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"Summer of 'Deliverance'"

Posted at 1:09 PM on October 24, 2006 by Euan Kerr (3 Comments)

After meeting Ned Beatty recently I finally sat down and ploughed through a book which has been on my self unopened for too long. "Summer of Deliverance" is Christopher Dickey's memoir about his father James Dickey, the poet best known to film fans as the man who wrote "Deliverance."

It's a tortured story of a brilliant writer who was one of America's best known poets, but who seldom felt truth should get in the way of a good story, particularly when it came to himself. Christopher Dickey tells the story from the point of view of a son who begins life worshipping his father, but gradually drifts away as time, maturity and his father's alcoholism grinds away legend's veneer.

One thing Jim Dickey shared with his son was the movies. They both loved the big game films of the fifties, where intrepid hunters tested themselves to the limit. When he wrote "Deliverance" Dickey assumed he would be intimately involved in the creation of what he called "my film." John Boorman wasn't his first choice for director, he wanted Peckinpah, but Jim Dickey decided he could live with the "Hell in the Pacific" director. He wasn't hugely happy with the casting either, but again he went with it. It came as a shock when Boorman took him aside as shooting began and told him he was making the actors nervous, and it would be best if he left.

He did, but left Christopher behind on the set, where, working as a stand in, he watched the creation of one of the iconic films of all time. Boorman decided to shoot the film in order, which seldom happens. Christopher Dickey describes how the mood got darker and darker as the days passed and the story progressed.

He is chosen to stand in for Ned Beatty to walk through the infamous rape scene so the cinematographers could set up the lighting and the cameras. he writes about how disturbed and physically ill he felt as a result.

He further describes how Beatty, who had been the life of the party at the beginning of the shoot gradually bows under the weight of the story. Christopher Dickey, who soon went on to a career as a foreign correspondent with the Washington Post and Newsweek, feels a weight too, from the savagery of the story and the knowledge it came from his father's pen.

It's a fascinating read.

Comments (3)

Thanks for the kind words. I just happened across this notice when I was looking for something else about my father. (January will mark the tenth anniversary of his death.)

You might be interested to know that Warner Bros. is supposed to be coming out with a 35th anniversary DVD of Deliverance next year, which should allow folks to see the film in its original wide-screen format. If you've only seen the TV-formatted version in the past, this is like watching a different picture: at once more beautiful, more complex, and more frightening.

Best regards, Chris

Posted by Christopher Dickey | October 24, 2006 3:44 PM

While it's nice that you finally read the book, the information about "Deliverance" is such a small part of it. Certainly it's important, but there's so much else! I met Jim Dickey and had lunch with him in his "barnstorming for poetry" days, and found Christopher Dickey's book very helpful in understanding his father and his father's life. I also remember staying up all night reading "Deliverance" and then, later seeing the movie. By itself the book was an unforgettable part of my reading life. Seeing Dickey in his onscreen appearance as the sheriff was pretty amazing, too!

Posted by Ron Stevens | October 24, 2006 4:47 PM

Thank you both! Yes, I focused in on the movie, but the book is about so much more. It was fun to see the references to Robert Bly too, particularly given recent news of the sale of Bly's papers to the University of Minnesota including his correspondence with James Dickey.

Posted by Euan Kerr | October 25, 2006 9:10 AM

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