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FYC: SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN PEOPLE & THE SILENT ERA

by spartacula
FYC: SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN PEOPLE & THE SILENT ERA by spartacula
A WORK IN PROGRESS: Kentucky Revenue Men (Project Gutenberg) Sugar Valley Still Hatfield’s and McCoys Hatfield Clan circa 1897 Ray Myers as Davy Crockett in THE SEIGE AND FALL OF THE ALAMO (1913) I came across a great book that opened a new world to me. I thought I’d pass on some excerpts because the history, to me, is nothing short of fascinating. The title is Southern Mountaineers in Silent Films: Plot Synopses of Movies About Moonshining, Feuding and Other Mountain Topics, 1904-1929 by J.W. Williamson (ISBN 0-89950-809-X). ‘Between the years 1904 and 1929 there were at least 476 movies made about the Southern mountain people, and… Read more

A WORK IN PROGRESS:

Kentucky Revenue Men (Project Gutenberg)
Sugar Valley Still Hatfield’s and McCoys

Hatfield Clan circa 1897

Ray Myers as Davy Crockett in THE SEIGE AND FALL OF THE ALAMO (1913)

I came across a great book that opened a new world to me. I thought I’d pass on some excerpts because the history, to me, is nothing short of fascinating. The title is Southern Mountaineers in Silent Films: Plot Synopses of Movies About Moonshining, Feuding and Other Mountain Topics, 1904-1929 by J.W. Williamson (ISBN 0-89950-809-X).

‘Between the years 1904 and 1929 there were at least 476 movies made about the Southern mountain people, and like the vast majority of thousands of other movies made during the nickelodeon and silent eras, most of the so-called ’hillbilly’ films have dissappeared. They no longer exist anywhere, but they can be partially known by means of company-written synopses published in the motion picture trade papers of their day.’

‘Hillbilly’ covers fictional plots about moonshining, feuding, love triangles, coal mining and coonskin-cappers (such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone), as they struggle west across mountain barriers or as they help mythologize American true grit, like Jesse James. Plus there were Civil War conflicts, comedies and travelouges.

The earliest known fictional film about mountain people, THE MOONSHINER, is available for viewing, thanks to the Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress. In the earliest years of motion pictures, some companies copyrighted their commercial films as a series of still photographs, and some of these have been reconstructed into 16mm viewable form. THE MOONSHINER was made in 1904 by American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, better known as Biograph. Biograph was one of the ‘big three’ movie manufacturers, along with Edison and Vitagraph. When Biograph announced THE MOONSHINER as a new story feature in its Bulletin #25 on July 28,1904, the company publicist took pains to claim a factual reality for the film: “In selecting the locality of this production, the greatest possible care was taken, and as a result there is a strong element of local color and picturesqueness pervading the film from beginning to end” – an interesting if hollow claim considering the film was shot on location in New Jersey. But THE MOONSHINER did not present clownish hillbillies. The people depicted in the film were dressed in normal, conventional, contemporary clothing for 1904, with a slight Western look. The title character himself wore a tie.

The film was originally entered for copyright as a documentary, and its artistic impact was due to its apparent reality – calm and perfectly mundane – until it turns suddenly and believably violent. It was filmed in ten scenes, all outdoors and photographed by a distant stationary camera, as though the viewer were a spy. There is never a close-up or any other cinematic device to heighten suspense or dramatize action, yet when the moonshiner’s wife shoots the revenue officer in the back, it is positively cathartic, possibly because it seems a perfectly normal development. The title for that scene is “The Law Vindicated”, but the title does not accurately describe the experience of seeing “the law” shot in the back, either for us now or for those original nickelodeon patrons back in 1904. Although there were no stereotypical hillbillies in this fountainhead film, there was effective, matter-of-fact violence, and the image of it lives after the projector is turned off. From this film arises one of the essential ingredients in the meaning of ‘hillbilly’: dependable and cathartic violence.

A year after THE MOONSHINER, Biograph tried to duplicate its success with another violent tale (though a total fabrication), THE KENTUCKY FEUD. Young Buddy McCoy steals apples from the Hatfields, gets thrashed for same, retaliates by shooting at Mr. Hatfield, but kills Mrs. Hatfield instead. If that wasn’t enough to feud over, there’s an ongoing love affair between Jim Hatfield and Sally McCoy. Long story short, the final scene features a fight to the death with bare knuckels and Bowie knives, between Jim and one of Sally’s brothers. During this period, the film makers saw the mountain people as contemporaries; not the slouch hatted, granny dressed inhabitants of the hills. These 1905 fuedists wore middle class styles of the early 20th century, which is what made their images so hard to forget for the urban audiences. That and their willingness to settle disputes with personel violence. Some things never change.

