Sunday, February 10, 2008
Saw a fantastic movie last night--John Sayles' latest, Honeydripper. Danny Glover stars as the proprietor (Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis) of a failing blues club in Harmony Alabama in 1950. Never been to Harmony, but I take it from mapquest that it's got to be rural--down near Andalusia, west of Enterprise (my favorite name for a town e-v-e-r). Closest city's Mobile.
I'm not going to be able to do anywhere near justice to Pinetop. Suffice it to say that he's a veteran of World War I. I think he must have known some of my heroes over there, like O.B. Mann, about whom it was said that he had "come back from the war in France with exaggerated notions of social equality and thinking he could whip the world." Ah, what a tribute to people who remade the world and the struggles that they face.
Anyway, Pinetop's property's about to be foreclosed (see that's the propertyprof hook!) and he needs a big night to stave off foreclosure and pay off some other loans that are coming due. The plan's to have a headliner--Guitar Sam--draw a big crowd. It's easily predictable that Guitar Sam doesn't make it. So in desperation Pinetop decides to use Sonny Blake (Sonny as in Son of God?), who's a World War II veteran. Sonny'd gotten off the train in Harmony, looking for meal and a place to stay and after he found the meal and was on his way looking for a job picking cotton, he ran into "the law." He was arrested and convicted of "gawking with intent to mope" and given an indefinite sentence, probably until the cotton was picked. Anyway--I'm not doing justice to this--but Pinetop makes an arrangement with the sheriff to have Sonny play for the evening in place of Guitar Sam. The plan's to start Sonny off playing, then cut the lights off and make off with the loot--but once Sonny starts playing, Pinetop realizes what he's got and lets Pinetop keep playing.
So as I was driving home last night, past the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse my mind wandered to the question whether there are records of convictions for vagrancy up there on the seventh floor that tell similar stories. I don't know--been up there only once and I came across all sorts of stuff (like a stack of absentee ballots from the early 1960s). Was up there so that one of my students could show me the records he found of a story--which he'll tell at the appropriate time--of a slave who sued for his freedom. It is a saga of epic proportions--a nineteenth century Odyssey. There are all sorts of stories to be told, if we're willing to look for them.
One other thought on this: shade of Sayles' fabulous 1984 Brother From Another Planet, where the hero was able to fix electrical appliances and instruments.
There's some Toni Morrison intergenerational stuff going on, including flashbacks at various points--all very sophisticated. One more cool thing about this: John Sayles was in town earlier in the week for the opening at the BAMA Theater. Here's the Univeristy of Alabama student newspaper's write-up about it. Yup, never know what cool things you're going to find in this town!