Not many films have been made in the corner of America I grew up in. But one very talented man, Gordon Parks, was born and raised not half an hour from my hometown, and 40-some years later returned to make a film there. My mother, in her capacity as a news reporter, covered a couple of events at the Gordon Parks Museum, and was even able to meet him. On at least one of these trips, my father went along, and spoke to Parks; reputedly, he said that, although he liked Shaft, he preferred The Learning Tree.
That makes sense, since The Learning Tree was based on his novel, which in turn was based on his youth in southeast Kansas. I had known about both for some years–in fact, on one of my mother’s trips to the museum, I went along, and saw Kyle Johnson–the star of the film, playing Parks’ surrogate–talk about his memories of the film. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall any specifics.) We also saw a clip of the film, covering the opening scenes where the teenage protagonist, caught in a storm, finds himself taking shelter with Big Mabel (Carol Lamond). I was informed that she seduces Newt in this scene; I think, because the clip was pan-and-scan (the original film being shot in ‘Scope), it was hard to tell what was happening…and the gauzy, stylized approach to the sequence didn’t help.
Anyway, a decade or so later, I finally sat down to see the whole thing.