FIELD NOTES: WHAT WE ECHO::Animating in Mississippi: Danny Madden and Benjamin Wiessner
Travel often makes me aware of the many roles that I continually fulfill without realizing them. There are moments in any successful trip that cause the traveler to come face to face with his/her own intentions, hopefully causing the traveler to recognize them, name them, and understand them. For the last couple of months I have been driving (a beautiful, silver 2001 Toyota Echo) across the south working on a couple of new film projects with my collaborative traveling partner, Danny Madden. Our trip has already brought us to many different places and realizations. The images supplied are from Danny’s moleskin.
A week or so into the trip we found ourselves grocery shopping in Picayune, Mississippi. We were staying at a farm two exits north in the small town of McNeill. We picked up a fish pole, a lot of beans, eggs and tortillas, and a DVD of Deliverance from the $5 bin.
Watching Deliverance in an empty farmhouse in Mississippi caused me to relate to the film in a new manner, closer. James Dickey’s book is one of all-time my favorites. However, my experience with the story has always revolved around the cultural criticism within it, old south vs. new south, suburb vs. wilderness, et cetera. This was the first time the narrative forced me to wonder what was mine to experience—and what the hell I was doing…
The next morning, we met Cody, the young man taking care of the farm we were staying at. The rapport was built over burgers and sweet tea at the gas station general store diner, Doo-Wah-Diddy. Before lunch was over the invitation was repeatedly extended: we had to go to his farm, we had to see his bulls buck. Danny and I were immediately excited about meeting Cody, as well as the opportunities for new, unforeseen experiences to be had. We did our best to have all of them. We ended up watching his bulls buck that Friday evening. He was training the bulls, but Cody was also training young cowboys how to hold on—and more importantly, as we discovered, when to let go. We watched him dance against the shoulder of a bull going for a fallen rider, watched as he turned the bull and danced inside the spin, behind the horns. Afterwards, Evan Williams and Mountain Dew got involved as we sat against the back of his pick-up truck. And when he asked if we want to shoot guns, we said “yup” and fired them in steady bursts straight into the pond. We hi-5ed and hell-yeahed—”Mississippi!” That night we went to the high school state championship for rodeo, and our guide walked around like the mayor, constantly greeting and being greeted.
We sat down right where the bulls came out of the shoot. Many of the riders came and talked to Cody before and after their rides and falls. Suddenly, it struck me that as much as we are trying to have our own authentic experiences we were sitting on the fence at the bullring straddling that while we were consuming the authentic experiences of our hosts (it struck me that even parasites have hosts). No matter what we did or talked about with Cody, we could only have a mitigated sense of this experience. We couldn’t learn what it meant or how it felt; we could simply record what it looked like. The biggest difference, walking around Cody was having conversations and building relationships that would last. Every day we were there we saw him working hard and investing in the community and the land that he wanted to be a part of for the rest of his life. And all that time, we knew we’d be leaving, we knew New Orleans was just an hour south, and we could be there in no time.
Danny Madden is a filmmaker. He is also well known for his willingness to eat most anything inside a tortilla. He has been keeping track of his journeys in drawing notebooks for the last five years. He naps in the car, in the sun.
Benjamin Wiessner (text) is a Founding Editor here at Exit Strata, with a focus on Poetry. Additionally, he works with Danny and the rest of the crew at ornana.