Making Being A Joines
We began work on Being a Joines in 1975. It was to be one of two fifteen-minute documentaries funded with a $15,000 grant from the Media Program of the National Endowment for the Arts. The subject of the other film was Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson, a black medicine-show entertainer from South Carolina. Once we began filming, we saw that both films needed a more complex treatment than we had first imagined. We decided to use the balance of the Media Program grant to finish the simpler film, the one on Mr. Jackson. We completed this film Born for Hard Luck in 1976. We then began work again on Being a Joines with a $28,000 grant from the Folk Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts and small grants from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, the Hillsdale Fund, and the John Wesley and Anna Hodgin Hanes Foundation.
As originally conceived, Being a Joines was to focus on Mr. Joines's performances of tall tales and comic anecdotes. It would document the qualities that vanish when a tale performance is set down in print: tone of voice, mimicry, pacing, gestures, facial expressions, and interplay with the audience. The folklorists in the project knew a good deal about this part of Mr. Joines's repertory from student papers and from hearing him tell stories on tape and in person. Joyce Joines Newman's master's thesis on his comic anecdotes was already underway.
During the first filming session in Wilkes County in 1975, Tom Davenport and Allen Tullos saw that the film could not be made as it had first been envisioned. The world in which the backwoods tales thrived is gone from the North Carolina mountains, and the Joineses' religious commitments had ended many of their earlier activities. Since Mr. Joines no longer participated in gatherings in which men spontaneously told tall tales, Tom Davenport felt that a sound recording might be the best medium for this repertory. We ended by evoking the earlier world in the first section of the film through interviews, historical photographs, and a session in which Mr. Joines tells tales to some of his children and their friends.
Eventually, after some frustration, second thoughts, and casting about, we found a more complicated story emerging. Davenport had from the first been unwilling to make a film that would interest only specialists. He wanted the documentary also to entertain a wider audience and felt that to do this the film had to tell its own story, and a compelling one. In viewing the raw footage he immediately seized upon the scene where Frail shows his scars as the inevitable opening for the film. And after this scene, it would have been impossible, he felt, for the rest of the film not to focus on Mr. Joines's life. For him the fact that Mr. Joines is a master storyteller became peripheral to the interest of the man's life. He began to focus more on the personal narrative. In his artistic structure, even the sections of the film that derived from the original filming session (Frail telling tall tales and anecdotes to the group under the trees, for example) supported this dramatic function. It showed the young Frail Joines and the culture he excelled in. In the film this culture and his youth are destroyed by the Second World War. Although Frail Joines continued after the war to hunt coons and to tell humorous anecdotes about his community, the film shows no more about this side of his life. The dramatic concern of the film becomes how to resolve the conflicts generated by the war and the social and personal changes. Mrs. Joines came inevitably to take her place in the film not simply as a foil to Frail, but as a person in her own right. The film ends with Mr. and Mrs. Joines reminiscing about their wedding. Their love has healed the scars of their early lives, and the religious experience that they share resolves the difficulties that had come into their lives. The film had become more about a marriage than about two individuals.
This was an ending dictated by the story line of the film, an aesthetic choice. Yet, although working from two different directions, the filmmaker and the folklorists arrived at a common center. For the story of the Joineses' lives provided the context that gave their narratives meaning. And the tales themselves gave the story line richness of implication and density of texture. To measure its strengths, viewers might ask themselves how successfully the film resists popular depictions of Southern mountain people. The figures in this film are neither Granny and Jed Clampett, the Waltons, the Dukes of Hazzard, nor the characters in Harlan County, USA.
We worked on this project over a period of five years. The earliest footage includes the tall tales, the pre-war anecdotes, the plowing and surveying scenes, and the church service, all filmed in 1975. The rest of the footage was shot during 1979. Tom Davenport did all of the photography and Allen Tullos most of the sound work. We received additional location help from Jim Wise and Jerry Joines, who took sound during the first trip, and from Laurel Horton, who helped as camera assistant. But mostly Allen and Tom worked alone. Altogether they made five trips to film, each trip lasting about five or six days.
Because this work extended over a period of years, Mr. Joines got used to working with the camera. But he was already a seasoned performer. If the film ran out and he was asked to repeat a story, the second version would be even livelier than the first. For Mrs. Joines the experience was more trying. She did not want her husband presented simply as a "funny man." While she felt that to be serious the film had to carry the spiritual message, she felt some reluctance about submitting her most profound experiences to possible ridicule. The accidental erasure of one church-service tape gave her and Mr. Joines reassurance that God's hand ruled in the project.
The film took over a year to edit, working part time. Most of the editorial work was done in Tom Davenport's studio in Virginia. For long weekends Dan Patterson, Allen Tullos, and later Jim Peacock, Carol Sivalia and Joyce Newman (the Joineses' two daughters) would come for intensive viewing and editing sessions. In addition to offering reactions to purely aesthetic decisions, they tried to see that the film included the footage richest in folkloric and cultural implications. Allen contributed importantly to the broadening of the film. The project rested on Joyce's research into the tales and the Charismatic movement in Wilkes County (along with Jim Wise's study of the Sons of God), and benefited from her perceptions as an insider. Dan helped to raise funds and keep the kingdom peaceable. When the film was close to being finished, Mr. and Mrs. Joines, their son Jerry and his wife Carolyn, and Joyce Newman came to review the final cut. On the whole everyone was pleased and wanted to see it again. The family asked for one or two small deletions to make the film more accurate. Otherwise the film remained unchanged.
Making Being a Joines was a much more intense and personally involving experience than working on Born for Hard Luck. There was a racial and social barrier in that film that we never surmounted. Peg Leg Sam was a consummate entertainer and veiled most of himself under his persona as a showman. But both Mr. and Mrs. Joines opened their personal feelings to us. We were always concerned that we do nothing to damage that trust.
It was a long road to that final edit, one that Tom Davenport confesses he often wished he were not on, because it looked so endless. The film appears perfectly simple now, but it resisted us for a long time. It was finished with a patient collaboration between folklorist, filmmaker, and the Joines family. The first screening took place in Chapel Hill on October 6, 1980, as a happy reunion for them all.
This essay is adapted from the pamphlet "Being A Joines: A Life in the Brushy Mountains" written by Daniel Patterson, Joyce Joines Newman, Allen E. Tullos, and Tom Davenport, and published in 1981 by the Curriculum in Folklore of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Adapted and revised in 2004.