Authentic local Western

Film review

July 31, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

A retired high school teacher and former head of the Chesapeake Arts Center has completed his first film, which enjoyed a three-evening preview at Diamond Cinema Westview.

After 30 years teaching Shakespeare, Wayne Shipley told guests at Tuesday's first showing of One-Eyed Horse that he wanted to pay homage to the Bard - and to another hero, Western movie director John Ford.

The movie, which takes its title from a treasured horse that has endured hardship but remains gently dependable, launched a planned monthly series of Independent Movie Nights featuring Maryland filmmakers at the Baltimore County theater.

FOR THE RECORD - A review in the July 31 Anne Arundel County section of The Sun misidentified the location of one of the sets in the new independent movie, One-Eyed Horse. It was the Benson-Hammond House. The Sun regrets the error.

Although new to moviemaking, Shipley is no stranger to theater, having directed productions during his career as English department chairman and drama coach at North County High School.

After retiring, Shipley became executive director of the Chesapeake Arts Center but found time to direct dramas with Actors Company Theatre, a group he formed 10 years ago with actors John Strawbridge and Gary Wheeler.

Shipley left CAC in the spring of 2004 and ventured into the world of independent filmmaking by working on production crews and playing minor roles.

A fan of classic Westerns, Shipley wrote and directed One-Eyed Horse and made ingenious use of local settings at his family's 38-acre farm in Jessup, Blob's Park and the historic Hammond-Harwood house in Linthicum.

He transformed Blob's Park into a 19th-century western bar, where the wrap party was held in December. Back then, producer-manager Ruth Holmes looked forward to scheduling interior scenes after the removal of Christmas decorations from the Hammond-Harwood House.

Shipley and director of photography/editor Jeff Herberger have completed editing 54 hours of film down to about two hours.

"After we completed scenes, our editor, Jeff, would make a rough cut almost immediately that he and I would look at, and Jeff would make a second cut," Shipley said. "After principal photography wrapped, Jeff assembled the rough cut into acts from which we made a third cut. We'd watch the whole and trim, making a final pass through the film trimming as we went, ending up with 'picture cut.' Essentially we chunked it down to doable bits and plowed through it as we went. Jeff is a master at establishing rhythms."

Judging by the final product viewed at Westview, Herberger is also a master cinematographer: His photographic work is high-resolution, sharp and artistically composed.

One-Eyed Horse is a local cinematic feat for other reasons. Shipley's story about two former Civil War protagonists returning to their homes and businesses has profundity well beyond the average Western.

Former Union officer William Tecumseh Curry (Mike Hagan) is able to move on 25 years after the war to center his life on his successful Hadley, Mo., horse ranch and his daughter, Katherine (Kelly Potchak). Former Confederate officer Justin Gatewood (Mark Redfield) lost a brother during their forced march as prisoners led by Curry, then earned another five years in prison when he tried to kill Curry. Gatewood retains an obsessive desire for revenge that prevents his enjoyment of the business success that flourished under daughter, Helen (Jennifer Rouse), in his absence.

Shipley tells his story against a believable Western backdrop created in Anne Arundel County. He and a team of expert horsemen conducted a four-month "cowboy boot camp" to make the actors look comfortable on horseback. His wife, Pat, made certain that cast members were costumed authentically.

Shipley gathered an outstanding cast of actors in leading roles. Redfield plays Justin Gatewood with authority, lending a needed scholarly note to his characterization, and seems to relish quoting the Bard. Equally strong is Hagan as Curry.

Rouse as Helen provides touching moments in scenes with her father. Potchak plays Katherine with the right spirit, sweetly interacting with the family housekeeper, Aunt Jewel. Richard Cutting brings a menacing quality to the role of Creed Logan, Helen's business associate and would-be suitor.

In supporting roles, Greg Coale is impressive as Sheriff Nathan Short, Bob Brown is credible as Slim Hayden, Robert Jackson brings dignity to the sympathetic role of Calvin Johns, Strawbridge gives dash to Bob Bragg, and Elana Barksdale brings needed warmth to Aunt Jewel. (Full disclosure: Actor Dave Kalma is my cousin, a fact that I hope does not prevent my acknowledging the amusing bravado he brings to his characterization of John Cussons.)

A first attempt at such a large endeavor inevitably will have a few flaws. A major fight scene between the Egyptian and Dutch Logan looks more contrived and choreographed than the less important one that precedes it. Some minor players give flat performances. Occasionally, lines are not properly miked. And perhaps the film would benefit by further judicious editing.

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