Monday, March 8, 2010

Charles B. Pierce (1938 - 2010)

During the drive-in's heyday, many enterprising independent filmmakers could rely on the screens in the fields to showcase their works, thus bypassing the Hollywood machine entirely. Among the many regional movie makers who proliferated in the 1960s and 70s, one of the most interesting was director-producer Charles B. Pierce. Also, if one person's works deserves to be seen on a screen outdoors, than it would surely be his. Not only were his films drive-in staples, which spawned and capitalized on the regional horror or outdoor adventure markets of their day, but his movies gave a unique "you are there" feeling- so much did his work communicate the feel of the murky, uncivilized locations in his stories. It is rather fitting, then, that he had spent his first few years in Hollywood as a set decorator. Once he began directing his own movies, it was only natural that his work favoured atmosphere above all other ingredients.

His first work behind the camera, The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), was a huge success on rural drive-in screens, and became one of the most important independently-produced regional films, since it received good play even outside the Texarkana area in which it was produced. This film, based on the true story of the "Fouke Monster", a Sasquatch-typed creature that terrorized the Arkansas town which gave its namesake, had an interesting docu-drama approach, with voiceover, subtitles and many locals playing themselves, mixed with dramatic re-enactments, and was undoubtedly an influence on The Blair Witch Project over a quarter-century later. But in its own decade, it spawned the plethora of Bigfoot-themed films, which likewise blended documentary footage with staged sequences. In fact, Pierce's subsequent horror pictures, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and The Evictors, also had a documentary feel, which complimented their being "based on a true stories". But even so, Pierce's films had a disarmingly old-fashioned quality about them-- it is not surprising that he would also make outdoor western adventures such as Winterhawk or Sacred Ground, which would appeal to all family members. These films could rank beside the plethora of such G-rated outdoor family films of its day as The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. His low-key narratives and folksy approach made his films seem out of the time in which they were produced, and even when he hired such recognizable talent as Jack Elam or Ben Johnson, his work still felt un-Hollywood, with his feel for atmosphere and local colour that one wouldn't find in more mainstream product.

It is perhaps unsurprising that his feature filmmaking career began to wane in tandem with the drive-ins. Any ozoners still standing after the advent of home video would soon by absorbed by the Hollywood money machine that had no time or patience for the independent films that would travel the rural circuits, instead favouring generic product that would appeal to the broadest demographic. In the 1980's and beyond, Charles B. Pierce would continue to pay the bills as a set decorator for television, directing only sporadically. In the latter part of his career, one surprising credit is that his original story was the basis for the Clint Eastwood mega-hit Sudden Impact.

Charles B. Pierce was truly a pioneer of his generation. Upon hearing of his passing, we chose to elect Mr. Pierce as our "See You At The Drive-In" star of the month. Throughout the next week or two, we will be posting reviews of some of his key films. (Whenever a review is added to the blog, we will adding a hyperlink below in the corresponding title of his filmography.)

Drive-In Credits
Waco (1966) [Set Decorator]
An Eye for an Eye (1966) [Set Decorator]
The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) [Set Decorator]
80 Steps to Jonah (1969) [Set Decorator]
The Strawberry Statement (1970) [Set Decorator]
The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) [Set Decorator]
Dirty Dingus Magee (1970) [Set Decorator]
Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) [Set Decorator]
Skyjacked (1972) [Set Decorator]
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) [Director, Producer, Cinematographer]
Shadow of Fear (1973) [Set Decorator]
Coffy (1973) [Set Decorator]
Wicked, Wicked (1973) [Set Decorator]
Dillinger (1973) [Set Decorator]
Black Belt Jones (1974) [Set Decorator]
Our Time (1974) [Set Decorator]
Black Eye (1974) [Set Decorator]
Bootleggers (1974) [Director, Executive Producer, Story, Actor, Additional Photography]
Act of Vengeance (1974) [Set Decorator]
Hearts of the West (1975) [Set Decorator]
Winterhawk (1975) [Director, Producer, Writer]
The Winds of Autumn (1976) [Director, Producer, Actor]
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) [Set Decorator]
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1977) [Director, Producer, Actor]
Grayeagle (1977) [Director, Producer, Writer, Actor]
Casey's Shadow (1978) [Set Decorator]
The Cheap Detective (1978) [Set Decorator]
The Norseman (1978) [Director, Producer, Writer]
The Evictors (1979) [Director, Producer, Writer]
Carny (1980) [Set Decorator]
Sacred Ground (1983) [Director, Writer, Cinematographer]
Sudden Impact (1983) [Story]
The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II (1985) [Director, Producer, Writer, Actor]
The Aurora Encounter (1986) [Actor]
Hawken's Breed (1987) [Director, Producer, Writer, Actor, Voice]
Chasing the Wind (1998) [Director]