Friday, March 4, 2011

Local Boy Makes Good!

I always love to see headlines like that, don't you? Well, gather 'round, children, and hear the tale. 'Tis an epic story of a starry-eyed young man who fell in love with the moving pitchers and decided that you shouldn't have to go all the way yonder to Hollywood to make movies that people wanted to go to drive-ins to see.

A local venue started doing a monthly Classic Film series this year - January was Jimmy Stewart Month, February was John Wayne Month ('cause nothing says "LUV" like the Duke!), and this month is Earl Owensby Month.

And the crickets begin to chirp, which is a flat-out shame.

Oh, Ed Wood may be better known, but among those who know films, the name Earl Owensby is justly famous. While no one sane person will take a bet on the chances of any of the Owensby stable of films overtaking Citizen Kane on any list of "Great Films That Everyone Ought to Know by Name," Owensby carved out a place for himself in film history and it's one that ought to be celebrated.

See, young Earl loved movies. A lot. And by hook, crook, hard work, a little luck, and a touch of sharp dealing, he created the largest independent film studio outside of Hollywood (at least for a little while). The linked article nicely outlines his career. It's true, the films he churned out were mostly drive-in fare that were thin on frou-frou conventions such as plot and character development, but these movies are valentines to, well, to movies. To the sheer magic of them.

For example, his 1978 Buckstone County Prison, which is a improbable (and possibly unholy) cross between Cool Hand Luke and Walking Tall. Here's the trailer, with Owensby as the hero "Seabo."

Or Rottweiler (later re-named Dogs of Hell, which I think might be catchier), which cashed in on an earlier 3-D craze - and slightly predated the film version of Cujo. Owensby and James Cameron have more than the 3-D notion in common - Cameron's 1989 underwater thriller The Abyss was partially filmed in an Owensby lot - he had the biggest underwater tank in the world, thanks to a not-completed nuclear plant. The sets were eventually demolished in 2007, when Duke Power decided to move ahead with the project. (Yep, this means Owensby bought the site for cheap from Duke then sold it back to them! How can you not love someone who manages that? It's like Malcolm Reynolds, if he had been successful!)

My point is this - by golly, Owensby didn't just whine about how great he'd be if only someone gave him a break. He made it happen! Maybe the movies aren't that great (in fact, it's shocking to me that the MST3K boys never got a hold of these. Then again, Owensby is nothing if not shrewd and he may have wanted more scratch than the Midwestern Magpies could afford), but you know what?

He made them. And he made money on them, too.

Visit the studio, would you? Here's the link. And you can see all sorts of trailers there, too. Even buy a movie or two while you're at it. Or browse this filmography.

All sorts of people blaze the trail for us, if we'll just take the time to notice. And they don't all have to be Harold Bloom or Orson Welles to offer valuable road tips and examples. (That being said, I'm still not naming my kids "Rhett" and/or "Elvis." Seriously. Check that out here.)

Sometimes it's not about waiting until you're convinced that you know enough to be great at what you want to do. Sometimes it's about deciding that you'll figure it out on the way - and then getting going.

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