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Travels with Judy - my friend's show

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My pal Vicki Cain set out to make a documentary about her journey to retrace the steps of John Steinbeck from his book, Travels with Charley. This was a huge undertaking for someone with experience, but Vicki had never made a doc before---she didn't even know how to use a camera.

I love that shit. I really do. Her rough cut was very rough but there was something in it I can't quite describe. The fab GF felt it, too. I've seen and worked on a lot of shows with larger budgets crewed by more skilled moviemakers, but with all the money in the world, you may not make an emotional connection with your audience.

This little snip is a practice shoot she did to get ready for her cross-country tour. The title thumbnail is of historian Erin Eisenbarth. In addition to being all historically knowledgeable, she knits.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

hee hee!

i loved travels with charley and ever since reading it i've wanted to go on a road trip[s] with my dog[s] though not necessarily retracing steinbeck's pawprints. someday... meanwhile, i've bookmarked travelswithjudy.com.

... but there was something in it I can't quite describe.

well, *i'd* have said it was the cute dog. ;)

hmmm... the knitting historian... somebody ought to be able to do something with that.... i did get a kick out of her gentle but quite frank assessment of putnam, though.

Submitted by ohio on

You can never have too much dog. I suggested Vicki get an RV, fill it with puppies, and then take another trip. Concept sold.

(I wouldn't do the same with kittens. An RV of kittens traveling across country is, while adorable, a menace to all. I love cats but some of them are too smart and will learn how to drive and reset the radio within the first few minutes of the trip.)

Erin the knitting historian is featured in another short Vicki did about Paul Revere. She takes apart Longfellow in a nice historian way by giving context to that dumb poem. She's pretty interesting.

I think the rough cut of TWJ I saw has more to do with Vicki's relationship to the US of A and less than with history and fact. She's traveling pretty much alone (especially after Albuquerque) and I saw some stuff I've seen a billion times, and yet...I can't quite put my finger on it. I've seen road footage, literally, a thousand times and am, alas, responsible for some of it. But somehow Vicki's show has forced me to look at it differently and I don't quite know how she did it.

I really wasn't expecting it. I thought I'd be watching another mess of a movie (I have seen the worst movies ever made and most by some very nice people) and it was a mess. And yet. I just keep returning to the "and yet" of it.

So, we'll see what happens. Regardless of whether I can recut the thing to bring out more of that "and yet," I love that she set out to make her doc carried by her own inspiration. It takes guts.

Did I mention I got an HD camera? Well, I did. I believe that makes me extremely important.

Submitted by lambert on

"Erin the Knitting Historian..."

I smell branding!

And this whole project is really interesting, Ohio. Thanks for sharing it.

Submitted by hipparchia on

fun to watch, i'm sure, but waaay too much work to carry out. i speak as one who has traveled cross-country with 2 horses, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and 4 humans.

one, maybe 2, dogs is enough, especially if cameras are involved.

I think the rough cut of TWJ I saw has more to do with Vicki's relationship to the US of A and less than with history and fact.

that seems about right, and would certainly be more captivating than just plain old history and facts [though i confess to a serious addiction to plain dry facts].

Submitted by Fran on

I told my brother that, for retirement, I wanted to get the next to the smallest Airstream (I do want a shower) and a small pickup truck and just travel around the country. He asked whether I would have a dog - I think for protection. I said 'yes', but not like that - like Travels with Charley! a companion.

The dog I have now is too old. Every time this happens, I think maybe I won't have anymore dogs and cats.

Gee, I have had this fantasy since around age 12 - hmmmmm - about the time I read Travels.

To complete the picture, I would draw and paint again. People were my favorite subject.

I did travel across the country and back again one summer with my little boy, our dog and assorted small animals. We had little money and a great time, meeting people all along the way. And I hate to drive! I was still young enough to be fearless then. Well, not fearless, but to do it anyway - kind of like Vicki with her camera!

Submitted by ohio on

Vick is the kind of gal who gets people to talk with her about the stuff that interests them: the Can Pile, finding a rare book on ebay, standing out on the sidewalk Everyday stuff. The things that matter to them. She needs a better crew so she captures these exchanges, but regardless, the exchanges are there and they are meaningful. And she has the talent to include the person watching the footage in the conversation. That seems easy but it isn't.

She actually has a similar on-camera presence as Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. She doesn't make fun of the people she neets (well, not in some snide snotty way), she lets them speak their minds, and she gives them respect because they are experts oabout their own lives. Plus, she has a great sense of humor and isn't afraid to look a little foolish.

But there is some commentary that comes wrapped in all of this. For example, almost everywhere they went that was a state or city landmark, park, museum, or something, had a closed visitor's center. The hours are so cutback, no one is there to straighten the dioramas and answer questions. I mean, this happened over and over and over. It was funny that she and Judy would walk up to the door and it would be locked. It happened at Putnam Park, too. They have a beautiful visitor's center at the gate but when they walked up, the place was completely closed. I think that was the first time it happened, and they shot footage of it, I just can't figure out how to incorporate it. Well, not yet anyway.

She had some other stuff keep happening, too, and it's funny and light and all that but the commentary is rather dark.

Plus, safety is something she thought about and I'd like to follow up on. There is definitely a feeling about being a woman traveling cross-country, a woman alone because she chooses to be alone, seeing how things have changed since Steinbeck by talking with regular folks you rarely see on TV.

Erin Eisenbarth is brilliant. And it is unlikely she would be featured on the History Channel. Women who don't fit a rather specific profile (aka "fuckable") usually don't get on TV.

See? I've been thinking about all this stuff as I watch the bit of footage I have now. There's nothing new about it but I like how Vicki doesn't go directly at these topics. They're just there.

Blah blah blah. It is interesting that when I talk with women about this project the issue of safety always comes up. Always. And I know some tough gals. I myself am known as a tough gal. But it's there, lurking like a flasher.

And money. That's another one. If you don't have concerns about your physical safety you can travel with almost no money. Another friend of mine is a hotshit editor who was working on a doc about these two homeless guys. He wanted me to critique a series of selects he had cut for the moviemaker's funding package. The selects were great because Eric is amazing (music by Tom Waits no less), though I wasn't terribly intrigued by the show. I've seen this all before a billion times.

I idly mentioned how much more difficult it is for women who are homeless to survive or change their circumstances. He looked at me blankly and then it suddenly dawned on him what I was saying. And that we live in a place where violence against women is viewed as natural. As just how it is, or worse, it's what you deserve if you dare live your life the way you see fit. Even when your a tough gal, you can never forget the potential for violence is infinite and that you are a target for that violence because you're a girl.

And that is fucked up.

Submitted by Fran on

I happened to see a special on TV about Walt Whitman park in Camden, with many fine sculptures. So unexpected - you think of Camden, NJ, and all that comes to mind is poverty and violence.

What Vicki is doing, is creating portraits of people. In painting, drawing or photography, I like to find something beautifully human and dignified about each person. That is what she is doing, I think.

There is a documentary by Director Patricia Foulkrod called The Ground Truth. (She is related to me, not close - have never met her.) In it, all she really does is interview veterans of Iraq. To me, it is amazingly moving and well done - yet quite simple actually. Each one tells his story.

Vicki's subjects may be telling a story about someone or something else, but they are also telling a story about themselves by their interests and knowledge. It is really a celebration of people and of life.

btw, The dog who traveled with me was, by then, quite old. She even had a stroke during our trip (but eventually recovered). You want to make sure that you do not run out of gas - plan ahead out west. I also joined AAA for that trip - it was a life saver when we had a tire blowout.