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Dellinger Grist Mill Documentary Sample

In the summer of 2016, before we had ever visited High Cove, my wife, Catheryn, and I, after a morning hike on Roan Mountain, stopped in the tiny town of Bakersville, NC for lunch at Helen’s Restaurant. A fellow came in with an armful of corn meal sacks, and left them on the counter. I asked the server where the sacks came from, and she said there’s an old mill down the road. She said the delivery man, Jack, actually ran the mill, and we’d catch him there if we wanted a tour.

Cane Creek flows over the mill dam. This is right after a big rain, so lots of water in what is usually a very placid creek. Jack is walking up to check if the water gate into the mill race is clear.

We drove through a beautiful valley, alongside Cane Creek, where the mill got its power, but it was closed. The phone number was on the gate, so I called Jack about a tour. He said “meet me at the mill at 1pm tomorrow. “

We spent several hours listening to Jack’s stories, about his great granddaddy who built the first mill around 1847, about his plowing steep and stony fields behind a pair of horses as a teenager, about how he ran away at age 17 to join the Air Force, was trained as a bomber mechanic, spent 4 years in the Korean War, got an engineering degree at NC State, worked for Werner von Braun writing software for the first moon launch, and finally on IBM’s first PCs. Quite a life for a country boy.

Werner von Braun and team examine the computer that guided the first Apollo mission to the moon. It was one of the first digital computers. Jack was on the team that wrote the software.

When Jack retired from IBM in 1997, he returned to the mill he hadn’t seen in 44 years. It had been neglected since his daddy died in 1955, and was in ruins from floods, snow storms, hurricanes, and could barely be seen through decades of untrimmed trees and undergrowth. But something got to him, and he dedicated the rest of his life to bringing the mill back to the way it was in 1867.

Jack is now 86 years old, and grinds corn 2-3 days a week in warmer months. It is the last water-powered grist mill, of the hundreds that dotted creeks across North Carolina in the 19th century. I asked if I could make a documentary film about the mill. He answered, “Why not?”

Jack’s great-grandfather, his grandfather and father all ran the mill. All the mill’s machinery was originally built in the early 1860s.

I’ve traveled many places, working on documentary films. Jack’s was as wonderful a story as any—and it was nearly in my back yard. I returned a few weeks later to begin filming, and hear how his family scraped a living off the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for five generations. It was not unlike Medieval times, where everyone had to make or trade everything, and cash money didn’t exist. Summer quickly turned to fall. Jack shut down the mill in late October, and drove to Florida, to join his family. He’d return in April, when the mountains became more hospitable to 86 year old men.

Due to work and family commitments, I couldn’t return to filming until mid-August, 2017. I spent a few days every week filming, and living the adventures of a grist mill, while spending nights in the High Cove Community, which was just a few miles and 2-3 ridges away.

The documentary film has become a larger story than expected. The mill is an amazing machine, needing constant attention. Though driven by a little water brook, it is immensely powerful, and can kill you in an instant. Many times I put down the camera to help Jack maintain the mill, oil the gears and flywheels, and axels, push the 4-ton water wheel to give it a jump start, and adjust the various water gates.   I joined the pace of the mill. It tells you what to do, and you go along with this ancient, creaking, groaning monster.

When a 40 ft. belt on the mill broke, we traveled up and down a dozen ridges, across two counties to find an old-timer—someone Jack had grown up with back in the 1930s. He operated sawmills a long time ago, but might have a big belt, stored in a barn filled with dusty doo-dads from a hundred years ago. Mountain people never throw anything away.

Jack Dellinger at the mill in August 2017. He’s smiling, which means the old beast is behaving.

Each short trip became an extended visit. When Jack met a friend (and he always did), I was in a foreign country, in another time, listening to another language. I felt privileged for such a first-hand view into Blue Ridge mountain culture.

Between the breakdowns, the visits, and storms that clogged the water works, there were many days I didn’t feel I was making progress. But as I met Jack’s numerous friends, neighbors, distant cousins, local characters, and casual tourists, the story became so much richer, and I thought, what the heck have I gotten into? Where is this film going? How do I manage such a rich culture? It started to become much more than a film about a mill.

