A year ago, I had submitted to SXSW and my fingers were starting hurt from being crossed so long. Where was the acceptance letter. Since I started doing documentaries way back in the early Aughts, I had dreamed of getting a flick into SXSW. I am all about music partying and hitting movies and partying again (more so then now I guess). I thought surely a bad ass movie about a West Va. Fiddler going deep into his world including his former years spent with some mountain folk who told tales and practice a bit of what is erroneously described as witchcraft, would be a sure thing. I spent eight years and even put the piece through film school at considerable cost. But my dream was dashed by a form letter. Rejection came again with other festivals, but the Newport Beach Film Festival saved me from despair. A legit all out festival in John Wayne’s home turf not only offered a balm against the rejections but injected me with a fresh potent dose of confidence. I worked that scene like a salesman who just blew his budget on one drop dead suite. I met some kind folks from Ireland who had connections to Galeway Festival. Surely, the Celts would connect to this West Va. music. I even had ten minutes of Fiddler Dave Bing teaching and playing in the pubs surrounding by Irish and British fiddlers. But those aspirations where dashed on the cliffs with many more to follow. Perhaps I was aiming too high and searched out more modest festivals. But the rejection emails kept showing up. This was not the plan. I had bet a good chunk of esteem and creditability that this project was worth the extra effort on the my conviction on reading the ziegist. I always prided myself on reading the wind, sitting on my duff predicting trends and nodding at the bursting of the next big thing. But The Crooked Tune was missing out big.
A year can give you distance however and after showing it to some few folks and taking their comments out the box of pain, there was some truth. The truth is The Crooked Tune is too long, too ambitious. I had hoped to offer up a cross-section of an Old Time tradition from its roots traced to a particular family in West Va. to its incarnation with some young in’s putting the music to the road. Dave Bing was to be our tour guide. But I have to say, most of the guided tours I have experienced has been tedious and long even. It took awhile because I kept coming away from my own review of the flick, thinking all the stuff is essential, but anger, frustration creating its own undertow. Somehow I came to the point that The Crooked Tune lumbered like an old fraught train.
I believe that people watch movies with an internal clock, even good ones that want a sense that they are moving towards an end point. They want to feel the rush of the road, the turns and curves and dips. But when it feels like a long straight grind through endless scenery, it becomes grueling.
Keeping this in mind I turned to the The Crooked Tune and cut and sliced diced. I took out my narration and made it self-propelling. I cut out excursions into scenes of jams and the aspiring young musicians. I cut out details defining Old Time music anyway and snuffed out favorite characters and interviews. The result is I whittled back a 74 minute doc into a 27 minute short. (And I ain’t quite done yet) There is a sense of exhilaration that comes with this self inflicting editing when you finally get to a piece that tells the tale with a pinpoint trajectory. This is a story about how a person copes with experiencing a culture just as it vanishes and now finds himself perpetuating the tradition in a world with a new found appreciation, but with little context of the tradition. While Dave Bing as steward of a dying culture was the controlling idea of The Crooked Tune, it was lost in the aspirations to tell the story of an old time fiddler in a modern world, which of course was the subtitle the original version. The new version will be free of such weight. Walking The Crooked Tune, A fiddler’s journey out of the past, will focus on Bing’s beginnings with the Hammons family and his self awareness of how he is obligated to keep the tradition alive knowing that is destined to change and contort in our new world.
Of course, I am now reliving the same optimism I had going into last year when I starting applying to festivals all over the map. But I do know I have rare material of a culture in motion living up to the Faulkner’s puzzling quote ” The past is not dead, it’s not even the past.” The question is can I raise to the challenge and get it out there.