Hounddog Movie Review
Above - View the Premiere for the movie 'Hounddog' - Includes New York Post report, comments from viewers and cast including Dakota Fanning.
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A provocative Southern tale set in rural Alabama in the late 1950s, Hounddog is the story of a spirited young girl Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) and her struggle to rise above the repression that surrounds her.
Lewellen lives with her stern religious zealot grandmother, Grammie (Piper Laurie), but spends most of her time down the hill with her much-adored Daddy (David Morse) in his falling down shack. Daddy is wild and rough and frequently brings home a beautiful but troubled woman (Robin Wright Penn) who has a mysterious history with him and comes and goes when his drink and abuse become too much for her. But while she's around, Lewellen's longing heart reaches for her love.
'Hounddog' centers on Fanning's character, a young girl trapped in abject poverty with an abusive, alcoholic father (David Morse) and a disciplinarian, Bible-thumping grandmother (Piper Laurie). Her only solace is impersonating Elvis Presley, which she does with uncanny talent.
Lewellen is deeply talented and finds comfort and safety, as well as a place to put her hurt and rage, in the music of Elvis Presley. When Elvis Presley comes to town for a concert, Lewellen is desperate to go but has no money for a ticket. Her best friend, Buddy, trying to get her a ticket, arranges for her to do her Elvis impersonation for a local teenager in exchange for tickets to the concert. During the impersonation, the teenager attacks Lewellen and steals her innocence.
Dakota Fanning in 'Hounddog'
The attack leaves Lewellen feeling alone and hopeless. It is only the caretaker Charles (Afemo Omilami) who can see the spirit in Lewellen and save her soul. He teaches her to use The Blues, to turn her tragedy into a gift. Lewellen ultimately finds her true voice, giving her the strength and courage to walk away from her past and into her future. Hounddog opens to theaters in the USA on September 19th.
At this time there is no Australian cinema release scheduled.
Hounddog Movie Review By By Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune critic
September 19, 2008
Nearly two years ago at the Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Deborah Kampmeier premiered a shaggy, poorly received version of her drama 'Hounddog'. Set in the 1950s, it very quickly became known as 'the Dakota Fanning rape film'. Fanning plays a 12-year-old rural Alabama girl, a victim, it is implied, of physical and sexual abuse at home. In a key scene her character is assaulted by an older boy. The scene is no more (or less) excruciating than a comparable segment in 'The Kite Runner', and it is as discreetly handled.
Misinformation and errant accusations of child pornography continue to dog Kampmeier's film to this day. The latest spam e-mail campaign, waged by a group called 'Concerned Women for America of North Carolina' (the film was shot there), deems 'Hounddog' a work of 'child porn' while mistakenly identifying the character played by Fanning as a 9-year-old.
It took a long time for Kampmeier to find a distributor, and a revised version of the film is opening in limited markets, including Chicago. The new version is shorter and better than the rough cut shown at Sundance, and the writer-director has made a shrewd adjustment in the passages depicting the girl's post-rape trauma: She regains her voice, literally and metaphorically, only after a good deal of screen time.
'Hounddog' Movie Poster - Starring Dakota Fanning
The film is responsible, earnest, well-intentioned and, as it was in Sundance, maddeningly inconsistent. As Lewellen, Fanning's very good; she's a genuine actress. But 'Hounddog', about a girl in love with Elvis who must learn to sing the blues from her soul before she can make herself whole again, veers from ham-handed biblical symbolism (more snakes and Christ-like images than any one film can accommodate) to sinister Tennessee Williams 'Baby Doll' style black comedy, to uneasy, even risible depictions of how blacks and whites interacted in the Jim Crow South. Under the tutelage of her African-American savior and father figure (Afemo Omilami), whose reminders to 'keep feeding the spirit' guide her to health, Lewellen learns to plant her feet, quit swiveling her prepubescent hips for the enjoyment of various predators and sing songs like 'Hounddog' the way Big Mama Thornton sings them: born of real pain and suffering.
