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Charles B. Pierce - A Legacy Remembered in "The Art of the Possible" by Daniel Kremer

Check out this terrific article from Filmmaker about Charles B. Pierce - motion picture director, producer and actor. Charlie was indeed a trailblazer, artist, entrepreneur and more. I remember him bringing a print of the John Ford film, "The Searchers," to Jaime's studio, near Warner Brothers in Burbank, for the team to view so that they would understand his inspiration for his film, "Grayeagle," as discussed in this article. Charlie was one of the most successful indie-filmmakers both regionally and nationally, influencing a generation to follow and playing a significant role in Jaime's career.

Excerpt from "The Art of the Possible: Charles B. Pierce’s Arkansas Cinema" by Daniel Kremer in Filmmaking on Apr 17, 2017


Remembering her filmmaker father Charles B. Pierce, Dallas designer Amanda Squitiero first mentions the place he called home. “Arkansas claims him and he claimed Arkansas,” she says, having recently marked the seventh anniversary of his passing.

Charles B. Pierce publicity shot, courtesy of the Charles B. Pierce Estate

Emerging regional filmmakers now see more opportunity than ever to achieve the most ambitious of visions on skid-row budgets. Before the digital revolution, one might strain to remember a time when independent cinema could exist outside of the New York and Hollywood ecosystems. In this regard, Pierce realized cinema as the art of the possible, which could exist and even thrive in a place like Arkansas. In that routinely undervalued zone between New York and L.A. – that vast expanse often pejoratively referred to as “flyover America” – Pierce directed thirteen feature films, the majority independently financed.

Today, Pierce is perhaps best known for writing the famous Dirty Harry line, “Go ahead, make my day” (based on his own father’s catchphrase) for Sudden Impact (1983). As a writer-director, he is regarded by some as an anonymous purveyor of schlock and innocuous family Westerns. It is oh-so-easy, however, to argue otherwise. His output gains respect and admiration with each passing year as more of his titles hit the video market. But cinephiles and film scholars are tragically quick to forget or write off Pierce as a trailblazer or icon of any stripe, despite his making independent film history with The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), a $25 million golden goose produced on a $160,000 budget. Adjusted for 2017 inflation, that’s a $145 million gross.

Educated cultists of the era branded him the George Romero of the South, but that’s disingenuous in many ways. Pierce’s most personal films reference canonical American motion picture classics with a surprising and unusual level of reverence and visual sophistication (evidenced especially in his early Westerns). Winterhawk (1975) and Grayeagle (1977), his two meditations on The Searchers (1956), both fit within the contours of the panoramic John Ford Westerns that open the American frontier epic to themes of tradition, family, chivalry, spirituality and rugged individualism.

Pierce’s flair for CinemaScope landscapes recalls both Ford’s and Anthony Mann’s in terms of sheer scale and depth. Background history is often literally framed through a foregrounded intimacy. While Ford’s sensibility is informed by his Irish-Catholic upbringing, Pierce’s equally humane sensibility flows mightily from his Arkansas Baptist heritage. “Amazing Grace” appears in many of Pierce’s pictures as a key directorial trademark.

In the prime of his career, Pierce directed many alumni of the classic Ford pictures he cherished, including Slim Pickens, Jack Elam, Ben Johnson, Paul Fix, Jeanette Nolan, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle, “Iron Eyes” Cody, Leif Erickson, and Elisha Cook Jr. In The Searchers, Lana Wood played the ten-year-old incarnation of Natalie Wood’s character; in Grayeagle, she essentially plays the Natalie Wood surrogate. Beyond these casting coups, there was a pertinent souvenir that Pierce most prized: a personal letter from John Wayne, applauding him for his efforts in keeping the Western genre alive. Pierce also prized the grandeur of the big screen; as Squitiero recalls, “You couldn’t have given him a big enough canvas, or a wide enough one.” Indeed, this is a rare proclivity for an independent of his era, and perhaps any era....


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