Thursday, 1 November 2012


The real Bondurant Brothers.

We finish yet another season of Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club movies. This  ‘term’ we have had an excellent and varied collection of films from different genres and countries and tonight’s film was certainly no exception. Described as an American gangster film Lawless (2012) centres on the seemingly indestructible brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke) who produced and sold illicit alcohol in Franklin County Virginia, during Prohibition in the United States of America. 

Howard, Jack and Forrest Bondurant.

Giving as always an exceptionally interesting introduction Rachel Findlay informed us that tonight director is the Australian John Hillcoat whose previous film The Road (2009) was also shown as part of a Film Club season. Prior to that he had directed Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Guy Pearce and John Hurt in the rather brutal The Proposition (2005) that was set and filmed in the Australian outback and as in Lawless writer and musician Nick Cave wrote the screenplay and scored the music.  The book on which Lawless is based is called "The Wettest County in the World" and it's by Matt Bondurant, a literature and creative writing professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. Rachel went on to tell us that she had watched and read a number of interviews with the author one of which I reproduce for your information which, as our host pointed out served as a useful background for the film we were about to see.

Jack Bondurant.

"We were all aware that my grandfather used to run liquor when he was young, but these were things that were never discussed in Franklin County. Moonshine was a dangerous business: the distillation process involves fire, high pressure, and flammable liquids. Improper technique or materials could cause paralysis, blindness, or worse. Bootlegging, or what they called “blockading” in those days, was also fraught with danger; a car full of booze on the open road was fair game for hijackers or law enforcement.

We all just assumed that Grandpa Jack’s trade was small and general. So when my father unearthed a series of newspaper articles about a shooting at Maggodee Creek Bridge in 1930, we were quite shocked. In these articles my grandfather and his brothers Forrest and Howard, “The Bondurant Boys,” were described as a notorious group with a dangerous reputation. My grandfather was still alive then, and when my dad confronted him about the shooting he merely lifted his shirt to show the bullet hole. That was it. I was living across the country at the time, and didn’t have a chance to question him further. He died the next year at 91 years old.

Like many young boys, I was afraid of my grandfather. He was an imposing man, and people around the county treated him with respect. I spent a lot of time in his back storage room staring at an old pair of brass knuckles hanging on the wall, understanding even then that my grandfather lived a very different life than anything I would know."[1]

Apparently Matt Bondurant carried out some research after his grandfather died, and discovered that the Bondurant brothers had served as prosecution witnesses in "The great moonshine conspiracy trial of 1935". He went on to use the transcripts of the court trial and the grand jury testimony when writing his novel.
A great cameo from Gary Oldman as the big city gangster Floyd Banner. 
Rachel also read out an excerpt from an article that the director John Hillcoat wrote about why he made the movie, again I reproduce this for your information:

"I have always wanted to make a Gangster movie. However like all genres, they need to be somehow reinvented, made fresh again. The source material came from a great book originally titled The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant that takes the most iconic American genres, the Western and the Gangster, and explores where one (the Western) ends and the other (the Gangster) begins. The true story of the Bondurant brothers arises out of the Western legends from their remote woods and portrays the next generation of country outlaws -- the men and women who gave birth to the big-time urban mobsters like Capone by servicing the Prohibition cities with their rot gut whisky. The book's family saga brought the 'hillbilly moonshiner' to life in an authentic, gritty, and exciting way.

Nick and I wanted to explore the ideas of the myths of immortality and the transition from one age to another with the brutality that accompanies such transitions. About the little guys, those foot soldiers and worker bees, the dealers at the bottom supplying the gangsters on the rise to the top, exploiting the thirst of a nation via a new ruthless machine that relentlessly pursued the American dream in what became crime's first major gold rush, the largest crime-wave in history.

We felt there were parallels to draw with our own times socio-economic, political, and -- with the dustbowl -- even environmental upheaval. To this day, one can draw parallels to more recent crime waves -- 'war on drugs' -- based upon the demand of outlawed substances.

We also wanted to capitalize upon the mythic allure of the backwoods life -- the raw music, the dry humor, and undiluted grit of the Southern Rebel character and in our movie draw out its dynamic mix of blues and country music; its mix of religious sects; the moonshine blockading that invented one of the country's most popular sports (NASCAR racing)."[2]

Federal Deputy Charlie Rakes.
Like The Proposition tonight’s fine-looking period piece was really a film that carried with it the essence of a classic western rather than a gangster movie asking us to metaphorically cheer the ‘not-so’ baddies and to boo the baddie. In this case a crooked Federal Deputy Charlie Rakes (Hillcoat regular Guy Pearce) a slimy dandy destined for purgatory. The only criticism leveled by an appreciative audience was at times the intelligible dialogue, but otherwise the season ended with jolly shootout and bags of violence (and that was just the coffee break!) what more could this discerning gathering which for? Role on next season.

[1] The Daily Beast Aug 2012.
[2] The Huffington Post Aug 2012.

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