From a blockbuster romantic novel published in 1866, two different films, one Victorian, one from the 1950s, on the rise of womanhood.
The popular romantic novels of the nineteenth century from Jane Eyre onward weren’t just about romance but about strong, independent women. The Passion of Miss Augusta combines the life of Southern author Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909) with a two-tiered adaptation of her hugely successful novel St. Elmo (1866), as popular then as Harry Potter is now. Though St. Elmo is largely forgotten today, it was made into a movie no less than four times during the silent era.
Edna Earl, the heroine of St. Elmo, is like Augusta herself, a young woman determined to defy what was expected of women and pursue a career as a writer. The action takes place in the deep South just after the Civil War. What struck me as a native Alabamian was how the book’s portrayal of women and their expected modes of behavior hadn’t changed much by the 1950s, the decade when Hollywood made so many iconic films about the Gothic South of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.
A serious as well as a playful look at Southern sexual roles, The Passion of Miss Augusta is part fiction and part nonfiction. Feminists Nina Baym and Diane Roberts and Victorian scholar Susan Reynolds lend their voices as we rewind and replay the battle of wills in St. Elmo both as a silent film and a Technicolor film from the 50s. The Byronic hero St. Elmo Murray tries to capture and subdue the intelligent and ambitious Edna Earl while she struggles against her attraction to a man she knows to be violent and unrepentent. In real life Augusta Jane Evans gave up her romance with a Northerner to pursue the Southern cause. Her passion for the South and her sorrow over its defeat led her to create in St. Elmo a tale of courage and redemption that spoke to a million readers both North and South.
We have shot and edited half an hour of material with foundation funding. The finished film will be one hour long with the possibility of a feature length film to come. My earlier documentary project William March/Company K was followed by the feature film Company K in which the author William March became a character in the novel that described his own experiences as a marine in World War I.
For The Passion of Miss Augusta we are seeking grass-roots support to help match $5,000 in other funds that have been committed and shoot and edit additional material to help complete the film Your support will also serve as a vote of confidence that will also help us obtain funding from other sources. The Foundation for New Media, producing the film, is a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt organization so your contribution can be tax deductible.
As rewards we offer an array of nice stuff that includes production stills by award-winning photographer Anna Clementine -- okay, I admit she's my daughter! But she's done some wonderful, atmospheric stills on the shoot thus far, some tinted as they might have been done to promote silent films.
Thanks for your support.
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