December 8, 2007

Writing Cinema

In film, we talk a lot about being heavy-handed versus being subtle...using a feather versus a frying pan to get a point across.

Seems that good writing and good film is also about where you make that distinction--oftentimes where you finish. In The West Wing, for example, Aaron Sorkin played around a lot with the set to suggest things. He used the set a lot.

I remember a scene, I think when President Bartlet contemplated war in the Middle East. For a somewhat subtle effect, the camera put Bartlet's profile shot beside George Washington's portrait. Or, at the end of season two and beginning of season one, when President Bartlet wracks his brain over whether to run for re-election, a tropical storm blows the Oval Office doors open and shut. At the big press conference, the storm has soaked Bartlett's coat. He's almost dripping when he addresses the reporters finally. It's like Shakespeare's King Lear; the outside mimicking the inside.

Other times, when Sorkin wants the viewer to remember the awesome scope of the presidency--or its limitations--he focuses in on a portrait of the White House hanging on the wall before moving to another scene.

In the William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the concluding scene rests your eyes on the trim cruiser in the distance, connecting you from the war on the island to the war on the seas. Makes you wonder if "civilization" beyond the boys' savagery is really that civilized.

The above picture of Steinhatchee Harbor, if you were filming it, could be sliced several ways for different meaning. You could keep the camera a couple hundred feet away, giving the audience a perspective shot of the harbor's size and the size of the fleet coming back to port after a long fishing day. Or you could focus in on one boat and look at each member of the crew. Or, you could focus on the boats quickly one by one.

Or, for the most intimate shot, you could set the camera right beside the skipper of one of the vessels, like a parrot on a pirate's shoulder, and see the world through his eyes. I wonder if that isn't the best way to tell a political story. One episode of The West Wing is called "In the Room." I think that says it all.

December 6, 2007

Coontie Cookout

As I've been exploring Florida's cracker lore, I pulled Dana Ste. Claire's book, Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History, off the shelf again and scanned it.

I found more of a profile on the native Florida Coontie plant.

The evergreen plant is deadly to eat unless prepared special. It's also called the Florida Arrowroot, and was used by early settlers as a substitute for wheat flour for those who missed their wheat bread from home and didn't feel like cornbread.

To eat the plant's starchy tap roots without dying, you must crush the roots into a pulp, ferment the pulp in a treated solution for days, then dry the flour in the sun. If the starch doesn't the ferment long enough, its hydrocyanic acid will kill you.

Crackers did the same thing with cattail roots--and flowers. If I were in the wilderness, I'd go with the cattails.

That sounds like a folk song, "Coonties and Cattails."


Ste. Claire, Dana. Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History. Gainesville: University

Press of Florida, 2006.

December 5, 2007

Imperial Polk Revisited

I need more material on Spessard Holland. As important a role model was he was to young Lawton Chiles, he needs more profiling. There is not book available on him. Not even an essay as far as I know, even though he did push through the amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning the poll tax, after abolishing the practice in Florida in his state legislature career.

The whole notion of "Imperial Polk County" though is ripe for discussion and colorful writing. Not many counties get a moniker.

It's such a strong lesson I think in the link between geography and politics. The fact that Polk County is at Florida's center is poetic yes, but in a state as large and diverse as Florida, neutral ground is also hard to come by.

December 4, 2007

Whiskey George Creek

I was listening to some interviews from my trip to Lakeland and rediscovered a clip of someone telling how Chiles claimed he had seen a turkey spin its head around, 360 degrees.

It reminded me of Whiskey George Creek in Tate's Hell State Forest. What a great landscape. I visited around Halloween and the bony underbrush made me think of skeletons.

To me, more fun than hunting a turkey is just giving it a bit of a scare. They're lazy creatures and you've really gotta run them down with a bicycle or car to induce them to flight.

Chiles was buried with a couple hand-crafted wooden turkey calls.