Deliverance is a movie directed by John Boorman, based on the novel by James Dickey. Dickey is also a poet and when you get to the end of this post I have included a poem from his pen.
Different people will have different immediate reactions to the film Deliverance. Ask people who have seen it what is their enduring memory.
Some will immediately go to the duelling banjos scene.
Yesterday we heard Burt Reynolds passed away. When the film was made in 1972 Reynolds was the epitome of American masculinity. The role turned him from a TV star to a Movie star in an age when that was an enormous difference. He famously went on to turn down roles as James Bond and Han Solo. He starred in Smokey and the Bandit, and in Cannonball Run, specialising in roles that involved muscle cars and beautiful women, He went on to become a director. Later in his career he won an Oscar playing a porn movie director in Boogie Nights.
In 1972 male masculinity looked like this:
A lot of guys who saw the movie identified with Jon Voight. He wants to be confident, strong, macho and shallow like Reynolds character. But he is afflicted with human emotions, conscience, doubt. But in the end Voight summons up his reserves of masculinity and kills the guy he thinks is the bad guy. And then has these doubts about if that was really the bad guy after all.
For me the real hero, the real man of the movie, was Ned Beatty. Ned played the victim of the seminal male rape scene that made the movie a significant milestone in world cinema. The movie opened the door to male vulnerability and allowed men to open discussions about abuse. The movie shattered the Burt Reynolds image of what a man should be and gave us the Ned Beatty truth of what a man is.
Ned Beatty allowed himself to be stripped naked, slapped, abused, insulted and raped, all on celluloid for the consumption of a world audience. That took guts. That took bravery. Bur Reynolds played the easy role, Beatty did the hard stuff.
So ask me what is my enduring memory of the film. The characters kill the guy they think is the rapist. They bury the body in a valley that is being flooded by the construction of a dam. At the end of the film they realise they may have killed the wrong guy. Voight dreams of that lake behind the dam, he dreams of the serene water at dusk, no breeze, not a ripple. And then…………
Cherrylog Road; by James Dickey
Off Highway 106
at Cherrylog Road I entered
the ’34 Ford without wheels,
smothered in kudzu,
with a seat pulled out to run
corn whiskey down from the hills,
and then from the other side
crept into an Essex
with a rumble seat of red leather
and then out again, aboard
a blue Chevrolet, releasing
the rust from its other color,
reared up on three building blocks.
None had the same body heat;
I changed with them inward, toward
the weedy heart of the junkyard,
for I knew that Doris Holbrook
would escape from her father at noon
and would come from the farm
to seek parts owned by the sun
among the abandoned chassis,
sitting in each in turn
as I did, leaning forward
as in a wild stock-car race
in the parking lot of the dead.
Time after time, I climbed in
and out the other side, like
an envoy or movie star
met at the station by crickets.
A radiator cap raised its head,
become a real toad or a kingsnake
as I neared the hub of the yard,
passing through many states,
many lives, to reach
some grandmother’s long Pierce-Arrow
sending platters of blindness forth
from its nickel hubcaps
and spilling its tender upholstery
on sleepy roaches,
the glass panel in between
Lady and colored driver
not all the way broken out,
the back-seat phone
still on its hook.
I got in as though to exclaim,
“Let us go to the orphan asylum,
John; I have some old toys
for children who say their prayers.”
I popped with sweat as I thought
I heard Doris Holbrook scrape
like a mouse in the southern-state sun
that was eating the paint in blisters
from a hundred car tops and hoods.
She was tapping like code,
loosening the screws,
carrying off headlights,
cracked mirrors and gear-knobs,
getting ready, already,
to go back with something to show
other than her lips’ new trembling
I would hold to me soon, soon,
where I sat in the ripped back seat
talking over the interphone,
praying for Doris Holbrook
to come from her father’s farm
and to get back there
with no trace of me on her face
to be seen by her red-haired father
who would change, in the squalling barn,
her back’s pale skin with a strop,
then lay for me
in a bootlegger’s roasting car
with a string-triggered 12-gauge shotgun
to blast the breath from the air.
Not cut by the jagged windshields,
through the acres of wrecks she came
with a wrench in her hand,
through dust where the blacksnake dies
of boredom, and the beetle knows
the compost has no more life.
Someone outside would have seen
the oldest car’s door inexplicably
close from within:
I held her and held her and held her,
convoyed at terrific speed
by the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,
so the blacksnake, stiff
with inaction, curved back
into life, and hunted the mouse
with deadly overexcitement,
the beetles reclaimed their field
as we clung, glued together,
with the hooks of the seat springs
working through to catch us red-handed
amidst the gray breathless batting
that burst from the seat at our backs.
We left by separate doors
into the changed, other bodies
of cars, she down Cherrylog Road
and I to my motorcycle
parked like the soul of the junkyard
restored, a bicycle fleshed
with power, and tore off
up Highway 106, continually
drunk on the wind in my mouth,
wringing the handlebar for speed,
wild to be wreckage forever.