Telling folks about their past, their cultural heritage, the artists who shaped how we think today, is usually the job of people like me. But writers and documentarians, no matter how hard we try to tell the whole story, are always doomed to tell only part of the tale. We decide what's most important (which describes what our job entails in a nutshell) and edit out the rest. Rarely do general audiences get to see the unfiltered stuff, the raw material out of which cultural history is made.
In 1976, Memphian William Eggleston was the subject of a blockbuster exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Until that time, color photography was not held in high esteem in academic and "serious" art circles. Eggleston's haunting, egalitarian photos of the Mid South changed that forever.
At the time, Eggleston had been seriously pursuing photography since the mid-1960s. While he was being feted in the highest circles for his ravishing prints, his interest had turned to video. Sony had just released a brand new video camera that taped to an open-reel deck. It was portable, but just barely. Eggleston got his hands on one and started obsessively shooting anything that was in front of him.
For years, the tapes lay dormant until they were assembled into a film called Stranded in Canton by director Robert Gordon. Today, even the press releases supporting the film refer to it as "infamous". This is not a work with a narrative arc. It is more like being a fly on the wall at a particularly strange time and place. Memphis attracts eccentrics, and Eggleston hung out with the best of them. And by "best" I mean "weirdest". Eggleston's friends included Furry Lewis, Alex Chilton, Tav Falco, and a host of other hard partying artists. The photographer catches them with their guard down—if, indeed they had guards to drop in the first place. Much has been written about that time in Memphis cultural history, but this film puts you in the room with the people who were making that history, warts and all. Imagine Salvador Dali's home movies, and you have the beginning of a sense of what Stranded in Canton is like
The film will screen tonight (Thursday, May 23rd) as part of the Crosstown Arts weekly film series. After the film, The Alex Chilton Revue Band featuring Ross Johnson and The Klitz will perform period-appropriate music at The Green Room. You can get tickets here at the Crosstown Arts website.