Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More on Jacob Young.

Just as I expected, the new Jacob Young film was both interesting and entertaining. Todd Walker (along with his "brothers" Davy and Dale) proved to be likable, amusing, and obsessive. The object that Walker suspected to be the biblical artifact of divination (the Urim and Thummin) was indeed wholly unidentifiable. As a focal point of meditation, it did have the requisite qualities to promote hallucinatory visions. Its surface (especially the interior) was both luminescent and oddly-shaped. Walker put the thing in the hands of many witnesses, and their testimony is (at least) indicative of the power of faith.

What passes for expert authority in the Appalachian communities of the film certainly made me chuckle. When Walker wants to find some especially convincing support, he turns to a two-time Jeopardy champion and the manager of the local Auto Zone. Only later does he drive to Vanderbuilt University, where academics in religious studies, archaeology and psychology demonstrate tremendous diplomacy and tact in meeting with him. Truth be told, it would have been quite easy for them to laugh at Walker from their "ivory towers". Perhaps Young's cameras restrain them. Nevertheless the scholars give generously of their feedback, while every established religious institution pushes Walker away. While Young claims the resistance from church leaders amazed him, I wasn't at all surprised by it. Walker's claims are a direct challenge to their perceived authority. If a bumpkin can receive a holy gift of true vision, then what does that say about the role God has bestowed upon HIS priests?

It was clear during the Q and A session that Young had great affection for his subjects. The director explained that the project was initiated because his producer and partner (Dub Cornet) had a phone number that Walker responded to numerologically. Cornet shot a bunch of video that Young was later tasked with making into a coherent film. Although Young never derived the same otherworldly experiences from the object that others had, he was sure to avoid passing judgment on the phenomena. He absolutely refused to discount Walkers' beliefs. Young pointed out that he needs to be on his subject's side if he is to make a quality documentary. And in order for his films to have any real depth, he has to convey the spirituality of the people in front of the camera. Any element of obvious skepticism would introduce a confrontation that would spoil his intentions. Young is, by his own words, inspired by people on a mission- and the more unlikely his subject is to succeed, the more interesting a subject he/she becomes.

Anyone who spends any substantial time with the works of Jacob Young will understand the purity of his intentions. But that wasn't the case with the network (CBS) executives who pulled the plug on his latest project- The
Real Beverly Hillbillies. Cornet and Young had decided to update the original concept for reality television. They identified an Appalachian family (the Griffeys) and planned to install them in a genuine multi-million dollar mansion in Hollywood. The idea encountered political resistance from people who believed that the show would prove to be patronizing and exploitative. But that was never the intention of the filmmakers. It was Young's contention that all the truly negative portrayals in the original Beverly Hillbillies centered on the city sophisticates. The countryfolk were shown to be caring, authentic and morally sound. Young made it a point to select a family that would be an ideal representation of Appalachia. He claims that anyone that met them couldn't help but like them.

When the project was killed, Young and Cornet felt bad that the Griffeys had been promised so much that was later snatched away. They took the money they had left from pre-production and rented a motor home to take the family cross-country. The intention was to both give the Griffey's the grand tour of America and to film a defense of the original concept. The result was a documentary called
The True Adventures of the Real Beverly Hillbillies (2006). Although I haven't seen it, I expect it to be a perfect palliative to the corrosive belief that authentic regional phenomena ought to be sugar-coated or homogenized for public consumption.

In fact I'd say that what I most enjoy about Young's films is their honest depiction of a widely misunderstood region of the country. This is most evident in his Different Drummer collection. I was lucky enough to buy a rough copy of the DVD set from the man himself. I stayed up late last night watching all the episodes. Now you too can be so fortunate as to own this set. Visit the Dancing Outlaw website to purchase it and other fine products.

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