EDITOR’S NOTE: The Oxford American will premiere its “Oxford American Southern DVD No. 1” at the Riverdale 10 theater Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m.
The author Willie Morris once wrote, “In the South, perhaps more than any other region, we go back to our home in dreams and memories, hoping it remains what it was on a lazy, still summer’s day twenty years ago.” Morris’ desire is expressed in the “Oxford American Southern DVD No. 1,” a compilation of clips and short films compiled in conjunction with the release of the Oxford American Southern Movie Issue this month.
The film, prepared by many on the magazine staff as well as locals Chris Cranford and Waymack and Crew, is not so much of a movie as it is a visual retreat into our Southern history. Along the way, it touches every aspect of the region’s troubled and curious past.
Beginning with “Dorothea Lange: An American Visual,” you get a glimpse of a place innovation failed to discover. “Born for Hard Luck” is a spectacular documentary piece on Peg Leg Sam Jackson, an old harmonica player who blows some of the best in Southern music. “Come Early Morning,” North Little Rock native Joey Lauren Adams’ recent debut film, makes an appearance as well.
“The Intruder,” a 1962 film starring William Shatner, addresses the South’s most shameful Jim Crow past. Shatner, almost unrecognizable because of his youth, plays a man drifting from town to town railing against the affects of integration on whites. “My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge” is another wonderful find about the legendary fiddle and banjo player. The same can be said of “Marsaw,” another documentary about cocktail-making in Louisiana, complete with footage of Huey Long.
The film, in addition to addressing one of the South’s oldest pastimes, it also references one of the South’s recent tragedies, Hurricane Katrina. In 1927, a great storm swept through Louisiana causing the levees to break and flood waters to pour out across Louisiana and into parts of Arkansas and Mississippi. In this snapshot, you’ll also hear “When the Levee Breaks,” by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie.
Arkansas native Ray McKinnon’s Academy Award-winning documentary short “The Accountant” is both humorous and odd. Craig Brewer’s recently released “Black Snake Moan” is also featured.
The silent film “Claire” (2001) addresses the South’s religious obsession and “The Puffy Chair” (2005) addresses our simple values and pleasures.
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of this compilation are the 1916 animated film “Krazy Kat Goes A-Wooing,” developed by New Orleans cartoonist George Harriman, and “The Devils’ Helper” (1995), by Phil Chambliss.
Chambliss is something of legend because, well, his films are bad. But I’ll admit that I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. There’s something about two country boys making a deal with the devil’s right hand that is just plain interesting.