The following list is a historical compilation, in part, of what interested the public in the earlier 20th century. Sad to say, practically all of them won’t be available for the majority of us to view. The only reason DELIVERANCE is listed, is because I haven’t found something authentic listed in the ‘MUBI’ database yet; my apologies.

1904:
- THE MOONSHINER (Biograph)

1905:
- A KENTUCKY FEUD (Biograph)

1907:
- DANIEL BOONE: OR, PIONEER DAYS IN AMERICA (Edison)

1908:
- THE FEUD AND THE TURKEY; A ROMANCE OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS (Biograph)
- IN THE NICK OF TIME (Selig)
- THE JAMES BOYS IN MISSOURI (Essanay)
- THE MINER’S DAUGHTER (Vitagraph)
- THE MOLLY MAGUIRES; OR, LABOR WARS IN THE COAL MINES (Kalem)
- THE MOONSHINER’S DAUGHTER (Kalem)
- A MOUNTAIN FEUD (Selig)
- THE MOUNTAINEERS (Lubin)
- THE MOUNTAINEER’S REVENGE (Lubin)
- THE ORPHAN; OR, A MOUNTAIN ROMANCE (Vitagraph)

1909:
- DAVY CROCKETT – IN HEARTS UNITED (New York Motion Picture Co.)
- DREAM OF WEALTH (Vitagraph)
- THE LAW OF THE MOUNTAINS (Kalem)
- MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS (Essanay)
- THE MOUNTAINEER’S HONOR (Biograph)
- THE SINS OF THE FATHERS (Vitagraph)

1910:
- BACK IN THE MOUNTAINS (Nestor)
- A DAUGHTER OF THE MINES (Edison)
- DAVY CROCKETT (Selig Polyscope Co.)
- A FAMILY FEUD (Lux)
- THE FEUD (Kalem)
- THE FEUD (New York Motion Picture Co.)
- A FORESTER’S SWEETHEART (Lux)
- A FRONTIER HERO (Edison)
- THE FUGITIVE (Biograph)
- IN THE MOUNTAINS OF KENTUCKY (Vitagraph)
- A MAID IN THE MOUNTAINS (Urban)
- MOONSHINE AND LOVE (Powers Picture Plays)
- THE MOONSHINER’S DAUGHTER (Nestor)
- A MOUNTAIN MAID (Edison)
- A MOUNTAIN WIFE (G. Melies)
-THE MOUNTAINEER: A TALE OF KENTUCKY (A.G. Whyte)
- SENSATIONAL LOGGING (Essanay)
- THE SPECIAL AGENT (Vitagraph)
- A TALE OF THE BACKWOODS (Selig Polyscope)
- THOU SHALT NOT KILL (Powers)
- THE U.S. REVENUE DETECTIVE (Yankee)
- VICTIMS OF FATE (Vitagraph)

1911:
- BONNIE OF THE HILLS (Champion)
- THE CALL FROM THE HILLS (Powers)
- THE CHIEF’S DAUGHTER (Selig)
- COALS OF FIRE (Selig)
- DANIEL BOONE’S BRAVERY (Kalem)
- ELDA OF THE MOUNTAINS (Nestor)
- THE GIRL AND THE SHERIFF (Vitagraph)
- THE GIRL OF THE MOUNTAINS (Vitagraph)
- HIGGINSES VS. JUDSONS (Lubin)
- THE IMMORTAL ALAMO (Star Film Co./Gaston Milies)
- LOVE IN THE HILLS (Biograph)
- LOVE IN THE HILLS (Essanay)
- MADGE OF THE MOUNTAINS (Vitagraph)
- THE MOONSHINER (Reliance)
- THE MOONSHINER’S TRAIL (Champion)
- THE MOUNTAIN LAW (Essanay)
- PEGGY, THE MOONSHINER’S DAUGHTER (Kalem)
- THEREVENUEAND THE GIRL (Kalem)
- THE REVENUE MAN AND THE GIRL (Biograph)
- THE REVENUE OFFICER’S LAST CASE (Powers)
- SHENANDOAH (Champion)
- SLEEPY HOLLOW (Nestor)
- THE STRIKE AT THE MINES (Edison)
- TENNESSEE LOVE STORY (Selig)
- THE TRANSGRESSOR (Nestor)

