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rough lifeWill Patton plays Frank in the documentary “The Rough South of Larry Brown.” The works of the Oxford, Miss. fireman-turned-writer are examined in a unique format that incorporates narrative film adaptations of three of his short stories. The film screens Friday at the Tivoli Theatre as part of the Celebration of Southern Literature.
It seems that every Southern writer comes from somewhere like Tula. There must be something about the slow pace and hot summers of Mississippi that make writing a necessity. In the opening moments of “The Rough South of Larry Brown,” the ripe, clear Southern drawl of Mary Annie Brown shapes the rest of the film by giving it such a distinct sense of place. Told through a series of interviews with author Larry Brown, a Southern writer who has been compared to Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner, “The Rough South of Larry Brown” is a documentary that shows the work and life of a man through the lens of his place in the world.
Brown was a fireman before he was an author (or perhaps he was an author who spent his time putting out fires) and at times labored at various odd jobs trying to make money for his family. His wife regards him as a man of whims and during one of those impulses he borrows a typewriter and immerses himself in creating stories. Both Brown and his wife treat the incident as a passing thought rather than a lifelong desire, and yet the man wrote hundreds of short stories and 10 novels, five of which were unpublished. Brown believed that writing was a practice not a talent—a practice that he threw himself into sometimes at the expense of his family.
A strong presence in the film is Brown’s wife, Mary Annie, who by her own admission raised their children and made sure the family thrived. Brown worked at the fire station, writing during breaks and brought home what money he could, but he appears to be something of an absent presence in the lives of his children. Often, he spent time in the bars around Tula, collecting inspiration for characters and stories.
Despite this, Mary Annie shows no bitterness. She accepts his idiosyncrasies as she would the changes in the weather, seeing them not as flaws but as pieces of a whole. Throughout the narrative, dramatized pieces of Brown’s short stories give the audience a sense of his work while allowing him to comment on the themes and complexities found therein.
It paints a picture of a powerful writer, giving the audience a sense of how he was able to find his stories. Mary Annie took the reins of responsibility and enabled Brown to create a lasting body of work in a time when literary fiction is dying. She is almost as responsible for his legacy as he is.
For writers, “The Rough South of Larry Brown” gives a unique look at an artist and his work. It shows a simple man, from a simple place, and reveals how rich stories are born.