The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

August 25, 2009

Bubba Cromer

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Bubba Cromer.  In many ways, Bubba is Columbia’s own little personification of the gothic South.  He is our color chartreuse; our fried Moon pie.  Both our Bible salesman and our Joy Hopewell, to Bubba we are all good country people.  Bubba Cromer is what would happen if John Waters and Andy Griffith had a child.  More than anything though, I am a fan of Bubba Cromer because he is ours — and everyone knows how I feel about loving our own.

I recently wrote an article about Bubba for Lake Murray Magazine and it was published just a few days after he had found out that his beloved dog, Biscuit, who is pictured with Bubba alongside the story, was diagnosed with cancer.  We lost our golden retriever Bradie a few years back from the same diagnosis, and the crack that started in my heart that day hasn’t stopped spreading yet.  Bubba called me to thank me for the story, but had a hard time keeping his voice about him as he expressed his kind thoughts.  This is another reason that I’m a fan of Bubba’s.

The State hasn’t put the article online yet and I’m not sure that they will.  So here’s my own copy of the story, and you’ll notice that I included the website for Bubba’s films.  (It was cut from my story.)  If you don’t already have your own copy of  The Long Journey Home or The Hills Have Thighs, then now is a good time to do some shopping.

 

A Coach Cromer Production:

 Filmmaking with South Carolina Attorney – James Bubba Cromer

 

By Cynthia Boiter

 

            When considering the case of James Bubba Cromer – former South Carolina State Representative, novelist, attorney, recipient of the Governor’s Order of the Palmetto, Bigfoot aficionado and Reading Clerk for the South Carolina House of Representatives – it’s not always easy to take seriously this southern boy extraordinaire.  Goofy, tall and sweet-cheeked, with a drawl like molasses and the manners of a Baptist minister, Bubba Cromer may be the kind of award winning enigma it’s tough to take seriously.

            But seriously folks, you should.

            Over the past three years, Cromer has written, produced, directed and starred in two independent Southern cult films:  The Long Way Home:  A Bigfoot Story in 2007 and, released earlier this year, The Hills Have Thighs:  An Appalachian Comedy.    While The Long Way Home has won numerous awards including Best Narrative Feature Film at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2007, and The Hills Have Thighshas also been received with significant acclaim, neither of these films is what one might expect from an ersatz southern politico with a law office downtown and a resume replete with offices held and awards earned. That’s because on paper Bubba seems like a typical successful southern guy.  In film though, he’s really something different.

            Bubba’s films are exercises in comedic absurdity, embracing the extremes of loony-ness and going beyond the quirky, all the while telling loosely entertaining tales.  His casts of neo-gothic characters fall one notch below freaky with everyone from snake handlers to drag queens to an Appalachian gangster with a penchant for hallucinogenic plants.  Names like Drip Drywall, Velveeta Adams, Tree-Tree Davenport and Pooter Brown dot the scripts, if scripts there be, and scenes take place, for the most part, in and about the funny side of the Blair Witch Woods.

            Suffice it to say, a Coach Cromer production is no more a typical independent film than Bubba is a typical South Carolina attorney.  

            A 1980 graduate of Dreher High School, Bubba attended Clemson University and the University of South Carolina School of Law.  As the prize for winning a best legs contest at a South Carolina bar – the drinking, not the judicial kind – Bubba was flown to Hollywood ostensibly to be cast in a California Wine Cooler Commercial.  Instead, the ever resourceful Bubba used the free trip as an opportunity to shop himself to Hollywood law offices where he was successfully hired as an associate at a Los Angeles law firm.  After two years on the west coast however, homesickness got the best of the Southern boy and, as Bubba says, he sucked up his pride, tucked his tail between his legs and hauled his sad self back home.

            The next few years would find Bubba practicing law, writing a novel, serving two terms as the only Independent member of the South Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction, and being elected as the Reading Clerk for the South Carolina House of Representatives for ten years straight.  Interestingly enough, throughout it all, at no time did the future filmmaker even entertain the idea of making a motion picture.

            According to Cromer, it was almost four years ago when he and his parents were having cocktails at his family’s mountain get-away near Brevard, North Carolina when “yet another ridiculous Bigfoot Documentary crawled across the television screen.”

            Exasperated, Bubba declared to his father that even he “could make a better Bigfoot Movie than that!”   