1912:
- AN AMERICAN INVASION (Kalem)
- BATTLE IN THE VIRGINIA HILLS (Kalem)
- THE BLACK WALL (Vitagraph)
- BLACKENED HILLS (American)
- THE BLIND MINER (Vitagraph)
- BLUE RIDGE FOLKS (Champion)
- A BLUE RIDGE ROMANCE (Republic)
- A CHILD’S PLEA (Eclair)
- THE DUEL (Reliance)
- THE END OF THE FEUD (American)
- THE END OF THE FEUD (Essanay)
- THE END OF THE FEUD (Lubin)
- FERDIE’S FAMILY FEUD (Imp)
- A FEUD IN THE KENTUCKY HILLS (Biograph)
- A FEUDAL DEBT (Nestor)
- FIRE AT THE MINE (Gaumont)
- HILL FOLKS (Gem)
- IN OLD TENNESSEE (Imp)
- KAINTUCK (Reliance)
- A KENTUCKY FEUD (Rex)
- LIFE OF DANIEL BOONE (Republic)
- THE LITTLE MOONSHINER (Nestor)
- A MOONSHINER’S HEART (Essanay)
- MOUNTAIN DEW (Kalem)
- A MOUNTAIN TRAGEDY (Reliance)
- PANSY (Selig)
- A ROMANCE IN OLD KENTUCKY (Eclair)
- THE SHERIFF PROTEM (Melies)
- A TALE OF THE WILDERNESS (Biograph)
- THAT HOUN’ DAWG (Pathe)
- THE WAY OF THE MOUNTAINS (Lubin)
- WHERE BROADWAY MEETS THE MOUNTAINS (American)
- THE WOOERS OF MOUNTAIN KATE (American)

1913:
- AN ACCIDENTAL SHOT (Patheplay)
- THE AWAKENING (American)
- BATTLEFIELDS AROUND CHATTANOOGA (Edison)
- BLACK DIAMONDS (Vitagraph)
- BROTHER BILL (Vitagraph)
- BROTHER LOVE (American)
- BUD TILDEN, MAIL THIEF (Reliance)
- BUILDING THE CHATTANOOGA LIGHT AND POWER DAM (Essanay)
- A CHILD OF THE HILLS (Pilot)
- THE CIRCUIT RIDER OF THE HILLS (Frontier)
- THE CITY FELLER (Majestic)
- THE CONTENTS OF THE SUITCASE (Edison)
- THE DARE-DEVIL MOUNTAINEERS (Imp)
- THE EIGHTH NOTCH (Kalem)
- THE ELECTRICIAN’S HAZARD (Kalem)
- THE FIRE COWARD (Kalem)
- THE GAME WARDEN (Kalem)
- THE GIRL O’ THE WOODS (Victor)
- THE GUERRILLA MENACE
- HELD FOR RANSOM (Reliance)
- HER FINAL CHOICE (Reliance)
- HILDA OF THE MOUNTAINS (Nestor)
- THE HILLS OF STRIFE (Lubin)
- IN ANOTHER’S NEST (American)
- IN THE BATTLE’S SMOKE (Pilot)
- IN THE MOUNTAINS OF VIRGINIA (American)
- THE INFLUENCE OF THE UNKNOWN (Biograph)
- AN INNOCENT INFORMER (Edison)
- THE KENTUCKY FEUD (Warner’s Features/Satex)
- KENTUCKY FOES (Reliance)
- LITTLE KAINTUCK (Vitagraph)
- THE MADCAP OF THE HILLS (Reliance)
- THE MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS (Nestor)
- ‘MID KENTUCKY HILLS (Vitagraph)
- THE MISSIONARY’S TRIUMPH (Patheplay)
- THE MOONSHINER’S MISTAKE (Kalem)
- A MOONSHINER’S WIFE (Lubin)
- A MOUNTAIN MOTHER (Lubin)
- THE MOUNTAIN WITCH (Kalem)
- THE MOUNTAINEERS (Edison)
- NAN OF THE WOODS (Selig)
- NATURE’S VENGEANCE (Victor)
- AN ORPHAN OF WAR (Kay-Bee)
- PRIMITIVE MAN (Kalem)
- RED MARGARET, MOONSHINER (Universal/Gold Seal)
- THE RED OLD HILLS OF GEORGIA (Edison)

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