The supporting characters are hoary archetypes played with too much relish. Piper Laurie's Grammie goes around complaining about 'that devil music!' while David Morse, as Lewellen's father, gets nailed by a bolt of lightning while farming during bad weather and turns into a childlike shell of his former venal self. Throughout 'Hounddog', the girl at its center comes up for perpetual queasy inspection by others. Grammie checks for ticks in the bath; Lewellen and her friend Buddy (Cody Hanford) play doctor and trade kisses; and when Daddy's lover (Robin Wright Penn, an executive producer on the picture) shows up, Fanning's character fights, painfully, to retain her abusive father's attentions.
There's a movie in all this, but only Fanning's emotional honesty makes 'Hounddog' watchable. For the record, though: The fact that Hollywood routinely puts young actors in sadistic junk such as 'Man on Fire', the Denzel Washington revenge vehicle co-starring Fanning now that's child porn. Funny, though. Nobody protested that one. MPAA Rating: R (for a disturbing sexual assault of a young girl, and brief sexuality).
Running time: 1:33.
Rating: 2 stars (fair)
By Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune critic
September 19, 2008
Starring: Dakota Fanning (Lewellen); Cody Hanford (Buddy); Piper Laurie (Grammie); David Morse (Daddy); Afemo Omilami (Charles); Robin Wright Penn (Stranger Lady).
Written and directed by: Deborah Kampmeier; photographed by Edward Lachman and Jim Denault, additional photography by Stephen Thompson; edited by Sabine Hoffman and Andrew Marcus, additional editing by Christopher Pensiero; production design by Tim Grimes; music by Meshell Ndegeocello; produced by Jen Gatien, Lawrence Robins and Kampmeier. An Empire Film Group release.
Hounddog director speaks about the film's controversy
Dakota Fanning, the star of 'Charlotte's Web' takes a decidedly different role as a 12-year-old girl who is raped in the film 'Hounddog', which opens today. It also stars Robin Wright Penn.
Hijacked by controversy for the one scene in which Dakota Fanning's 12-year-old character is sexually assaulted by a teenager, the movie 'Hounddog' finally lands in theaters today, nearly two years after it was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
The controversy was brought on by a disgruntled producer who went to the media before shooting wrapped with a false report that Fanning was naked in the film and had shot a graphic rape scene. That night, CNN was asking its viewers whether a 12-year-old actress should be doing a rape scene.
Soon after, the film was being debated by Sean Hannity and protested by evangelical groups, including the Catholic League, which urged the Justice Department to investigate whether any child pornography laws had been broken. Kampmeier asked the district attorney's office in Wilmington, NC, where the film was shot, to do its own investigation. After viewing the film and interviewing cast and crew, the DA found no grounds for prosecution, she said.
'I was totally thrown off by it. I had no idea it was coming', said Deborah Kampmeier, the film's writer and director, about the media storm. 'I was not making this film to create controversy and social commentary. I was writing this story from my heart, in hopes that it would touch someone else's heart'.
The film, a Southern gothic tale set in 1959, is about a motherless 12-year-old girl named Lewellen who finds solace in the music of Elvis Presley. In exchange for two tickets to a Presley concert, she agrees to do a seductive dance for a teenager who robs of her innocence.
In the completed film, the rape scene lasts less than one minute. To shoot it, Kampmeier said there was no simulation of a sex act. Instead she shot closeups of faces, hands and feet. She stood a foot away from Fanning's face and told her when to hold her breath, when to gasp.
'I have a daughter, I am a daughter, I care about the soul of girls', Kampmeier said. 'If Dakota had been harmed in any way, if this had been exploitative, it would have betrayed the reason I made this film'.
Instead, Fanning was 'dancing on the bridge' after she shot the scene, 'because she knew she had just hit the zone', Kampmeier said. 'She was exquisite'.
That didn't seem to matter to the people making death threats at Kampmeier or signing petitions demanding that she and Fanning's mother, Joy, be arrested for child pornography.
By January 2007, when Kampmeier arrived at Sundance, with bodyguards in tow, the FBI was standing by just in case any threats were carried out. Instead it was the film that got flayed by critics and booed by the press. Any possible distribution deals vanished.
