a chapter of a 15-week long serial. And I could watch it over and over as long as I didn't leave the theater.

When I really got into reading books of interest, I learned one thing was very true when it came to books later arriving at the theater. I never saw a movie based on a novel that I ever enjoyed. Hollywood has its way of writing and producing an almost totally different story line on the silver screen. So when I heard about Bondurant's book being sold to a film company, I knew the author's storyline would be changed dramatically.

Everyone felt the movie should be filmed in Franklin County. But the state lost out to Georgia in getting the film shot there. At least the film company went to a mountainous area outside Atlanta.

The next fact I learned is that if you read a book and plan to go see the movie, it's safe to assume the book would be changed to almost beyond belief. "Lawless" wasted little time in getting started after using the book's first chapter as the opener. Actors portraying the Bondurant brothers quickly established the types of roles they would be portraying. Jack is revealed as a teenager who can't wait to become a man. He thinks he's mature enough to join his big brothers. He looks up to his older brother, Forrest, depicted as the established leader. Howard is a heavy drinker who runs for trouble rather than away from it.

Of course, family members and others who knew the trio are quick to tell you the brothers were good, non-violent men. Like others, they just made illegal liquor because it was in the days of Prohibition and the Depression. Betty Mitchell, one of Jack Bondurant's daughters, pointed out a true fact after seeing the movie. "The Bondurants never shot anybody."

I've simply advised everyone to just go to the theater with your mind wide open and view it strictly as a movie about three moonshining brothers who were living in really hard times.

Viewers also need to remember at that point in the nation's history, very few people had jobs. Those who were fortunate enough to own or live on a farm raised everything possible to keep from starving.

Take special interest and check out all the old vehicles, buildings, clothing, etc., of the period. The first thing shown on the screen when the film opens is "Franklin County-1931." Of particular interest is the last old photo featured on the screen just before the house lights are turned on again. (I'm not going to ruin that part for anyone who hasn't seen the movie. I think you will agree.)

The film writer used only four real names when selecting names for the characters. Three are the Bondurant brothers. The other is Charlie Rakes. In real life, Rakes was a Franklin County deputy sheriff involved with another officer in a shoot-out at a road block. Rakes, in the movie, turned out to be a federal ATF officer sent from Chicago to crush the local moonshine profession. The character is a slick operator with greasy black hair. He's also mean and heartless, unlike the real Charlie Rakes. I know his grandson probably wasn't pleased with the way his grandfather was portrayed.

Any moviegoer knows that violence, profanity and sex are needed to get a "R" rated movie. It's generally needed to produce more profits at the box office. The movie has a lot more violence than suited me, as well as too much profanity. I think people can tolerate the nudity scenes. And I'm not talking "X" rated when it comes to the rare romantic parts.

Almost 200 members of the Mitchell/Bondurant clan attended the 7 p.m. show Wednesday. The group included two of Jack Bondurant's daughters, Betty Mitchell and Emmiee Lee Bondurant Gagney, along with a son, G.T. There was a host of grandchildren and I assume great-grandchildren. Among the first people I saw going into the first show were Howard and Betty Mitchell, along with their sons, Ronnie, Steve, David and Andrew. The latter is the one who put me onto the story in February 2011, when actor Jason Clarke came to his house in Snow Creek. I spent several hours that day with the actor from Australia and found him to be very interesting. He spent a couple of days here learning to speak the Snow Creek dialect. At the time, he knew he would be portraying Howard in the movie but had no clue about how he would be portraying Howard's character.

When Clarke was in Franklin County, his curly hair hadn't been cut recently nor had he shaven in perhaps weeks. He had an unruly appearance, to say the least. "Right now, I don't know how (producers) want me to look," Clarke said. The crew and cast reported to the movie set the following Monday. And judging from Clarke's appearance in the movie, he never got his hair cut nor his beard trimmed after arriving in Georgia. One thing is for sure, Howard's character drinks 'shine from a lot of different Mason jars during the movie.

When I first saw Jason, he reminded me of the late Marlon Brando. His acting style also took me back to the days of Brando. I told Andrew Wednesday night I had concentrated on Clarke's Snow Creek "Southern drawl" as I watched the show. I also thought all of the actors/actresses in the movie did an outstanding job with "talking the talk."

Also impressive were the old vehicles, sound effects, period clothing and props. Legendary Ralph Stanley's song was the best of the old music used. But I have yet to see a moonshine operation being destroyed by dynamite that created a ball of flames and a mushroom black cloud. Then again, it's just a movie.

I did like the way producers introduced the use of a "submarine" still to the movie. The Bondurant brothers were using "subs" for the first time to increase production.

"Lawless" filmmakers went to several "extremes" to produce different types of violence. Like in many western movies, gunfights lasted way too long, as did the road-block scene near the end. They must have brought along a lot of extra ammunition to complete that scene.

Comments and discussions about the movie will go on for a long time in Franklin County. I'm sure just about everyone has an opinion. And the movie will help keep Franklin County's reputation alive. It seems anytime I go anywhere and mention I'm from Franklin County, a person will reply, "You're from where they make the moonshine." Sometimes they use the term "moonshine capital." Maybe a few might even remark they've had a drink or two of white lightning. I'm sure this has happened to you.

For those who know nothing about the county's background and the profession and are fascinated by the art of making moonshine, then "Lawless" is probably a good chance to see it all.

"Lawless" ranked no. 2 at the box office last weekend, making $13 million in three days, according to comingsoon.net.

Let me back to the beginning for a moment. I most of all liked the movie's ending. It came as a total surprise to me and lots of others. It was not what I expected. But I loved it!

I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Hummers are all but gone - Like may other lovers of the little birds, my hummers have all but disappeared. As of Monday, the count is down to a pair of females. I'm thinking about giving the two individual names. But no one has an answer as to why they're moving out so early. What happened to that large number that arrived after July 4? Who knows?

Beard problem - I guess I've had a beard since 1982. Did you ever notice a lot of men will often run their hand over the beard? I guess this is to smooth out, straighten up or flatten down a "wild" hair or two.

I often laugh out loud when "Victor," our 19-month-old Schnauzer, gets his whiskers out of place. Sometimes he'll stick his nose (and whiskers) into a freshly dug mole hole. Sometimes a strong puff of wind will cause his whiskers to turn in different directions.

But Victor has a way of taking care of the problem. It's the same way men do. Well, almost. He'll take his front paw(s) and stroke downward on his whiskers until they're back in place. Sometimes he doesn't get them exactly as wanted, so he just keeps trying.

Eventually, he gets the whiskers back into place. Only then is Mr. Victor ready to get on with whatever he was doing.

 
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