OK, not naturally. I may have gotten things started a few weeks earlier when I questioned the Puckettians about my favorite scene in the movie — the “Sirens” washing clothes on the rocks in a creek prior to “loving up” Pete and turning him into a “horny toad.”
I had heard that the rocks on which the Sirens seductively sat were located near Puckett and wanted to confirm this. So I wrote my Puckett friends, and from them I learned that Puckett is all over the movie. One of them knew one of the men on the chain gang breaking rocks, the cows “Baby Face” Nelson shot and ran over belonged to a man from Puckett (“Oh George ... not the livestock”), and that the Siren scene was filmed at the D’Lo Water Park, which is just down the road.
Talk about your six degrees of separation.
My curiosity about the movie’s Puckett connection was stirred by a recent showing on AMC that included story notes across the bottom of the screen, information that told viewers all sorts of interesting things about what they were watching — like how George Clooney listened to the voice of a relative in Kentucky to get his accent down. Neat stuff like that.
I wish I had seen that broadcast when I was teaching, because back then I showed Oh Brother in my Southern Culture class every time I taught it. I could have really impressed students with my knowledge of behind-the-scenes trivia — if they hadn’t also seen the AMC production themselves.
I have been a fan of Oh Brother since before the turn of the century, shortly after it was discovered that Y2K would not cause all the world’s computers to crash. I was on the phone with my buddy Jim, who was all aflutter about a new movie that “you just gotta see.”
“It is based on Homer’s Odyssey.”
Now, Jim’s interest in things Hellenic was understandable. He has three degrees from that great Georgia university in Athens (also my alma mater), and though that Athens is seldom mistaken for the one in Greece, it is close enough for Georgians. Moreover, Jim is well known for his efforts to promote international understanding and harmony. He once toted cans of Vienna sausage to a conference in Vienna, Austria — a gesture much appreciated I am sure.
“It is set in Mississippi in the ’30s.”
His enthusiasm was beginning to make more sense. Jim wrote the definitive history of the Mississippi Delta (The Most Southern Place on Earth), so his attraction to the state that ranks just below Alabama in most things that matter is understandable, if not commendable.
“And the music is great.”
That was the clincher, and he knew it.
Jim and I share a love for country music in all its varieties, but especially the twangy, sing-through-your-nose sort he grew up with in east Georgia and I learned to love in south Alabama.
We discovered this connection back in our graduate school days when we attended an Osborne Brothers concert. It was rumored that the bluegrass duo was being brought in to satisfy ag majors who complained that the SGA concert committee never booked groups they liked.
Not expecting many students to show up, the committee put the Brothers in a small hall. The committee miscalculated. When Jim and I arrived, the place was jammed. A good time was had by all.
(Later in his career, Jim taught a course in the history of country music at the University of Maryland. Some nose-in-the-air journalist wrote that such was not what a great university should be teaching. Students should be studying John Locke, not Johnny Cash. Jim responded by pointing out that Locke had not had a hit in years.)
Thus armed with Jim’s endorsement, I went to see O Brother Where Art Thou.
It has been my favorite movie ever since.
A few years later, I bought a copy and began showing it in class. Not surprisingly, many of my students had not only seen it, but they could repeat lines right along with the actors on the screen.
“We hear you pay good money to sing into a can.”
“I’ll reveal how to make vast amounts of money in the service of God Almighty.”
“I’m the damn paterfamilias.”
“He’s bona fide. What are you?”
And the ever popular “Mrs. Hogwallop done up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T.”
And they sang along.
All because of Jim.
How can I ever show my appreciation?
Maybe I’ll take him to Puckett.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: email@example.com.