Huck in the muck
Excerpt from “The Adventures of a Hucklecheery Filmgoer”:
You don’t know about me without you have seen a movie by the name of Mud; but that ain’t no matter. That movie was made by Mr. Jeff Nichols, and he told a good tale, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is something. I never seen any filmmaker but stumble one time or another, without it was a guy named Mud, and the kid, and maybe Neckbone. Mud — the feller what who this yarn’s about is played by Matthew McConaughey, he is — and the kid, he’s Ellis, and his pal’s named’a Neckbone is all told about in this movie, which is mostly a true movie, with some stretchers, as I said before.
Now the way that the movie unfolds is this: Ellis and Neckbone find this here fella named Mud hid up on an island in the lower mis-sip, and its witness made us rich. It was quite a sight of film when it was piled up. Well, Judge critic he look upon it and hear-tell his interest, and fetched us a couple of dollars apiece the day we spied it — and it provided more than a body could tell what to do with. Mud took Ellis and Neckbone for his sons, and allowed they would sivilize him; but it was rough living on the island all the time, considering how dismal rugged and scruffy Mud was in all his ways; and so when Ellis and Neckbone couldn’t stand it no longer they lit out. They got into their old rags and their powered skiff, and was free and satisfied. But Mud he hunted them up and said he was fleein’ a band of killers, and they might join if they would go back to their kin and help fetch him some supplies and be responsible. So they went back.
But, I’s gettin’ a-head of it. It seems this adven’rous Ellis and his pal Neckbone snuk out in their motor-canoe before the rosters a-crowin’ early one morn from their shanty houseboats along one o-them channels in the mis-sip’ delta. They was fixin’ to go s’plorin’. Seems they hear about a broke-down boat nestled high up in the branches of a tree on that very island they come across Mud and they was aimin’ to claim it fer their own. Sure as you please, they come upon the island as the sun come up about two mile and a half upstream, heavily timbered and standing up out of the middle of the river, big and dark and solid, like an oasis without any siviliza’un. There arn’t any signs of people or any stirrin’s of any kind.
The current weren’t swift so they run their tin canoe into a deep dent in the shore. They go a-lookin’ for their treasure through the thicket and jumble of vines and logs and then they chance upon it. It were quite a sight — a full-on boat just a-resting upright like it was tied in a dock. It were up there about 5 Jim-heights when he gets to stretchin’ after a cold night on the river. Ellis and Neckbone scramble up that tree and rummage around in that boat eyein’ all sorts of possibilities for their newfound hideout. Only they ain’t alone. They find fresh vittles in bags and some girly magazines all pointin’ to someone claimin’ it as hissown.
They scamper down intent on high-tailin’ it from that island. But before they can heave off from shore, this Mud feller just come along out of nowhere, castin’ his fishin’ line into the muddy river from shore right there next to their boat. He looked quite a sight as if he have been roughin’ it on the island for many a day. The two kept their eyes on him steady sizin’ him up as friend or foe. They ain’t seen nothin’ like it; a full-grown man makin’ out like a river ruffian livin’ all footloose and fancy-free as if something right outta their own dreams of adulthood.
They get to jawbonin’, but Mud he don’t say much keeping things all tight and close and, well, muddy as the river he’s flickin’ his line in. He takes a good long smoke from his lit cig and went right on fishin’ while he stay just on the surface with his answers to their wonderings. They learn’t he’s fixin’ to take ownership of that tree-boat they found and that gets them riled, but seeing as how he is gentle yet firm, they end up on the short’nd of that switch.
After that all-together brief run-in, Ellis, he’s the one who kinda keeps to hisself, finds hisself entranced by Mud and his tall-tale about his lost love who goes by the name of Juniper and how he’s itchin’ to get back to being in her company. And how that tree-boat’s gonna help that schemin’. That young plucky Neckbone, he don’t warm up to Mud like his pal Ellis, he takes a gander to the shootin-iron peekin’ out of Mud’s soiled trousers and uses his wiles to get ole’Mud to promise — honest-injun-like — to surrender that handy-dandy pistol to Neckbone in x‘change for his help. And by that he’s figurin’ them boys could fetch him some grub and other assund’rees so that he can skedaddle from that hidin’ and parlay with his lady love.
Ellis and Neckbone hem-n-haw, but they can’t help ‘emselves — that Mud he’s nice to ‘em and gives ‘em attention and ‘spect and helps ‘em understand the world of elders. So, mornings, before daylight, they slip into junkyards and borro’ed some rope, pullies, tarpaper, strips of tin, or things of that kind. They was always thought it warn’t no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to help someone like Mud down on his luck, sometime; but their folks said it warn’t anything but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. But, they git this stash anyways — along with cans of beanie-weenie — to Mud for his needs. All the while, these two ruffians get demselves a heaping load of learnin’ about demselves and what it like to be all grow’d up.
I could keep flappin’ my gums goin’ on-n-on about all sorts of end’vors between Ellis, Neckbone, their kin-folk, Mud, Juniper, and some ner’do-wells out to do in poor ole’Mud and his taste for livin’. But then y’all’d get pretty tired. Then I remembered. I plum nearly forgot to pass right along how all these folks are so well-acted it’s as if you’d might reach out’n touch ‘em. I reckon I was gazin’ up at the screen for two hours, but I didn’t see anything untoward.
And durin’ them hours, me and ever’one else who plunked down their two-bits were expos’d to the rhythms of livin’ along the mis-sip. We watched as ever’day folks sold fish and talked, and took a risk now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting along with this big, still movie, sitting with our backs against our cushiony chairs lookin’ up at the stars on the screen, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed — only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had mighty good time as a general thing, and it linger’d in our memories — that night, and the next, and the next.
We said there warn’t no movie like a raft, after all, takin’ us places and to people we might want to visit. Other films do seem so cramped up and smothery, but this film’s like a raft and so don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on this raft of a film.
And so there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what trouble it is to make a film or to convey its feelin’ and flow I wouldn’t have tackled it, and ain’t a-going to any more. But I reckon I got to light out for films ahead, because my editor she’s going to ask me and publicize me, and I can stand it. I been here before.
Doug Young has won hisself awards for writin’ in the past. He works for Govner Hickenlooper.