'The problem with all this international controversy the film garnered is that it's really a small, small film, too small of a film to carry all of this controversy and hype', said Scott Franklin of the Motion Picture Group, which raised funds to complete the film. 'It really raised expectations for this film. It's an intimate film and it got as much press as 'War of the Worlds' did'.
Kampmeier took heart from the response she got from the Sundance audience: 'lines of women, sobbing and thanking me for making the film, one man in his 60s who hadn't cried his whole life and said the film helped him face something in his life he had never faced'.
At Sundance, Fanning spoke out about the scene at the heart of the controversy. She told USA Today that the people attacking the film 'were attacking my family and me, and that's where it got too far. Pretty much everybody who talked about it attacked my mother, which I did not appreciate. That was extremely uncalled for and hurtful'. Kampmeier said, from the beginning, Fanning was one of her greatest allies, along with the film's other star, Robin Wright Penn, who signed on as an executive producer in 1996, when first shown the script.
'There was a connection that happened between us that was so deep, so wordless, and it came out of our love of this character', she said about Fanning. 'It was as if we both reached across the table and took each other by the hand and walked through this difficult world together and didn't let go until it was done'.
By the time Kampmeier had signed Fanning, she had already seen financing for the film fall through four years in a row and made another film, her award-winning debut 'Virgin', also with Wright Penn.
'It would always fall through because investors wanted the rape scene taken out', Kampmeier said. But she refused to take it out. 'I couldn't have done this film without the scene, but that's not what the film is about', she said. 'The film is about so many things: motherlessness, healing, art, female sexuality, finding your true voice and the most important things, what the character Charles said in the movie, taking that which can poison you and changing it into something good'.
After Sundance, Kampmeier recut the film to show how Lewellen goes from being silenced after the rape to ultimately connecting to her true voice.
Empire Film Group purchased 'Hounddog' in March for a $1 million advance but has struggled to book it in theaters, including the three major chains, according to the New York Times. The film, which is rated R, opens today in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and rolls out nationally over the next three weeks.
Kampmeier was surprised to find that her real-life journey had begun to parallel Lewellen's in the film.
'It's a story about a girl whose voice is silenced and that's what was happening with this film', Kampmeier said. 'I can't ignore the politics of being a woman filmmaker. Ninety percent of the stories on screen are being told by men. The silencing of this story, of women's voice in general, is so disturbing'.
Instead of running from the controversy, she has embraced it, enlisting prominent figures like Gloria Steinem and advocacy groups, such as Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), to support the film.
'It's become a controversial film', she said, 'and I'm trying to embrace that and bring light to an issue that's been silenced in our culture. Dakota is giving voice to millions of silent women and girls. This is an epidemic in our country, and it's so courageous of Dakota to take on this role. It's a story of triumph and hope in the end'.
According to Justice Department statistics, one in six women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime and 44 percent of sexual assault victims are under age 18.
Jennifer Storm a survivor of child sexual assault and the author of 'Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America', is looking forward to seeing the film. Raped at 12, and again at 17, Storm said the assaults 'stole my voice, took away my childhood first and foremost, changed me from a vivacious girl who loved school to a dark vacant numbed-out person. Only drinking made me feel better and that led me further down the path of destruction'. She said films like 'Hounddog', when done right without sensationalizing rape, can break the national silence on this subject. 'It sounds like it's going to create some much-needed awareness and create a dialogue that needs to happen at the dinner table', Strom said.
Cue the knee-jerk outcry.
Various 'family values' groups, without having seen the movie, petitioned for legal action against the director and Fanning's family and agent for coercing the young actress into what they imagined to be a disgraceful performance. One child-actor advocate, reported Premiere magazine, wrote an essay in which he argued that 'pretending leads to reality. Kids feel it, live it, express it. Children can't shrug it off'.
Where was Fanning in all this? Defending the film alongside the director.
'She's been incredibly supportive', Kampmeier says. 'Her team was like, 'Nobody touches this script. You do not take this scene out'. Furthermore, says the director, anyone who knows anything about filmmaking knows the scene didn't happen the way it plays in the film (which, incidentally, is extremely brief and nongraphic). 'The rape scene was shot so technically', says Kampmeier. 'I mean, I think Dakota put it best. She said, 'It's just a movie'. Plus, as the director points out, nobody ever levels the same charges at the incredible violence one can find in any number of major movies out right now. 'When someone's head gets blown off, why are people not saying, 'Oh my God, did their head really get blown off?' she says. 'It's so uninformed'.