The corn hopper revealed. The stick on the left is the ‘DAMSE;L’. Named in the middle ages because it chatters like a woman when shaking the corn kernels onto the massive grindstone.

Since the mill has now closed for the winter, I can explore the many hours of video, and make plans to fill in the gaps. I’ll drive down to Pensacola and film extended interviews with Jack—so all his stories get recorded. I want to interview others involved with the mill and other parts of Jack’s life, while the mill is closed. This includes Kate, his new 23 year-old miller apprentice, who is fast becoming an important character in the mill’s preservation (it is on the list of National Historic Sites) .

In the spring, I’ll return to the mill with my list of ‘must-have’ shots. I have been playing around with some shots set to music, which is the video attached here.

–Robert Maier 12/11/17


About The Warehouse Cinema – An Art House Cinema

Check out The Warehouse Cinema

Blu-Ray of LOVE LETTER TO EDIE Available NOW

New hd restoration completed–
Autographed blu-ray available now!


LOVE LETTER TO EDIE is the story of Edith Massey.  Edith was one of the most popular underground movie stars of the 1960s-1980s.  She appeared in many John Waters films, including MULTIPLE MANIACS, PINK FLAMINGOS, FEMALE TROUBLE, and DESPERATE LIVING.

Expert film restorers, Debenham Media Group recently produced a careful digital restoration of LOVE LETTER TO EDIE using the original 16mm film.  The 2K HD video transfer required substantial color correction, scratch and dust removal, and image stabilization, because the original color film had aged substantially.  Image Design Productions producer, Brian Scott, did the digital re-assembly of the transferred cuts, and performed additional color corrections and audio enhancement.

AND it looks gorgeous! 

Order copies from the right column, and you will receive an autographed copy.

Thank-you for your interest.

Love Letter to Edie Original VHS Cover

lovelettertoedievhswebThis was the first VHS cover of Love Letter to Edie

The film’s first release in 1975 was on 16mm film, when it only played in movie theaters and film festivals.

Around 1985, VHS cassettes were in wide enough usage that small films like Love Letter could be distributed to individual collectors.  They were duplicated in real-time in banks of VHS recorders.

The first 16mm to tape transfer was done at a small video production house in Owings Mills, MD by a company that produced professional wrestling programs and happened to have a film to 1″ tape transfer machine. The company’s owner happened to be a former math teacher at my high school and gave me a good deal.

From that master, I made a 3/4″ industrial grade video copy, which was the dub master for the hundred or so VHS copies I made at Quality Films and Video in Baltimore, which was also the lab for all John Waters’ 16mm films (through Desperate Living).  I advertised these VHS mainly with a classified ad in Rolling Stone, and sold a few at Edith’s Shopping Bag store in Fells Point.  Edith had died in California in 1985, but her old partner still kept the store going, specializing in Dreamland collectables.

The number of videos sold didn’t quite pay for all the duplication and advertising costs, so it went out of print for about 8 years.  At that time a company called “Hit’nRun” films, which specialized in underground films re-transfered it and designed a colorful new cover.  They made about 1,500 copies, but I never received payment.  In the mid 90s, I made yet another transfer to digital Betacam video tape with Roland House Video in Arlington, VA, re-designed the cover for DVD, and added 15 minutes of personal memoirs to the program.  I made 1,000 DVDs, which sold out in about 5 years.

Since then I still sell about 75 copies a year, and make them 50 at a time with the DVD-R process.  I still have the 16mm original from 1975 and could make a HD transfer, then sell Blu-Ray HD copies.  That could cost about $2,500.  Maybe it would be a good Kickstarter project.

Conservative Star Columnist Rod Dreher Invokes Ghost of Edith Massey ?!?#$@%?!

Edith Massey in "Pink Flamingos" wishes a Happy Easter to all!

Edith Massey in “Pink Flamingos” wishes a Happy Easter to all!










It’s Easter, when eggs become an important subject across the country, and references to Edith Massey abound.

