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Beau Jennings and Bradley Beesley film a scene for The Verdigris at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Santa Monica, California.
Photo by LILY WALKER
A pair of in-progress Oklahoma film projects examine the history of two of the state’s most enduring musical icons.
By RYAN LaCROIX
Published January/February 2012
The old saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder” could be a mantra for displaced Oklahomans. Two Oklahoma expatriates are currently paying homage to their home state with upcoming film projects.
As director of Raisin’ Cain: A History of Cain’s Ballroom, Claremore native Tate Wittenberg has connected with musicians like Elvis Costello, Wanda Jackson, and Tommy Allsup to find out what makes Cain’s Ballroom so unique.
In the 1930s and ’40s, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys made Cain’s a musical hub with their daytime radio shows.
“You could be walking through any neighborhood in Tulsa around noon back in the day, and it would be like a stereo around the whole city,” Wittenberg says. “Everyone would have their radios tuned in to Bob Wills’ show.”
Now a Los Angeles resident, Wittenberg wants the film, set for release in late 2012, to emphasize Cain’s cultural significance.
Raisin’ Cain tells some of the storied venue’s many tales: Bootleggers once operated outside Cain’s during Texas Playboys’ shows of the Prohibition era; notorious punk band the Sex Pistols played their penultimate show at Cain’s; and through nine decades of operation, legendary acts such as Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, U2, and the Police have performed on its stage.
“Cain’s could have been torn down or changed,” Wittenberg says. “It’s a place that deserves to have its story told.”
While Wittenberg is telling the story of an Oklahoma music venue, Austin-based songwriter Beau Jennings is making a documentary about his boyhood hero, Will Rogers. The Verdigris: In Search of Will Rogers traces Rogers’ life and his impact on those who came after him.
“It’s about exploring his influence on me,” Jennings says. “Why does he strike such a chord with me? What does that say about who inspires us today?”
Those questions led Jennings to begin an album in which he recorded original songs at locations that were significant in Rogers’ life. Filming the project seemed like a natural extension.
One song was recorded on a boat on Oologah Lake, the original location of Rogers’ birthplace. When the basin was dammed in 1974, the water rushed in from the Verdigris River, which connects Rogers’ hometown of Oologah to Jennings’ hometown of Inola.
Jennings says support from Oklahomans has been integral to his project. Moore native and Austin resident Bradley Beesley is director of photography. The film is set for release in late 2012.
“I’ve felt a lot of warmth and support for this project,” Jennings says. “Folks have been very supportive with financial assistance and a lot of general enthusiasm.”
Get There: Additional information on Raisin’ Cain is available at raisincainmovie.com. For more information on The Verdigris and Beau Jennings, visit beaujennings.com.