Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Savannah: The Sort of True Tall Tale of Ward Allen
Allen was like a grown-up version of Huck Finn.
The heir to one of Savannah’s largest plantations, Allen willingly
renounced a life of privilege for a wild and woolly existence supplying fresh
game to the city’s markets. Unfortunately,
the march of progress will not heed the angry editorials penned by the “Buffalo
Bill of the River” in Annette Haywood-Carter’s Savannah (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
Oxford educated Allen had a talent for blasting duck out of the sky. Christmas Moultrie was a close second. Savannah’s last child born into bondage,
Moultrie had a long history with Allen’s family that evolved into a close camaraderie
with Ward. While this rather puzzles
some of Allen’s would-be peers, his open defiance of modern game regulations often
leads to more pressing problems with the law.
Despite his roguish carousing, Allen catches the eye of Lucy Stubbs, the
headstrong daughter of Savannah’s least amused old money family.
Allen was not cut out for the modern world, as viewers can easily deduce from
the flashback structure. Still, he left
behind some colorful stories that Moultrie never tires of retelling in his
twilight years. In fact, those anecdotes
formed the basis of John “Jack” Eugene Cay Jr.’s Ward Allen: Savannah River Market Hunter, the historical monograph
on which Savannah is partly based. Initially the Cay Family’s guide on river
excursions, Moultrie forged a close relationship with the Cays that led to Savannah the film, co-produced and
financed by Cay’s son, John.
both Cays appear as characters in the wrap-around segments, it will be tempting
for critics to dismiss Savannah as a
vanity adaptation of a vanity publication, but there is more to it than
that. Frankly, it is an intriguing example
of how tall tales and legends are passed down and codified in the digital
age. The relationship between Moultrie
and both Allen and the Cays is also quite touching. The near total lack of racial tension, aside from a
flashback to Moultrie’s childhood, is obviously difficult to buy, but Savannah’s apolitical stance is frankly
is also easy to understand why Haywood-Carter was attracted to Allen as a
historical and dramatic character. Temperamentally
too much of an anarchist to be considered a Southern Agrarian, Allen’s advocacy
of a more natural, less mechanized lifestyle may well resonate with contemporary
audiences (who do their hunting and gathering at Whole Foods).
Caviezel is surprisingly charismatic as the reckless, larger than life
Allen. A bit of a departure for the Person of Interest star, he clearly
seems to enjoy Allen’s boozing and bombastic Shakespeare quoting. Hal Holbrooke also appears to be having a
ball as Judge Harden, the acerbic jurist who passed the bar and was appointed
to the bench only spend most of his career trying Allen for hunting season
the circumstances surrounding Allen’s marriage are the best sourced elements of
the film, but they are also the dullest.
Nevertheless, Jaimie Alexander plays her with some welcome attitude and
backbone. However, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s
Moultrie mostly just stands about, looking vaguely pained by Allen’s
self-destructive behavior. On the other
hand, he contributes the eerie blues rendition of “Wade in the Water” heard over
the final credits.
American south is often shortchanged by Hollywood films that too often reduce
the cultural fertile region to a burning cross.
The reality was much more complicated than that. At least Haywood-Carter and her
co-screenwriter Kenneth F. Carter take a stab at a more balanced portrayal, but
the results are certainly mixed. Mainly
recommended for those looking for the PBS Masterpiece
Classic version of History Channel’s swamp people reality programming, Savannah opens this Friday (8/23) in New
York at the AMC Empire, as well as theaters throughout the southeast.
Labels: Jim Caviezel, Ward Allen