Main cast: Dan Montgomery Jr (Griffith Joseph Barnes), Walton Goggins (Lee Todd), Aleksa Palladino (Emily Whaley), and Karen Black (Aunt Summer)
Director: Tag Purvis
Spoiler warning! Spoiler warning! Spoiler warning!
Red Dirt is an independent film that came out in 2000. Written and directed by Tag Purvis, don’t you love that name?
The location is set somewhere in the deep sweaty South, the movie says Pineapple, Mississippi but if you were to watch the trailer that comes on the DVD it states the location is Louisiana, Southern Louisiana that is. Probably where they filmed it. Whatever the location is, it is hard to miss the over the top attempt to portray all the sweltering Southern Gothic pastoral decadence with lots and lots of low hanging participles thick as the Spanish moss. Where cousins are more than just kissing and deep, dark family secrets are just another way of keeping yourself entertained.
There is quite a bit of lovely cinematography in Red Dirt, which begins with our first glimpse of one of several nude shots of Griffith and Emily together humping away under a gnarled tree by a pond with bright green lily pads. Then lush beautiful shots of the rain falling down on some more lily pads in that lovingly photographed pond.
There is a great scene later on of Lee spontaneously taking a wonderfully choreographed nude shower in front of an obviously turned on and yet extremely uncomfortable Griffith, followed by a scene of Griffith and Emily making love under a tree; the way Griffith’s foot slips in and out of his khaki pants-leg in rhythm, the wet pulled-up wilted dingy white skirt Emily wears… this is pure soft porn, taken to a cinematic peak that Herb Ritts himself would have found very much a turn-on!
The Trouble with Paradise or Pineapple
Unfortunately the trouble in the movie starts to wear on you as the actors consistently speak in a ridiculous, abominable, Southern almost aristocratic accent pondering about life and its mysteries like some dime store, coffee house philosophers. These accents are so bad that even after reading on the back of the DVD that Karen Black’s character is named Aunt Summer I still swear to God they are calling her “Selma”.
The movie takes far too long to start; it was at least 20 minutes before Lee shows up to start the pot boiling and the rest of the ingredients just hang around waiting till then. Even though there is dialogue, there are rarely any interactive conversations in this movie. Almost every scene is some freakishly choreographed monologue. The characters just take turns speaking. The dialog is at best disjointed, disconnected, and unrelated. Nobody seems to be listening to anyone else, much less reacting to what is being said.
Every character we meet seems to spend half the time:
- Wondering what they’re doing there.
- Making plans to leave.
- Wishing they had left a long time ago.
- Trying to convince someone else to leave with them.
Which was pretty much what I thinking about a half hour into watching this damn film.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Karen Black was obviously channeling Blanche DuBois. I swear she had Aunt Summer flapping her arms and swooning about with hysterical theatrics expressing entirely too much melodrama every other scene or maybe I’ve just been watching too many Tennessee Williams plays. But… I love Karen.
I kept waiting for lightning to strike, with some sort of moment of revelation to take place. There is no real pain, no great heartbreak. Just people rambling about, doing whatever it is they are doing. Secrets are revealed; anyone who didn’t figure out that big nasty family secret in the first five minutes was probably so bored they weren’t paying attention. but they don’t really change anything, people confess their love to each other out of nowhere and it’s all about as meaningful and exciting as the Mississippi mud. You get the feeling that something went very wrong in the editing booth and we’re left with the dullest moments in these characters’ lives, like the best scenes had been accidentally left on the cutting room floor.
The Good and Bad
There is an instant rapport between these manly southern hunks, Lee and Griffith, and cousin Emily does say somewhere in the movie that they sure spend an awful lot of time together, yes siree bob, working on the cottage and obviously doing more than that. But… we however don’t get to see very many scenes of their evolving friendship. At least not enough to give us a good idea what is taking place in the hearts and minds of the two men, contrary to the big picture on the cover of the DVD. Is Lee gay to begin with or just open minded? How does Griffith really feel about that half grown beard Lee always has? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know.
One of the big problems with this film is the lack of relevant scenes about this great change (Griffith’s realization he might be gay) taking place in the main character as the camera instead decides to focus on Emily’s and Aunt Summer’s growing relationship. It seems that the director is as afraid of exploring blossoming homosexuality as Griffith is, instead we get a few glimpses of the two guys getting to know each other, ogling each other while exhibiting various states of undress, and then suddenly planning on leaving together. Sorry Purvis, leavin’ does begin with an L but it is not lovin’, maybe I’m just old fashioned that way.
It would have been nice to have seen more scenes about their growing friendship and how it turns into the big romance we suddenly have at the end of the movie. It is just too bad because there is a lot of meat in the ideas surrounding the story and more than enough acting capability between the two actors, not to mention they are hot, to have pulled it off had Tag Purvis decided to take the chance and actually focused on the gay love story and not the various ill-conceived Tennessee Williams-esque sub-plots.
So in the end Lee leaves town, Emily leaves town and Griffith is still there, now alone with “Selma”, well whoever the old bat is. As I said before, just people rambling about doing whatever it is they are doing. Lee returns briefly, as he cannot leave without saying how sorry he was for his assumptions about Griffith’s sexuality. There is a scene of the two men looking longingly at each other (over, get this, Griffith’s mothers grave stone), and saying how sorry they were to fight. More blah, blah, blah, they get closer together and finally a single kiss.
All this longing, all this pent-up, southern affected, potboiler, emotion between these two brawny men and all we get is a peck on the mouth! Not even-opened-mouth! With all the naked virile emotion we have seen in this flick, all the humping sweaty heterosexually entwined bodies in this movie, and their lips are finally touching, and Tag Purvis is reluctant to show us the two men rolling under that tree by the pond nude?!
I’m sorry but, if you have two men, gay or straight, acting like real honest to god gay men, then the director and actors should have enough guts to make it at least look as though they really mean it. “Finish that L! Finish that god damned L!”
My final recommendation, pick Red Dirt up if you might be interested in seeing the pretty pictures and/or the actors, they are both gorgeous. I also thought the ideas expressed in the story about the growing realization of being gay and the consequences of that realization for the characters had interest. Be prepared though to be totally frustrated by the fact that, for a beautifully shot gay film, there is not much gay there.