Lights … cameras … Greenwood

GREENWOOD — Film crews working on “The Help” this summer won’t be the first Hollywood crew to get a taste of some Greenwood-style Southern hospitality.

The nostalgia of Greenwood’s mostly unchanged architecture has attracted several film crews to the area. Greenwood resident Alan Hammons said that he has enjoyed watching film crews come through in years past.

“They like it here because it pretty much looks the way it did years ago,” Hammons said. “They don’t have to spend as much in making sets and props.”

Tate Taylor, director, writer and producer of the film said that they wanted to film “The Help” here, even if it’s not the most financially viable option.

“We are just so, so excited to be filming in Mississippi and especially Greenwood,” Taylor said. “When I got the rights (to the book) we knew that it was going to be really hard to get in Mississippi, because on paper it just doesn’t quite add up (financially) to film in Mississippi.”

Crews came down to Greenwood and shot preliminary scenes to present to the studio. Taylor said they did that so they could really sell the idea of using Greenwood. According to the Taylor, about 95 percent of the movie will be shot in Greenwood.

Greenwood has played host to several other creative teams who thought its Southern scenery would fit their film

In many instances Greenwood itself should be listed among the actors in credits — rarely is Greenwood or the surrounding area the setting of the films in which they are shot.

Carroll County and Greenwood stood in for Mississippi author William Faulkner’s mythical Yoknapatawpha County in the 1969 film version of “The Reivers.” That movie starred Steve McQueen.

“Home from the Hill,” shot in Greenwood in 1960, is about a powerful and wealthy citizen (Robert Mitchum) of a small Texas town. “The Help” takes place in Jackson. The 1992 feature “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag” is set in a Missouri town, despite being partially filmed in Greenwood.

In the 1976 television movie “Nightmare in Badham County,” Carrollton is presented as the fictional Badham County in which two UCLA students are arrested in a small Southern town and suffer the horrors of a women’s prison.

Movies filmed in Greenwood have also had a consistent tie to the law — breaking it or upholding it.

In “The Reivers,” 11-year-old Lucius (Mitch Vogel) comes of age in turn-of-the century Mississippi after he and Boon (McQueen) steal Lucius’ grandfather’s car (the first car in the county) for a trip to Memphis. Along the way, Lucius learns the ways of a reiver — stealing, lying, cheating, womanizing, brawling and gambling.

“Ghosts of Mississippi” is about the 1994 trial of former Greenwood resident Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. “The Chamber,” filmed in Greenwood, is about a young lawyer trying to come to terms with a grandfather who had committed violent acts as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

While many of the films shot in Greenwood have featured a depiction of a lawless — and, at times, frightening — Deep South, others have used the city as backdrop for wrestling with complex social issues.

“Mississippi Measlier,” starring Denial Washington grappled with the issue of interracial relations between an Ugandan Indian woman and a Mississippi black man in Greenwood. The story of how the families work through the situation presents a unique view on race relations in the United States and other areas.

“Ode to Billy Joe” attempts to answer questions left in the wake of the rather vague 1967 hit song by Bobbie Gentry of the same name. In the film, a young man struggling with mixed feelings of love, homosexuality and taboos, kills himself by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

The Sundance Film Festival award-winning “Ballast” was shot in several Delta towns, including Tchula and Greenwood. The film examines the complex effect of suicide on those the deceased leave behind.

The characters of the Greenwood blues scene have also made their way onto the silver screen.

Robert Johnson, famously regarded by many as the “father of the blues,” is a focal point in Greenwood. The short film “Stop Breakin’ Down” is about the singer’s legendary deal with the devil down at the crossroads. “The Search for Robert Johnson” was a BBC documentary that tries to chase down the many legends surrounding Johnson.

Here are some of the films shot in the Greenwood area:

— “Home from the Hill” (1960)

— “The Reivers” (1969)

— “Ode to Billy Joe” (1976)

— “Nightmare in Badham County” (1976)

— “Mississippi Masala” (1991)

— “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag” (1992)

— “The Search for Robert Johnson” (1992)

— “Ghosts of Mississippi “(1996)

— “The Chamber” (1996)

— “Stop Breakin’ Down” (1999)

— “Ballast” (2008)

— “When Cotton Blossoms” (2009)


Taylor Kuykendall/Greenwood Commonwealth