Friday, January 4, 2013

Southern Beastliness

I was raised on the past, taught at an early age to understand the value of what was. I tagged along on abandoned house explorations; looked out the back car window at dried-up towns; snuck shy peeks at the cloudy eyes of fading people as I listened to thier stories.

It  was during these early, formative years that I learned the beauty of story. These old houses had a story; someone had lived there, once. A screen door creaks open. I'm on the broken porch of a house we had to walk through near a mile of wild to find. I jump - there was no wind.
Walking the streets of an empty town where a few hangers-on still stake out a living, I peer into the window of what was a diner once. Behind me, a man who could be anywhere from eighty to a hundred talks to my father about coming home from the war, and having a soda in that very place. He remembers how good it was, how good that entire day was, and how the diner was once the hub of the town's activity, a dear and favorite place for all. He leans on his walking stick, which is actually a polished root of some sort. His left hand is missing three fingers. He misses the town, but he built his house himself. "You don't just up and walk away from that," he says, explaining his near-lone perserverance in a place that time forgot. I was a child. When I reached out and touched the shiny tip of the walking stick, my fingers brushed the hard skin where his had once been. I gasped. The man winked at me, then laughed. My father laughed, too.

Thirty years later, I'm still not sure why. But I am sure the man had a story to tell, just like the places I grew up exploring had stories that called out, whispers of voices in the creaking of falling screen doors and the steadfastness of brick chimneys that dot the Southern landscape, the only thing left of those homes and families and people that used to be here, once. I believe these story-laden abandoned people and places only exist in the South. And the deeper you go, the more you'll find.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is the Red Box movie I picked for myself  last night. I'd read about it somewhere months ago, and was delighted to see it as a selection. This movie, whose plot I really couldn't begin to describe, takes place in The Bathtub, a forgotten region of the Bayou. It's not a real place, technically speaking, though places like this exist. It centers around the lives of a few holdouts who live a completly sustainable, though nearly feral, life in the land they love, despite the fact that time, progress, and one hell of a storm are closing in around them. The central character, Hush Puppy, is a 6-year-old girl living with her dying father, looking for her lost mother, and throughout the tale becomes a protagonist I wish I'd invented myself.

If you love folklore and believe all things in the universe are connected...see this film.

If you grew up with vehicles (like boats) that were pieced together from 50 gallon drums and the back end of trucks...see this film.

If your father ever taught you how to hang over the edge of a boat, lean forward with one arm in the water, and catch a catfish...see this film.

If you've ever turned an abandoned trailer into a playhouse or a refuge...see this film.

If you've ever, at any point in time, had to say to something - or someone - else, "You are my friend...but I gotta take care of mine," ...see this film.

 If you've ever eaten fried alligator made by a lady who told you stories while she cooked...see this film.

 If you want a magical, near mystical adventure that is foreign and yet familiar at the same time...see this film.

For the moment in time it will catapult you into...see this film.

If the word Bayou stirs your heart, reminding you that one needn't cross the ocean to discover different cultures...see this film.

 For the memories it just might conjur up...see this film.

 For the depth of the world's magic that it just might remind you of...see this film.

See this film, whose cast is composed of all unknown actors, one being a bakery shop employee that the film makers happened upon and had to talk into taking the role of Hush Puppy's father (a reminder that often we don't know our own potential until someone talks us into taking a chance - the man is utterly amazing in the film). His character's life reminds me that there are so many ways to live , and Heaven on Earth has many addresses. In some places, money is irrelevant, education means you know how to survive, living fully is not a goal to strive for, it's just how life is lived, and time is a completely abstract concept. A thousand years can be the blink of the eye; a day can last an eternity. Success is measured by how many are willing to stand and face the storm with you., and even the youngest child knows that 'brave don't run'. If you believe that...any of that...then by all means...see this film.

But I'm no reviewer. So here's the trailer:

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