            To which his dad replied, “Well son, here’s a hundred dollars that says you can’t.” 

            It was based solely on this dare that Bubba took on the initial filmmaking project from which The Long Way Home:  A Bigfoot Story sprang. 

            “I never expected that making a movie could be so much fun; so satisfying,” Bubba says.

            Influenced by innovative and favorite filmmakers like John Waters, David Lynch and Christopher Guest, Bubba plied the praise and criticism he received from both patrons and professionals on his first project into his second venture, The Hills Have Thighs, focusing more intently on quirky comedy.  The result is a mystery movie that Bubba himself describes aptly as “a piece of my warped and twisted mind.”

            Does that mean that the filmmaker-slash-attorney doesn’t take himself any more seriously than his loyal following is prone to do? 

            Actually, yes.

            “My films, I take seriously,” Bubba explains.  “But taking yourself too seriously is a dangerous road upon which I have no intention of traveling.  People who take themselves seriously are seldom very happy.”

            To that end the storyteller offers up the tale of one of his favorite moments in his short filmmaking career.  It was earlier this year at an advance screening of The Hills Have Thighs in Charleston and a hundred people were squeezed into a sixty person-sized room to see the premier.  The movie was well underway when a group of six disgruntled viewers made a commotion of haughtily leaving the theater in protest, slamming the door behind them.

            “The room was quiet for a moment after the slam, and then suddenly the remaining 94 viewers erupted in applause,” Bubba recalls.  “I knew then that I had my audience.”

            Seriously.

 

(For more information about Bubba Cromer’s films, including sneak peeks, viewing and ordering information, visit his website at http://www.thehillshavethighs.com.)

Advertisements

April 23, 2009

From Indie Grits to River Run

Filed under: Columbia,films,Indie Grits — cynthiaboiter @ 15:06

I wish I could blame the fact that I’m not writing this afternoon on the weather — it is so beautiful outside, and the clematis are blooming so big and blue and purple.  The cats are all out on the screened porch watching a blue bird couple build their next — and I think they look so cute, while in fact I know that each little monster is plotting exactly how she or he would eviscerate the birds and their babies if they could be gotten hold of.  Zora, I’m sure, (namesake = Zora Neal Hurston), would Hannibalize them slowly, Jonathan Demme-style, while Alice, (namesake = Alice Walker) who is more of a John Candy — may he rest in peace — would feast on them all in one setting a la’ Mr. Creosote.  Eating for Alice IS the meaning of life, after all.  The babies, Joe (named after our recently deceased uncle who was an expert on Faulkner and whiskey) and Jimmy (pronounced Yimmy, according to Bob, whose namesake is the still alive and kicking James Earl Carter), would likely act brave at first and then hide under the Larken desk at the first flutter.  Wimps.

But the reason I’m not writing has more to do with my own thoughts fluttering around an email I got this morning which went in to great detail about an activity I used to enjoy slightly north of us.  

Now, I know this is late notice, and as a humble patron I’m certainly not the go-to person for what’s happening in the arts in the Carolinas, but I do want to share one bit of info with those of you who are film freaks like me, or who were recently turned on to indie cinema via Indie Grits.  (For local info please see the final word on arts in Columbia at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/)

The Film School at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC puts on a truly amazing International Film Festival each year called the River Run International Film Festival, and today is the second day of this year’s fest.  The films show April 22 – 29th and tickets can be purchased at www.riverrun.com, the same place where you can also preview films and check out the schedule.

I have a very special place in my heart for Winston-Salem and the North Carolina School of the Arts, given that both Annie and Bonnie graduated from high school there in ’05 and ’06 (both as high school student body presidents, by the way — sorry Girls, couldn’t help myself).  I miss the school and the film festival, the galleries and all the wonderful little places to eat and drink downtown.  So, if you make it up to River Run, please be sure to go by Mary’s Of Course for breakfast and have a bite of salmon at The Filling Station, too.  And please be sure to let me know you’ve been so I can grill you with questions about how things are holding up up there.

Now this is an older, larger, better financed festival than the Grits festival and, most importantly, Grits has a different mission: ” To break down any walls that may intimidate first time media makers by creating exhibition opportunities for work that might not make it into other festivals,” and to “present a fun, exciting and enlightening opportunity for experienced and first-time media makers to come together and share their interest in independent media production.”  So check your expectations at the door whenever you visit either of these events. 

