Kansas is 150 tomorrow. Yeah, well, the Civil War is 150 years old this year, too, but let's get straight what is important. 150 years ago, on January 29th, Kansas came into the United States as a Free State, after seven years of instability and attacks from across the border in Missouri, a slave state.
Kansas gets hit with snide remarks on this blog regularly, some of them deserved (some not, of course -- not all Kansans are named Phelps, or even Vern Miller, who raided an Amtrak train as it went through Kansas in the 1970s because it was selling alcohol). But Kansas has a long history of a presence in the movies, and that is the subject of our excursion this evening.
Friday Night at the Movies is a group diary, posted on Friday nights for your entertainment. Tonight's diary is by annetteboardman.
Of course when you go east to college and people ask you where you are from, and you say Kansas, no one can ever resist the snide remarks. No, not the What's the Matter with Kansas? question, but "I don't think we're in Kansas any more." Sigh.
As you can see, after a while it gets old...
This was not the first film that was rather loosely based on the Frank L. Baum book. It is quite understandably beloved. I used to play the script through over and over and over again with my friends Paul and Emily when we were little. But it was not the first, or the second, or even the third version. The reviews of the various versions from contributors on IMDB are really entertaining.
But what everyone seems to forget is that the whole point of the film is that Dorothy WANTS to be in Kansas. And who wouldn't? It is a wonderful state. With beautiful wheat fields, friendly people, and ... oh...
I grew up with my mother trying to explain the Clutter murder to me. I am not completely sure why she found it so fascinating and disturbing. Perhaps because it was so pointless. But the movie trailer captures the approach they took to the movie, and I think it is one of the creepiest trailers I have ever seen. The idea that they filmed in the house where the murders takes place really disturbs me.
So here we have the two extremes of Kansas films -- the fantasy (represented by the short clip of the Wizard of Oz) and the hyper-reality of In Cold Blood. The two could be argued to have been combined in that fine classic horror film, Critters, set in a small Kansas town.
Probably a more reasonable depiction of small town Kansas, although horrible in its own way, is the film of William Inge's play
Picnic. Kim Novak, William Holden, Cliff Robertson, and Rosalind Russell all star in a depiction of unhappy people rather adrift in their lives, trying to get out. Inge won the Pulitzer for the play the film was based on.
Inge, who was born and educated in Kansas, also wrote several other plays and films, including Splendor in the Grass, for which he won an Oscar for screenwriting. It is another beautiful film, starring a luminous Natalie Wood (who is cast properly in this film) and Warren Beatty in his first movie. He is a revelation. I can't find any clips that sum it up, so I would just recommend you borrow it from your local library (or through any of a hundred other places to get it) and watch it.
We will end this brief tour through Kansas in film with the place we began, with Bleeding Kansas and Ride with the Devil about the Missouri raiders who set fire to Lawrence, Kansas, the free state capitol. I come from Lawrence, and the victims of William Quantrill are buried in a grave in the Pioneer Cemetery on a hill facing west on the ground of the University of Kansas. The scars left by the raiders are still prominent in the history of the town. When Ang Lee filmed this movie, he hired a linguist at KU to work as a dialect coach with the actors (Toby McGuire is the most prominent of them) to make sure they spoke the way they would have done in the 1850s.
Now, tell me honestly... If you don't live in New York (I will grant that Woody Allen memorializes the city very well), is your state as fine on film as mine? Happy Kansas Day, everyone!