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in Filmmaking
on Jan 23, 2007

After ten years of trying to get in on screen and months of controversy (Peter Bowen blogs about the latest hubbub) leading up to its Sundance premiere, Deborah Kempmeier’s southern tale Hounddog was unveiled last night.

I guess I should first get out of the way the infamous rape scene that everyone (even if they haven’t seen it yet) wants to talk about. The scene – though in the context of the movie is appalling – is quite tame. Created in the editing room with shots of Dakota Fanning’s face, reactions of the young boy Buddy (Cody Hanford) watching, and the grunting of the attacker, lasting at the most 20 seconds, the scene ends as quick and sudden as it begins. (People opposed to “the film they’ve never seen” will probably turn their efforts from the rape scene to opposing Fanning’s sexually charged performance as a whole once they see it.)

In the film Fanning plays Lewellen, a 12-year-old southern belle who teases boys with her kisses, suggestive words, and impersonations of Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” Hip shakes and all. But back home things aren’t well. Her abusive father (David Morse) is in and out of her life usually leaving his lovers to take care of her. The latest (Robin Wright Penn) one given the task is in fact Lewellen’s mother, though Lewellen doesn’t know it.

As the film progresses we see Lewellen doing chores for her religious grandmother (Piper Laurie) then running off with Buddy to go swimming and do more kissing. But when Buddy tells her that Elvis is coming to town and he can get them tickets that’s when things turn for the worse. When Lewellen shows up at the barn to get her ticket she finds Buddy there with the teenage milk man. Told she has to do her “Hound Dog” dance for the ticket she obliges, even when she’s told to do it naked. In a scene that’s created with the utmost respect by Kempmeier – in the middle of a lighting storm, flashes of light shows the teen in the corner watching Lewellen dance, then he wrestles her to the muddy ground, the weather at its peak blocking her screams. And when it’s over the skies open, breaking sunlight shines in the barn as Lewellen is the only one left there.

The film then loses steam as Lewellen struggles to regain her swagger, her father gets struck by lightening and the snakes appear (your guess is as good as mine). But what kept me interested throughout was Fanning’s unbelievable performance. Whether she’s singing Elvis, being the object of affection to all the neighborhood boys or struggling with her dysfunctional life she captivates the screen.

Unfortunately most will be interested in the film’s “controversy” before the talent put into it.

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