Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Including "Dueling Banjos" on the recent Shark Mix made me think again about the movie that popularized the song, Deliverance.

I really like this movie a lot. I know that this song has come to be used as a lazy shorthand jab at rural Southerners, but the scene containing the song is really amazing, and much more complex than the cheap jokes and inferior imitations it has spawned.

Seeing characters like the urban hillbillies who capture Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames in Pulp Fiction (a scene not all that bad, especially compared with all the other psychohillbilly scenes in various movies), I just think that the greatness of this scene, and this movie, is eclipsed by a lot of easy prejudice and stupid jokes.

The "dueling banjos" scene is a meeting of two different cultures, and in the four main protagonists you get a really good sense of their characters.

Burt Reynolds's character is full of bravado, forcefully macho.
Ned Beatty has contempt for anything different than himself.
Ronny Cox is enthusiastically engaged, only wanting to learn.
Finally, Jon Voight is sort of a blank slate (who later on the viewer is meant to identify with).

I love that this scene shows music bringing people together. During just the several minutes of the song, you see the suspicion between the cultures melt away. Burt Reynolds loses his macho scowl. Ned Beatty even manages to crack a smile. The quiet boy playing banjo starts laughing.

But, as soon as the song stops, everything snaps back. People are closed off, Ned Beatty says, "give the kid a couple bucks."

It's just a damned fine scene that gets soaked in parody maybe a bit too much.


Some Guy said...

In eighth grade my family had just gotten our first VCR. I was having my confirmation party and my dad and I went to the rental place to pick out a movie for my friends and I to watch later on. We were having trouble deciding when my dad suggested "Deliverance". I'd never heard of it, but said OK. Can you imagine having your older relatives walk past the room as the Ned Beatty sodomy scene is playing? Awkward.

Johnny Yen said...

It is a great movie, by the great director John Boorman (Excalibur, Point Blank). The beauty of the scenery is in stark contrast to the ugliness and brutality of the narrative.

I was just watching "Flags of Our Fathers," and realized I recognized the actor playing President Harry Truman. It was your own David Patrick Kelley! Nice to see him being allowed to branch out into a "non-psycho" role.

Of course, then again, Truman ordered the only two atomic attacks in history...

Joe said...

Very cool.

You're right about the difference between what the music represented in the scene you described, versus what it's come to mean in popular culture since.

Frank Sirmarco said...

I haven't seen this in ages, but it's easily Burt's best work.

I get freaked out when they find Ronny Cox's broken corpse on the way back home.


Splotchy said...

chris, yeesh! I would be giving my dad shit forever for that awkward situation you found yourself in.

jy, actually samuraifrog mentioned DPK had played Truman in that movie, but as of yet I haven't seen it.

All the former psychos are playing the straight roles these days. Brad Dourif was the lone voice of sane humanity in Deadwood, fer cryin' out loud.

bubs, thanks a lot.

frank, yeah, that's pretty shocking, especially with his arm all funky. Plus, the scene when they're laying him to rest in the water is pretty darn emotional, too.