Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Driving up to Dixie

Since the Milledgeville trip got some of the mental cylinders firing, I took another socio-historic expedition last night -- to the Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Georgia. Let me up front say that I have no interest in NASCAR culture -- absolutely none. But this ain't NASCAR. Not by 3/8 of a mile -- that's the length of the dirt oval around which the home-grown Econo Bombers, Limited Late Models, Super Bombers and Pony Stocks gound their way to modest glory.

Dixie was built in 1969 and, much to my satisfaction, looks like it hasn't changed a bit. I had recently watched Lamont Johnson's The Last American Hero (1973) and the movie could've been filmed there yesterday. The grandstand was pristine, with the "Welcome to Dixie Speedway" sign gloriously uncorrupted.

It's such a joy to go to a public space that is untainted by crass corporate sponsorship. There are a handful of painted plywood billboards out by the third turn, for places like The Dixie Land Fill and Lucas Oil. Alternatively, the Georgia Aquarium is a repulsive spectacle in out-of-control commercialism. I recently went to a Braves game and every square inch of the place was branded with someone's logo. And the ballgame was insignificant in relation to the enormous jumbotron video screen that flashed and endless series of commercials and cornball graphics. Meanwhile, the play-by-play at Dixie was provided over an old-school p.a. system, by a gloriously unpretentious announcer (someone nearby on the first turn concocted a drinking game in which participants heist one every time the announcer says, "I tell you what...").

The best way I can describe it is a cross between a high school football game and a cockfight (I went to one of those a few years ago, but that's another story). It was a communal experience far more socially gratifying than a night in Virginia Highlands, it was a much more visceral experience than a concert or a movie (being pelted with ground red clay as the cars churn past, smelling popcorn and exhaust, feeling the deep roar of the engines and the occasional thump against the concrete wall about 50 feet away). After all that, the demolition derby (with only five cars) was something of an anti-climax.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Driving down to Milledgeville

Spent the day yesterday exploring the grounds of the Central State Hospital. Any longtime locals will know that's formerly known as Milledgeville State Hospital, and the historically-minded will know that it was once called the Georgia Lunatic Asylum.

Whatever you want to call it, it was the largest mental hospital in the world -- a self-contained city, with its own post office, fire department, and zip code.

I'm not working on a new project related to Milledgeville, but just exploring possibilities.

Those who lived around mid-century Georgia are very familiar with Milledgeville's reputation. Like state hospitals across the country, it embraced some of the more violent methods of psychotherapy: insulin shock, metrazol convulsive therapy, electroshock treatment and, of course, prefrontal lobotomies. At one time they were reportedly administering 3,000 shock treatments per year. That's eleven or twelve sessions per day (assuming a five-day therapy schedule), which must have been an assembly-line process.

What's interesting is that the people working at the hospital are well aware of its reputation, but are comfortable with it, since it's safely isolated in the past. On a guided tour of the hospital's museum, the docent cheerfully showed us the lobotomy picks (transorbital leucotomes), a strait-jacket ("these are still being manufactured today, but we no longer use them here at the hospital") and a MedElec Westinghouse electroshock therapy kit.

The employees I met at CSH aren't particularly proud of Milledgeville's grim past, but at least it's something.

A good example. As a means of raising funds to restore the cemeteries where thousands of "clients" were buried (either in unmarked graves or graves marked by numbered spikes which were casually unearthed and tossed aside over the years) the Georgia Consumer Council (an organization comprised of former "clients") sells copies of a sensational tell-all book by Dr. Peter G. Cranford, once the Chief Clinical Psychologist at Milledgeville. In today's tight-fisted governmental economy, the only way to raise money for something like cemetery restoration (so the deceased patients can have some sort of posthumous dignity) is to capitalize on the horrible threatment some of those patients received.

Maybe the horror stories of what went on there in the 1930s through the '50s add a littlle zest to a place that is otherwise quiet and dull. The feeling one gets while walking or driving through the campus is that it's all steadily deteriorating. The central administrative building (the Powell Building) has been well maintained, but the other elaborate buildings -- the enormous turn-of-the-century patient wards, the Victorian nurse's dormitory -- have either been torn down or are now boarded up and condemned. Most of the patients (they refer to them as "clients") are now housed in nondescript brick '70s style institutional buildings.

But don't get the wrong idea. Milledgeville wasn't an isolated torture ward. The abovementioned psychotherapy treatments were widely embraced and were practiced at state mental hospitals across the country. Albert Deutsch's book The Shame of the States (1948) was an expose of the conditions and treatments of state mental hospitals. If you have a copy, loan it to me.