The paradox for Kampmeier is that the controversy has brought her film into a much brighter spotlight than she'd imagined - for better or worse. 'In my mind it's just a small, personal film', she says. 'I wrote it from my heart, with the hope that it would one day touch someone else's heart'.
'But the thing that I think it's most about', she says, 'is articulated by a character in the film - he talks about taking that which can poison you and turning it into something powerful and good. Which is what we, as artists, if we're lucky, get the opportunity to do'.
About Dakota Fanning
Hannah Dakota Fanning was born on the 23rd of February 1994, in Conyers, Georgia, USA. Before her debut into the cinematic world, Dakota did her own acting around her house. She was very active for her age, and often put a blanket under her shirt and pretended to be having a baby, using her younger sister, who is also an actress now, Elle, as the baby. Dakota went to a playhouse near her home, where the children that attended put on a play every week to show to their parents. But the people running the playhouse noticed that Dakota stood out, and advised her parents, Joy and Steve Fanning, to take her to an agency. They believed that she was extremely talented.
Dakota Fanning - 'Dreamer'
The Fanning family were advised to spend six weeks in Los Angeles, a long way from their home in Georgia. But there Dakota managed to get her first work; to star in a national Tide commercial. She was chosen out of many, many other children.
The family then decided to move to Los Angeles permanently, for it looked like Dakota's career was looking very good. After they moved, Dakota signed with a professional agency, and soon won a role in the movie 'Tomcats' (2001). She then went onto a small project called 'Father Xmas' (2001) as Clairee.
But Dakota's big break-through was yet to come. She auditioned for one of the main characters in 'I am Sam' (2001) , and the director and the rest of the crew were amazed by her extraordinary talent. Dakota was cast, and starred in the movie as Lucy Diamond Dawson, alongside major Hollywood stars Sean Penn and Michelle Pfiefer. After 'I am Sam' (2001) her talent was immediately recognized around the world. She went straight onto 'Trapped' (2002) as Abby Jennings, alongside Charlize Theron, then played the younger version of Reese Witherspoon in 2002's 'Sweet Home Alabama' (2002) But Dakota still had two more movies to come in 2002. Firstly she got a huge role in Steven Spielberg's 'Taken' (2002) (mini) , the mini-TV series, and narrated the ten whole episodes, as well as having a part. This was a little more challenging, as she was playing a troubled alien child, but she managed to do brilliantly. Her last movie for 2002 was the children's movie 'Hansel and Gretel' (2002) as Katie.
2003 was also a brilliant year for Dakota, as she starred in a number of exciting projects. Firstly, it was as Sally Walden in 'The Cat in the Hat' (2003) with Mike Myers, then she played Lorraine 'Ray' Schleine, a bratty little girl, in the sweet comedy 'Uptown Girls' (2003) alongside Brittany Murphy. She then voiced preschool Kim in Kim Possible: A Stitch in time.
In 2004, Dakota appeared in the violent thriller, 'Man on Fire' (2004), alongside Denzel Washington. Her reviews were excellent.
First in 2005 was 'Nine Lives' (2005), as Maria, then the chilling 'Hide and Seek' (2005) alongside Robert DeNiro. By now, she was the busiest child actress in Hollywood, with a resume to die for. Her younger sister, Mary Elle Fanning (Elle), had also been discovered a few years earlier.
Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning - 'War of the Worlds'
Dakota Fanning - 'War of the Worlds'
After 'Hide and Seek' came 'War of the Worlds' (2005), which was one of her major movies out of everything she'd worked in. Not only did it make her more popular, but she got to play the daughter of A-list Hollywood actor Tom Cruise. They had four very successful premieres; the first in Tokyo, Japan, the second in France, the third in London, England and the fourth in New York, USA. The reviews were outstanding, especially Dakota's. She then voiced Lilo in 'Lilo and Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch' (2005) , which she has just completed.
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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
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The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.