Even a noted conservative pundit who regularly writes for such un-Edith right-wing publications like The American Conservative, The National Review, Weekly Standard, The Dallas Morning News, The Wall Street Journal and Beliefnet penned a little piece this week in The American Conservative.  Rod Dreher relates that in an afternoon dream his backyard flock of hens had laid 13 eggs, and that when he woke up, he saw that a real hen had laid two eggs on the grass!

Thinking this must be a mystical event, he asks that “Edith Massey come back from the dead and interpret this occurrence!”  The article even includes a clip from Pink Flamingos. 

My, aren’t conservatives lightening up (or lighting up)!  I don’t follow Rod Dreher, except he refers to himself as a “crunchy conservative” (which explains the backyard chicken thing), but maybe he lives in Colorado where weed is so easy and legal.  If so, Edith would be so proud.  (Actually he lives in Louisiana, not known much for clear thinking, so not much difference).

Searching for Royalty Checks from Low Budget Movies

sugarman posterThe day I saw “Searching for Sugar Man,” I received my first-ever royalty check from MGM/United Artists for a union film I worked on back in the 80s.  “Sugarman” won the 2012 Academy Award for best documentary.  The movie is a mind-bending story from the 1970s that  goes against the grain of typical show business success stories.  It’s about how success can be achieved by someone no one ever heard of, in a place that doesn’t count, then be forgotten and re-discovered in a series of weird coincidences.  It is a common story in show business.

“Searching  for Sugar Man” tells the story of singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, who played bars and coffee shops around Detroit. Rodriguez came up in the wake of Bob Dylan.  A former executive at Motown Records agreed to a record deal after Rodriguez was discovered by two respected Detroit record producers who agreed there was money to be made in the world of protest singers and folk music.  Sounds like the big break every artist dreams of, but the public disagreed, and like so many other singer-songwriters of the time, his records didn’t sell, and he vanished.

If Rodriguez had moved to Greenwich Village, like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary and others, to be a part of the hyped-up  singer-songwriter scene there, it may have been a different story.   But Rodriguez was not interested in offering himself up to the hype machine of New York record labels.

Rodriguez would have sunk into eternal obscurity, except a bootleg of his record was smuggled into South Africa.  His protest songs charmed the local white progressive population who suffered under the apartheid regime of white supremacist thugs, and yearned to join the world-wide counter-culture ushered in by artists like the Beatles and Dylan.

South Africa at the time was the world’s pariah, and Western artists avoided the country like the plague, starving the progressives of the music and culture they wanted so badly.

Rodriguez’s bootleg record filled a void, and his rebellious songs became underground anthems for millions—  the South African equivalent of “Kumbaya”  and “ Satisfaction” rolled into one.  Rodriguez’s albums circulated by the hundreds of thousands, year after year in South Africa, in censored and uncensored and legal and bootleg versions.  A myth grew around Rodriguez in South Africa that he had committed suicide on stage to protest a cold, unfeeling world.  To the contrary, Rodriguez had remained in Detroit, worked as a laborer and quietly raised a family. His professional music career abruptly ended after his second non-selling album tanked and his recording contract was yanked.

A South African journalist tracked Rodriguez down  in the late 90s, and brought him to South Africa where sold-out several concert tours—and he was revered for helping bring down the apartheid system.

UA-CheckMy fresh $10.67 royalty check from MGM/UA on my desk, I was intrigued that South African record distributors claim they regularly sent royalty checks to A&M Records in the for the hundreds of thousands of Rodriguez albums sold.  Some say more than a million records were sold.  Rodriguez had no idea that more than a handful of his records had sold anywhere—he never received a royalty check either.  Sussex Records, the original American label was sold several times, and Clarence Avant, its founder cannot trace Rodriguez’s contract after forty years.

So, here’s the classic Show Biz Question: “Where are my royalties?”   The answer?  “There are no royalties, or, hire an attorney and just try to get them.”

