Archive for March, 2014

Corinthians ’74

March 18, 2014

Reading Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers last night, and a character in it made me flash on a kid I met in the Ozarks one day. I spent the summer of ’74 with my cousin and his wife—they had 80 acres on a mountain in north Arkansas and they were trying to start a commune there. It was way the hell away from everything, no electricity, only a tiny spring for water, 20 miles of gravel roads to the nearest burg, etc., but occasionally people they knew would drift through and stay a day or two. One group was a family of four, and the older son was about nine, a handsome freckled kid with long yellow hair. We were all sitting round the redwood picnic table when he casually pulled out a bag of weed and papers and started rolling a huge, and perfect, joint like it’s nothing. Lights it, takes a huge hit, and hands it to me. While we were passing it around somebody mentioned to his parents how odd it felt and his parents—classic longhairs—just laughed. At some point everyone wandered off but the two of us and he rolled another fat joint. He was like a small adult. He wasn’t interested in kid stuff at all, and all his mannerisms and his way of expressing himself, even the things he talked about, were what you’d expect from someone three times his age. He had the hardcore stoner’s impatience with frivolous talk, and when I said something goofy at one point he grew cool enough that I was a little intimidated by him–which is messed up.

Anyway, there’s no big point to the story—they left after only a few hours. It was just something which, in that particular time and place, barely even registered as unusual, and it certainly laid waste to the notion that people can have their childhood “stolen” from them. This kid was clearly ecstatic to have shaken off the bonds of childhood; the big thing I remember about him is his adult-like poise sitting at that table. He was an equal, and totally happy with who he was.

March 14, 2014

Farm Life

March 13, 2014

I have no real point to make here except, perhaps, that it’s an abomination to bind a man—any man—to a pickaxe handle and leave him to lie in the midday sun. In any case it doesn’t hurt to remember that these men, and these places, and these situations, all came before us. (Click on the pics for full resolution.)

1895 GA

Georgia 1895


South Carolina 1898

1903 - Juvenile Convicts

1903 (juvenile convicts, location unknown)


North Carolina 1910 (wagons used to transport and house convicts during road work assignments)

1941 GA

Georgia 1941

Guard at the new Louisiana State Peniten

Louisiana 1955


Early 1900s

1907 Delaware

Delaware 1907

1930s Man_tied_to_pickaxes

Early 1930s (location unknonw)

Bartow County State Highway prisoners sm

Bartow County, Georgia


Sing Sing, NY


“Wagon Master” (1950)

March 6, 2014

Shot in between the final two installments of his famous “Cavalry Trilogy,” John Ford’s Wagon Master is a piece of personal filmmaking which expresses its director’s sensibility just as purely as Mean Streets reflected the young Scorsese. Adamantly not a “significant” work and devoid of any A-list stars, it was shot on a budget that was probably strained by the cast’s bologna sandwiches, yet it represents the zenith of Ford’s optimism. It remains one of the most satisfying films in his body of work, a road movie that moves at 5 mph, whose pliant laidback vibe, closeness to nature, and menagerie of offbeat characters make it a cousin to Renoir’s A Day in the Country and Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The story follows a wagon train of Mormon settlers as they journey to a distant river valley; along the way they hire a pair of exuberant young horse-traders as guides, rescue a dissolute medicine-show troupe, share an evening’s entertainment with a band of Navajo, and cope with a gang of degenerate outlaws. On paper that may look like a lot, perhaps even too much. But plot takes a backseat in Wagon Master, which instead focuses on such intangible pleasures as mood, time of day, the interplay of dust and sunlight, and the stirring sight of man and horse moving as one over the mesas of Monument Valley. Nothing is forced or rushed, and one comes away from it dwelling not on its moments of confrontation or violence (indeed, it’s pacifist to the core of its soul), but on the myriad small delights that give it flavor: the way a young, almost absurdly appealing Ben Johnson flips a poker chip into a shot glass without moving in his chair, the now reassuring, now spectral tones of the Sons of the Pioneers on the soundtrack, the communal shadings of an impromptu square dance, or the moment when the camera turns away from a large-scale river crossing, content instead to follow a colt picking its way on its spindly legs up the steep bank. People will always have their reasons to criticize John Ford—for his occasionally shabby treatment of Native Americans, or the broad Irish shenanigans shoehorned into some of his movies—but the low-key lyricism of Wagon Master reveals its creator at his most generous and alive.




%d bloggers like this: