For the blog this week I took a trip down memory lane or rather…alongside the Whistle-Stop tracks. Ever heard of them? You might recall an early 90’s movie, based on an original novel, ‘Fried Green Tomatoes.’ Does it ring a bell or a whistle?
We’re talking Kathy Bates, bee charming, and yes, the secret in the sauce.
Fried Green Tomatoes hit the box office in December of 1991, with a low budget (relative to 1990’s Hollywood production) of $11 million. And while it was not an instant box office success, it did eventually go on to gross $119 million.
Compare that to the box office success of the same year, ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ which grossed $131 million with a budget twice that of Fried Green Tomatoes and I’d say it’s pretty darned impressive.
Now, enough about money!
Fried Green Tomatoes very nearly predates the digital special effects (SFX) boom that erupted in the 90s and so, in my opinion, it hides a bit in the computer-generated shadow of some of the other movies from that time.
The film was shot on a Panavision Paraflex Gold using Panavision Primo lenses. If you are not a camera buff, you might be wondering what in the world that means!
The Panavision Paraflex Gold was introduced in 1976 and used for other well-known bits like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as well as for the cult favorite, Seinfeld. It is known for capturing reliable film while producing minimal sound, which is ideal in sync sound shooting situations.
Sync sound shooting, also synchronized sound recording, refers to when sound is recorded at the same time as film shooting.
Super 35 was the chosen cinematic process used for the movie. Super 35 is a film format that uses 35 mm film but puts a larger image frame on that stock by using the space normally reserved for the optical analog soundtrack.
A Quick Recap
For those who have never seen FGT (and those who haven’t watched it since ‘91), let me break it down for you.
Helen Crouch, who is portrayed by the marvelous Kathy Bates, is struggling with being an empty nester and wife to her distracted husband, Ed. Over the course of a year or so, she makes friends with an older woman at a nursing home, Ninny Threadgoode.
Ninny tells the story of a friendship between the fiercely independent Idgie Threadgoode and the straight-laced preacher’s daughter, Ruth Jamison. It’s a badass story about badass women and in turn, inspires Evelyn to be more… badass.
And of course, you can’t forget the ending… Is Idgie still alive? Who is still leaving honey at Ruth’s grave?
When Life Gives You Fickle Stunt Doubles
One of the most memorable moments from the movie is the bee charming scene featuring the one and only, Mary Stuart Masterson.
The scene shows the Huck Finn-esque, Idgie Threadgood, taking her pal, Ruth to a giant tree that harbors a highly active beehive. She calmly walks over to the hive, without any hesitation, and retrieves a comb of honey to bring back to Ruth.
While the scene was reportedly supposed to be shot using a stunt double, Masterson saved the day and performed the stunt herself when the double quit last minute.
This scene has always stood out to me.
I have wondered about “bee charmers” since the first time I watched the movie. Then last week, after almost 20 years of bee charmer daydreaming, my brother told me about his very own neighbor, Brian.
Brian tends to bees in his very own Tucson backyard. When my brother heard about Brian’s setup, he decided to make a short video, being the ambitious storyteller that he is.
Here is the finished product!
The video was shot directly above the beehive using the Canon EOS C300 Mark II Cinema Camera (now that’s a mouthful!). The frame rate was 120 frames per second. He used the Rokinon Xeen 24mm T1.5 Lens.
Alan loves this lens because it is a wide lens that allows him to get really (x5) close to whatever buzzing subject he desires.
I should mention that my brother has had a respectful fear of bees for most of his life since he was attacked by a swarm of bees on a camping trip when he was eight years old. So, getting up close and personal with the hive of bright pollinators was a bit of an ominous task.
Cheers to you, Alan! Cheers to the beekeeper’s smoker as well.
Beekeepers use a device called a bee smoker to put off smoke, which is harmless to bees, and simply masks the pheromone that bees release when they sense danger.
This pheromone is called isopentyl acetate, they use it to communicate with each other that it is time to attack. And so, using smoke = less likelihood of being swarmed and stung by bees—Music to Alan’s ears.
After reading an article in Southern Living, I discovered a bit more about the behind-the-scenes action from the Fried Green Tomatoes scene I love so much.
Turns out they also used smoke and queen bee pheromone to help Masterson in her honey retrieval. Masterson explains that she did the complete scene three times, each time walking away covered in bees, “… by the third time, I was so covered in bees I couldn’t even see. It looked silly like you know the bearded lady with the bee beard.”
While I may be a part of a niche crowd that clings on to this B.C.G.I (before-computer-generated-images) movie, I thought it would be a fun topic to share with you all this week! Let me know how you liked it!
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