IN MY OPINION
Books Read in 2008
3 March 2008
I saw the most wonderful movie this weekend, that you are unlikely to ever see unless you happen to be in Davis for the start of the 5th annual film festival on April 3.
As I have discussed before, there are some real ups and some real downs to this job. A down would be a play I saw recently, while my computer was in the shop, which was so deep that I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Anticipating this might be the case (as it often is with me and new avant garde works), I had done research on it, feeling very smug about myself. Unfortunately, the research was all on the computer that I had no access to. I called the guru and told him where to find it and begged him to please send it to me, which he promised to do.
But "Moving Midway" is one of the perks. I don't usually "do" movies--that's my editor's bailiwick, but he offered me the opportunity to do a story on this particular movie, which had been brought to his attention by Paul's old boss, Bob Bowen. As is my wont, I put off doing anything about it because I didn't know where to start--and the movie wasn't going to be shown here until April. I also had two other feature articles to write.
Shortly before I left for Santa Barbara, Bob Bowen stopped by the house and dropped off a DVD for me, which I assumed contained some bits and pieces about the making of the movie. I set it aside without watching it because (a) I was sick, and (b) I was getting ready to go to Santa Barbara.
When I saw a brief note about the movie being shown next month, I panicked, also as is my wont, realizing that I finally needed to Get Serious about this article, and went searching for the DVD. I couldn't remember what I had done with it. Fortunately, Bob had looked around the chaos of the house when he was here and decided to leave the FedEx envelope the movie had been sent in, so it was easier to spot and I finally sat down to watch it.
It turned out that it wasn't snippets, but rather the whole movie. Walt and I sat here watching the film, completely entranced.
Basically, it's the story of the moving of the film-maker's (Godfrey Cheshire) family home, a former plantation in North Carolina now occupied by Cheshire's cousin, Charlie Silver, and his family, to a new location. What had once been a very large plantation, acquired when land was deeded to the family by the British Crown in 1739, was about to become part of a strip mall. Where once you could stand on the pillared porch and look out over the grounds, now they faced a McDonald's and Silver said something like 55,000 cars a day passed by on the highway separating what was left of the property and the chain stores across the street. The land immediately adjacent to the property was slated for building a Target and a few other chains.
Charlie Silver was searching for property to buy and a way to move the house and all of its outbuildings, part of which were what remained of the old slave quarters.
The subject was interesting and I was curious to see how they were going to move this place, but the movie turned out to be something much more than just the story of moving a house. The 90 minute film examines the history and culture of the southern plantation mystique. It shows film clips of films like Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind and Roots. It talks about the "romance" of the plantation culture in the minds of white Americans (there was a time when films about the GWTW-era south were second in popularity as a genre only to westerns).
The film deals openly with the children born to slaves fathered by their white masters and a note in the Letters to the Editor of the New York Times by Robert Hinton, an African-American history professor, lead Cheshire and his cousin to the descendants of one of those children, and thus begins a whole relationship with the African-American side of their family.
(Dr. Hinton says, tongue in cheek, that he always hoped to meet some of his white relatives and he was sorry to find that he actually liked them!)
When the house was actually ready to move, Dr. Hinton was invited to join other members of the family in breaking a bottle of champagne over the framework, to launch the house on the next chapter of its life. Care was taken to ensure that the slave graveyard on the plantation grounds were to be preserved.
Through the movie's treatment of family history, United States history, film history, and the modern day people involved with the house, the viewer comes to care for the house as well.
When they had to cut down 100+ year old trees to move the place, I felt nearly as sad about it as the people who had grown up with the house.
And when you watch this huge house being moved down tiny country roads, and across an incredibly narrow bridge, you'll find every bit as much adrenalin as any other thriller!
I am interviewing the owners of the house tomorrow and I am eager to ask them if the ghosts of the house, Miss Mary and other ancestors who once occupied the place and who were fond of moving or dropping objects to express displeasure from time to time, have moved with the house. Rumor has it that objects unexpectedly get moved at the Target which now sits on the land once occupied by Midway Plantation.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
This is entry #2898