Anyone with the slightest involvement in royalties knows this dialogue.  Of course, some stars do just fine collecting them.  Though certainly not a star, I’m astounded that the Directors Guild of America tracked me down after many decades to pay me a measly $10.67.  If it weren’t for a union contract, I’d never have received that.  I wish the Waters’ films I had worked on had DGA contracts.  I’m sure hundreds of others, who worked on low-budget-hell productions that eventually paid off, even decades later, would agree.

Wouldn’t  it be nice if all unions had no/low budget agreements and welcomed all to share in the spoils—rare as they are?  But how un-capitalist is that?  And former low/no budget filmmakers love capitalism, especially when they finally have the wherewithal to hire good attorneys.


Outtakes of Jean-Michel Basquait in “New York Beat”-“Downtown 81”

Jean-Michel Basquait tagging in Alphabet City during a shoot for the movie “New York Beat/Downtown 81”

Stumbled across this video today on one of my favorite websites.  I was on these shoots on a cold, windy December day in Alphabet City in 1981.  The shots look like 3rd generation copies of the 16mm workprint.

No sound, because most of the sound was lost during the 15 year post-production odyssey when the whole film was stolen and recovered several times.

In this video’s last scene, Basquait interacts with the film’s production manager, Steve Sabato, whose most difficult task was to get Basquait to show up on time, in the right place, with the right wardrobe and props.  The scene is the ultimate insider  irony, because Steve was in charge of the money, which Basquait was constantly wasting by not showing up.  That he gives Steve a suitcase full of money, and Steve bolts from the scene with a triumphal grin is hysterical and typical of the wit of the director Edo Bertolio and writer Glenn O’Brien.

It sort of sums up whole Downtown 80s NYC art scene where art, of any sort, was pure and money was corrupt.  This might be why it took 20 years to complete the film.

Herzog Enters the Abyss, Again—Review of “Into the Abyss”

Werner Herzog outside the prison where much of the filming was done.

German filmmaker Werner Herzog is my favorite filmmaker of all time.  Thanks to Netflix, you can watch many of the dozens of films he has made since the 1970s.  Usually his works are character studies of real humans on the edge, and they are on edges that most people never knew existed in this world.  He’s not interested in big space ships or cartoonish rescuers of our wonderful capitalist Christian culture.  His characters live in this world, but don’t occupy the same mental space as the average American.

Into the Abyss is a documentary about two men guilty of a grisly triple murder in Texas.  One faces a life sentence; the other is scheduled to be executed at the end of the week.  They and their associates, and friends seem to have ice water for blood, and seem to go through life in a trance of their own invention.  Nothing they do in their lives seems to make sense, though they go through it with passion and a remarkable inability to deal with the realities of their terrible situations.

A murderer who proclaims his innocence prepares to meet his Yahweh.

To describe the characters or events will be spoiling the story, because Herzog carefully crafts the documentary to reveal just little bits and pieces at a time, like the best mystery writers.  When you discover what’s really going on, it’s like 110 volt jolt to your brain.  It’s enough to say that every character seems quite normal in the beginning, but as they tell their stories, layers fall away and unspeakable inner tragedies are revealed.  Out of the thousands of murders that are committed each year in the U.S., how Herzog picks this particular one to follow, with such complex levels of deeply hidden events and stricken personalities is amazing.  Or you can come away with the idea that actually maybe everyone is insane, if you spend a little time looking at them, and allow them to reveal themselves.

This is the theme of many of Herzog’s films.  He isn’t content with headlines.  He wants to enter the abyss.  He digs and digs until his fingernails are raw and bleeding, and freely admits that when he sees the entire story, it can be so emotionally scaring that he refuses to burden his audience with it.  He’ll tell you about it, and give you tantalizing little hints, but the sensational is not the point.  It’s how people deal emotionally with the sensational in life that is important.  It is a unique viewpoint, and bless Werner Herzog for taking it.

Into the Abyss is 188 minutes long, twice that of your average movie, and it’s mostly talking heads.  But it is a haunting, shocking journey about strangers in a land that we might think is familiar, but is not.  Don’t miss this masterpiece.

“Prometheus” Reviewed – A Hunk of Baloney

This laughable poster is of a scene that never appears in the movie and has nothing to do with the plot. It’s an  amazing example of the level of contempt the filmmakers have for their audience.

