RONNY COX, as told to Barbara Bowers
OUT OF PRINT; various prices
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew is a collection of stories of the making of the iconic movie Deliverance, told from the perspective of one of the four main actors in the film, Ronny Cox, who played the character of Drew.
Based on the novel by James Dickey, the movie was filmed in the summer of 1971 and was released the following year in 1972. Forty years later, it remains one of the most recognized films in movie history for being raw, emotional, violent and shocking - yet it leaves a lasting impression of artistic excellence. It is one of those films that have somehow managed to remain timeless. Ronny was just a struggling stage actor when he was cast in the film. He has since gone on to appear in over one hundred and forty-five movie and television productions, and has had a very successful career as a folk musician, playing in venues all over the country. He also happens to be one of the world's great storytellers, and this book follows his journey from a struggling unknown to a leap through the doors of Hollywood stardom.
The stories are told with both humor and honesty, with perspectives on the artistic details that most movie-goers really never take into account. There are great anecdotes about his fellow actors: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty. There is a look inside the brilliant vision of director John Boorman and how the presence of author James Dickey created friction on the set. There are harrowing tales of how each actor nearly lost his life during the filming of the movie, and the facts about how everything was accomplished with no stunt men. There are many myths that surrounded the movie when it was released and many of those myths persist today.
In putting together this collection of stories, Ronny Cox tells the "real" stories and puts those myths to rest. It is a fascinating look at what went into making a film that was named to the Library of Congress National Film Registry Film Preservation List in 2008 as a film that is "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant, to be preserved for all time. It was selected as a work of enduring significance to American culture. In Ronny Cox's own words, he shares the wonder, the hardships, the laughter, the brotherhood, and the magic that brought to life the great novel written by James Dickey.
I RECEIVED A DRC OF THIS BOOK VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU.
My Review: This is the oldest DRC I possess. How old is that, you ask? It was sent to me when this book was brand new, and film was 40 (forty) years old; and it is 50 (fifty) years old now, filming as it did in 1971.
Ten years. Great goddesses below us. My old notebook says I posted my review on LibraryThing...can't find it, though...so here we go again!
IMPORTANT NOTE: THIS BOOK PRESUMES YOU'VE SEEN THE FILM DELIVERANCE AND SO DO I
Ronny Cox, aka "Drew" from this film or "Captain Jellico" from Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Chain of Command" sixth-season two-part episode, was a struggling actor with a theater resume as long as a rap sheet when John Boorman, still a small-time film director from England, met him and immediately cast him as Drew in the film.
What a break for the struggling actor married to a post-doc chemist with two kids to support! And to be in such a loud project...Deliverance was splashy, famous poet writes novel!...reviews in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Nation...well, my god, what more could a first-time movie actor want? Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, up and coming movie stars, as cast mates? Done. An old actor-friend as the fourth cast mate? Insert Ned Beatty! (Sorry, a bit on-the-nose, that metaphor.)
James Dickey's books as a poet of renown had bigged him up publicly...a Guggenheim Fellow, a National Book Award for Poetry, and a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress...what we've called "United States Poet Laureate" since 1985. Just listen to Ronny describe the first time he's seen the man:
Jim was a big mountain of a man, well over 200 pounds, big and hulking, and spoke with a really redolent Southern accent. And so, there he was up in front of the room holding forth. He was reading his poetry and he was so into this one poem. It was mesmerizing to hear him read the poem, and I'll never forget—he got to this one place and he read this line of poetry and he stopped and he looked up and he said, "GODDAMN, that's a good line!", and I was blown away.That, you can almost hear from there and then, is one BIG personality. So big, in fact, he was taking up too much space in Director Boorman's film set, especially with Dickey's favorite actor Ronny. So a terribly embarrassing "please leave" scene played out that Ronny really delves into.
Here, then, is raconteur Ronny Cox's strongest point: Telling you, decades later, how what happened made him, and others, feel and what they said to hide or cover or point it up. Yes, it's his version. He stipulates that to Barbara Bowers, the editor who made this book what it is. He even names Christopher Dickey, the Great Man's Son, as someone whose own book, a memoir, presents...let's be Trumpian and call them "alternative facts." He's sure he's got his reasons, says Ronny, for saying what he does. That isn't what someone who was in the room would've seen, Ronny reminds us.
This isn't a long book. This is a deep book about the film Deliverance and how it got made, who did what, and why it mattered to audiences in 1972 theaters. I was one of those ticket-buyers. There's a shocking rape scene in this film. It is viscerally awful and completely honest for the first time I know anything about, forty-nine years later, concerning the vile crime of rape. More powerfully so, for that day and time, by making the raped party a man.
Did nothing for the advancement of gay rights, and sadly perpetuated many harmful and hurtful stereotypes about the South, but what it *should* have done is sparked a million public and private conversations about the victimization, the humiliation, the utter lack of compassionate care for its survivors.
I look around me and wonder if #MeToo is enough, can dent a rape culture that survived this horrible, brutal, completely honest rape scene.
Back to the book. I rocked along at a happy clip, ending the read with smiles, and appreciating the well-chosen but not numerous photos illustrating key moments Ronny is remembering in those sections. In about two hours, I felt I'd been given a private audience with someone whose impact on my visual and aesthetic life was significant. I am so delighted that three of the four leads in this film are still with us, as is John Boorman, and I surely hope someone has some Golden Anniversary hoopla planned COVID or no.
I want to leave you with a glimpse into Ronny Cox, Performer Extraordinaire for almost sixty years, as he ruminates on the reason people still care about Deliverance...it's the same reason he does:
Deliverance is one of the few novels that has been made into a film that I like both the novel and the film. For me, at least, if I like the book, then I normally hate the film. Or vice versa. The reason I liked both the book and the film of Deliverance is even though they are both telling exactly the same story, they are telling it in two completely different ways.