But please do visit.

April 19, 2009

Indier and grittier

Filed under: Columbia,films,not writing,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 18:27
Tags: , , ,

Starting in the summer of 2002 and continuing for the next four summers, our family took an apartment in Greenwich Village — once in the West Village near the meat packing district, but for the most part we were right on 5th Avenue, within a block of Washington Park.  (One year we sublet a townhouse on the historic Washington Mews while the owners spent their summer at their Tuscan villa.  Seriously — their Tuscan villa.)  

There’s something about living in New York that is so different from visiting it.  When we visit we hurry to get to our favorite bars and restaurants, see the shows and the galleries — suck in a huge hit of the city as fast and as furiously as possible.  But when you’re there for a while you can just sort of coast on the vibe and slowly soak it in.  Pretend you’re a New Yorker.  I loved pretending. 

One of my favorites of the penchants I adopted during my summers in NYC is a love for art house films.  Sweaty afternoons in the city would often find me chilling in the Angelica or huddled in a dark theatre on 12th Street munching on candy I’d smuggled in from the Chinese grocery. I was able to sustain my addiction to indie flicks during the three school years we spent in Winston-Salem, (the kids were attending NCSA and I taught Sociology and Women’s Studies at Salem College), by frequenting Fourth Street Films and the River Run film festival sponsored by the school of the arts.  Then, by the time we came back to SC full time, Larry Hembree had taken over at the Nick and I was thrilled to learn that I would never have to jones for any cinema of transgression again.  Life is good.

And then there is Indie Grits. 

Instead of writing over the past four days, I’ve spent as much time as my butt could take sitting in a dark theatre with a bunch of other local film junkies and dealers.  It’s been heaven.

There are a lot of things that we do stupidly in Columbia, SC — governors, quarterbacks, full parking lots at fast food chains, to name a few.  But the fact that Columbia is the home of the Indie Grits Film Festival is one of the things that we do so right, it almost makes up for the things that we do so dumb.

Today marks the closing day of the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  This was the third, and by far the best year of the festival and, based on its upward arc in terms of film quality and diversity, attendance, variation in venue and events, I’m already psyched for next year.  This year, festival director Andy Smith took us to four different venues and, in addition to live music, amazing food (including Mac’s peach cobbler), a guerilla filmmaking workshop and pretty decent party booze, he gave us a good three dozen films that proved to be either provocative/heartbreaking/gripping/depressing/weird/farcical/beautiful/creepy or fill-in-the-blank-with-what-you-look-for-in-a-film. 

All this, and Bubba Cromer, too. (I’ll be blogging about Bubba soon.)

There were films I hated and films I loved, but there were no truly bad films — basically, a working example of a successful film festival.

So, congratulations to Andy Smith and Tori Katherman, Larry Hembree, and all the participants and prize winners at the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  And congrats to Columbia — Indie Grits is something to be proud of.

Check out the Indie Grits website at http://www.indiegrits.com/ and winners of this year’s festival at http://www.indiegrits.com/blog/

To visit the sites of two my three favorite films this year go to www.msqueenmovie.com

www.thehillshavethighs.com

To give Andy Smith the pat on the back that he deserves, write to him at andy@indiegrits.com.

March 28, 2009

Towelhead – this is not about race & ethnicity

Filed under: feminism,films,not writing,social constructionism,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 20:09
Tags: , ,

I watched Alan Ball’s Towelhead last night and I’ve been wondering why I can’t get it out of my mind. 

If you haven’t seen it, Towelhead is the coming of age story of an adolescent girl (Jasira) who, though she is incidental to the lives of the people she is supposed to be important to, in the ways in which she is supposed to be important to them, is also their central focus as she embodies the female sexual power they all want to possess.  These people — her mother, father, mother’s boyfriend, her next door neighbor/pedophile/ letch, and her boyfriend — all attempt to expropriate her budding sexual agency.  They all represent the various ways in which women’s agency is stolen from them by patriarchal society — paternalism, forbidden fruit, the social construction of virginity, dirty sex, inter-gender sexual power threats, etc.   But ultimately, Jasira reappropriates her sexual vitality by recognizing that others have been naming her life for her and, in so doing, taking from her what is rightfully her own. 