I saw Prometheus recently in a large theater, something I rarely do anymore.  It is such a crock, alternating between ridiculous to silly to patently unbelievable. First, this lame effort didn’t seem like it could be a Ridley Scott film.  He is now at least 75 years old, and has about 12 films in “pre-production.”  My guess is that Mr. Scott has lost the brilliant touch of Blade Runner and Alien, but is enjoying life immensely by selling his name to squads of  Hollywood CGI animators and overpaid bean counters whose idea of a good movie is judged by how many explosions per second trigger the theatre’s sub-woofer—(that give me only the sensation of letting out a big fart).  Some observations on why I dislike Prometheus so much:

  1. It discards all known laws of physics, biology, and chemistry just like a Porky Pig cartoon.
  2. It demands you ignore absurd plot element like a ship’s crew that doesn’t have a clue about even the most basic security measures; like characters who have hideous things happening to them but neglect to reveal them to anyone; like high-tech geographers who get lost in a cave;  an incompetent and a collection of bland and uncurious characters who would never qualify for a trillion$ space mission.  I didn’t believe one iota of the film was based in any sort of reality.  If you believe in virgin births, turning water into wine, and re-incarnation, you are the target of this film.
  3. The slightest noise triggers a sonic boom from the sub-woofers, and each sounds exactly the same—shooooooooopBOOOOM!  Ludicrous, predictable, and tiresome.
  4. There is no creative use of 3D at all—I mean why bother when most of the film is dialogue?  It looked basically the same with or without the glasses.
  5. Geiger’s brilliant design influence is sadly minimal.  His original stuff really makes you believe in the bonding of organic and inorganic.  This design is 5th generation rip-off.
  6. The coincidences used in the story are so unlikely they are laughable—I don’t want to spoil anything here, but you’ll know them when your brain repeatedly says WTF?

Prometheus is an example of the Hollywood big budget EFX movie gone amok.  To prep, the theater played endless trailers of astonishingly cookie-cutter-like Hollywood summer adventure films that all look and sound the same:  spectacular car crashes, huge, improbable guns, and big explosions every ten seconds with that same shooooooopBOOOOOM! that Hollywood sound effect editors must all “secretly” share to add that real-expensive-Oscar-in-sound-design touch.  It is used in everything from derringer shots, to car doors closing… I mean what world do these people inhabit where every little percussion has to shake the seats in the exact same way?  Do they ever get out of their sub-woofer studios and into the real world?

From now on it’s Blu-Ray DVDs at home where I control the sound, and don’t bother me with 3D until you learn to use it for more than a gimmick to promote in the advertising.  I’ll spend the $20 for the movie ticket and popcorn on a good bottle of wine and a genuinely engaging and believable little foreign film, courtesy of Netflix.

“In Darkness” on Netflix a Real Chiller

“In Darkness” was a Polish film nominated for an Oscar in 2011, but strangely rates only a 7.7 on IMdB.  It is the true story of a group of Jews hiding from Nazis in the decrepit sewers of a large Polish city at the end of WWII. Many people complained because it’s (yawn) “just another” Holocaust rescue film like Schindler’s List.  It only grossed $1 million in its U.S. run.  Another shameful comment on American movie-goeers, as if you needed another.

To me it was on the level of “Das Boot.” It is a terrorizing 2.5 hours of relentless horrors and ugliness that won’t let you look away.  It presents the bold sexuality of people who don’t know if they’ll live another minute– a generally undiscussed topic.  Most of it takes place in a sewer so real that you can smell it when the characters puke.  The director, Agnieszka Holland is a master at handling a wide range of actors, fascinating character development, narrative pacing, and gut-wrenching cinematography, not to mention a horror show of sets, make-up and wardrobe.

The editing sometimes has jump cuts that  challenge you  to fill in the gaps– like a dream, but genuinely reflects the chaos of running for your life in a dark confusing and terrible place.   If you’re interested in the art of cinema that twists you around its little finger, this is it.  It makes “Hugo” and all the other recent big Hollywood films look like Mr. Rogers’ pablum.