Is the setting of ‘Deliverance’ not important? Just ask mountain folks
by Phil Hudgins
My wife and I took a different route for vacation this summer. We went north. We drove all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then down to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. We had beautiful weather; folks were friendly and accommodating; the sights were breathtaking.
But don’t worry: I’m not going to write about our vacation. I want to talk about “Deliverance.”
While we were staying in Petoskey, Mich., Roemer McPhee was speaking at the library in nearby Harbor Springs. He is the author of “The Boomer’s Guide to Story: A Search for Insight in Literature and Film.” It took him four years to write 500 essays on 300 contemporary stories in films and novels. If you like stories — and their underlying messages — this book is worth your time.
I wondered what he had to say about “Deliverance” since that was one of the stories he was to discuss in Harbor Springs. So I bought the book and telephoned him.
You know the basic plot of “Deliverance,” a James Dickey novel made into a movie. It’s about four prosperous canoeists from the big city, obviously Atlanta, who travel to the North Georgia, obviously, to attack the Cahulawassee River, obviously the Chattooga. And it’s they who are attacked.
Many of us Southerners think the movie, filmed partially in Rabun County, unfairly and wrongly stereotypes mountain people.
But Roemer McPhee — whose uncle, by the way, is the famous writer John McPhee — said that “Deliverance” is not about North Georgia, and it’s not about mountain men. “It’s about four men under a terrible attack,” he said, “and it could have happened anywhere. … That story does not depend on the setting, but the setting is etched in everyone’s mind.”
It certainly is. In fact, the setting is etched to the core of Barbara Taylor Woodall’s mind. Woodall, a Rabun County native and author of “It’s Not My Mountain Anymore,” doesn’t see any redeeming qualities in the movie.
“It’s not just a movie when a culture is assaulted on the silver screen,” she told me. “Try that with a bunch of Muslims and see what happens to you. The New Georgia Encyclopedia calls the movie ‘the most degrading depiction of southern mountaineers ever put on film.’”
Moviemakers came to North Georgia looking for freaks for the movie, she said, and those images, 41 years later, still stick in the minds of disrespectful tourists who make derogatory remarks — and sometimes squeal like pigs — to some of the nicest, most hospitable people on earth — natives of the North Georgia mountains.
Roemer McPhee said that “Deliverance” is about what man does when he’s in a crisis. “It’s very unfortunate,” he said, “because the stigma is very real and very big, but that’s not the essence of the story. … The setting is a lot less important to the story than I think people realize.”
But it’s extremely important to people who live in that setting.
Just ask a native who’s heard the squeals.
— Phil Hudgins is senior editor of Community Newspapers Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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