The film was originally called Nothing is Private, even though it is based on the book Towelhead by Alicia Erian, and there was a good deal of controversy in the Middle Eastern community about the name of both the book and the film.  I haven’t read the book so can’t speak to it’s title, but for the film, I can’t help but think a title dealing with privacy issues might be more apropos.  The fact that there has been controversy about the naming of the film, rather than the content of the film, is ironic.  Race and ethnicity?  Touchy, touchy.  Patriarchal saturation and sexual subordination?  Whatever do you mean?  Funny, we can talk about racial inequality, but can’t even see the gender inequality when it hits us in the face, as it does in this film. 

And I can’t help but wonder how many people saw this film and immediately condemned Jasira for her normal, natural (and I mean natural in the correct use of the term, not a socially constructed use) sexual explorations.  How many people thought it was normal for the young boy to look at porn — actually just stare at porn, not old enough yet to know what to make of it — but abnormal (icky word) for Jasira to be intrigued and stimulated by it?  How many people blamed Jasira (you were right again, William Ryan) for just being sexual?  And how many of those people, including women — no, especially women — had the same feelings themselves when they were 13 years old?  Or had they been successfully indoctrinated enough into the good girl vs bad girl mentality to completely suppress those feelings and commit a little sexual agency hara-kiri on their own?  Do they resent Jasira for her lack of complacency and compliancy?

This is a film that I’d like to show in my women’s & gender studies classes, but I hesitate — it may be too graphic.  Is it?  Jasira is certainly an everyday she-ro.  What would her impact be on young women who are both thrilled and terrorized by their own emergent sexual energy?  I can only imagine empowerment. Maybe like Jasira they, too, could reclaim the blood they shed as their own.

See this film! http://wip.warnerbros.com/towelhead/  Do it for your daughters.  Do it for the girl you used to be.

Now, back to writing about beer …

February 24, 2009

Oscar’s Prisons

(Spoiler alert — if you haven’t seen Revolutionary Road or — god forbid — don’t know the important place of Harvey Milk in our culture’s history)

The Oscars were held last weekend which, for a lot of us, meant a scrambling race to the finish line to try to view all the major contenders before the ceremony Sunday night.  Something else to do when I should have been writing. I did pretty well though, missing only two of the upper tiered films, Happy Go Lucky and Frozen River.  This year’s batch of films was particularly stimulating, and I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else noticed an understated theme amongst many of the cinematic messages.  Prisons.

Whether the prison walls were made of flesh and failings, as were those for the characters played by Kate Winslett, Mickey Rourke and Brad Pitt in The Reader, The Wrestler and the Curious Case of Benjamen Button, respectively; or those built out of years of guilt, grief and blame, as were those that imprisoned the subjects of Anne Hathaway, Richard Jenkins and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performances in Rachel Getting Married, The Visitor and Doubt — the intensity of  the lack of freedom that all these characters suffered was staggering.

But probably the most difficult states of confinement to witness were those created solely by the  constructed standards of intolerant societies in the films Milk and Revolutionary Road.  In both these films, the leading characters battled defiantly against the essentialist gender roles their frighteningly patriarchal and heteronormative societies had assigned them.  Kate Winslett’s character in Revolutionary Road, and Sean Penn’s portrayal of the real crusader Harvey Milk, both bucked some of the most strident of those arbitrary norms that typically arise as antidotes for humanity’s fear of the uncategorizable.  Women who don’t know their place.  Men who are just a little too soft.  People who think and analyze and question and therefore, must be crazy.

Sadly, a happy ending is as rare for this type of character in fiction, and in real life, as it was for the writer Virginia Woolf who, in 1941 in the throes of depression and an ongoing frustration with a world in which she felt she didn’t neatly fit, finally filled her pockets with stones and walked slowly into the River Ouse.   Be it a botched home abortion or bullets fired by the hand of a homophobic man, the real cause of all these deaths, Woolf’s included, was a world too tiny for more than one type of woman or man — a world that forced those with the audacity to think outside the cells in which they were given to live to ultimately sacrifice their lives for their prison walls to fall.

Ironically, the big winner of Oscar night was Slumdog Millionaire, a film that celebrates a young man’s escape from the prison of poverty in India — a country far enough away from the western world for American viewers to safely criticize its culture.  Unfortunately, it is less ironic, and actually pretty typical, that the socially approved means of escape for this valiant and spirited young man was money.  A happy ending courtesy of both Holly- and Bollywood.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.