In his office at Mississippi University for Women, Van Roberts, left, offers insight about the 1957 movie “Raintree County” as documentary-maker Terry Swindol of Tupelo records him. Photo by: Kelly Tippett
December 26, 2009 11:47:00 PM
When Terry Swindol of Tupelo set out to make a documentary about the 1957 MGM film "Raintree County," he called on Dr. Van Roberts of Mississippi University for Women to add his expertise.
Roberts, assistant professor of Communication, and Swindol, a longtime film collector and film festival organizer, met fortuitously through Toastmasters.
"Somehow in conversation one of us brought up old movies, and it just snowballed," Swindol said. "Van teaches film, and I''ve helped organize a lot of festivals and met a lot of actors."
In Roberts'' MUW office stacked high with movies, Swindol did his own bit of film-making.
"I told him he needed to get a stunt double for me because I look old and flabby," Roberts joked.
"Van gave his insight of the movie and his evaluation of things he noticed, as one who has studied film. He contributed a lot to the documentary," Swindol said.
The Civil War era picture starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Lee Marvin and Eva Marie Saint is described by Swindol as "one of the last epics."
"It''s a very complex movie; the more I study it, I see something different every time. It''s got a lot of symbolic messages in it." It was during filming in 1956 that the handsome Clift was severely injured in an auto accident. He returned to the set after several weeks of recuperation, still suffering from partial paralysis of facial muscles.
Segments of the sweeping film were shot in Kentucky, in and around Danville and Frankfort.
"The (movie) scenery was very pretty, and I got interested in whether the sites were still there." A trip to the Bluegrass State produced results.
"It''s built up some, and some of the locations where the battle scenes were are now subdivisions," Swindol discovered, "but there are still little vacant areas out there, some open fields, where I can use my imagination."
The film enthusiast also found a lot of people who worked on the movie as extras and collected their memories.
"Everybody in town still talks about Eva Marie Saint and Lee Marvin," Swindol shared. "They just loved them. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift pretty much kept off to themselves, but Eva Marie would push her little boy down the street in a stroller and stop to visit with people sitting on their porches."
The people, in fact, are one of Swindol''s motivations for completing the documentary, to make it available for the Kentuckians who have such fond recollection of the movie-making.
Of the undertaking, Roberts said, "Documentaries involve commitment. They aren''t done overnight, and they can grow into big dogs that will eat you out of house and income. On the other hand, some movies need to be publicized, and MGM has done a rather lackluster job of promoting ''Raintree County.'' I would call it a lost film; you can''t go down to your favorite store and pick up a copy."
This is the first movie-related documentary Swindol has made. Previous efforts have included two volumes of "Voices of World War II," featuring interviews with veterans from North Mississippi, and a history of downtown Tupelo.
"Everybody has a unique point of view about a movie," said Roberts. "Making a documentary about your favorite movie is important because it represents why you and perhaps many other people like that movie and cherish it. Usually, companies do documentaries about movies, but Terry''s is a personal one, untainted by corporate ideology."
To acquire a copy of the documentary, e-mail Terry Swindol at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $10, plus shipping.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.