Porter Rockwell, the man and the movie

I wanted to put the grammar, (not the glamour) of motion pictures and television on a live stage. Elizabethan writers, mostly William Shakespeare turned the primitive English tongue into an elegant art form. Likewise the first motion pictures were clumsy and haphazard compared to the powerful (for good or ill) communications medium they are today. The first movies were pretty much point, shoot, and show. Sort of equivalent to tossing words at a page and hoping they turn into a story.

Later directors, most notably D.W. Griffith turned the camera, editing booth, and later the sound track into powerful tools to capture our minds and emotions. Their system is so universal in film and television today that we hardly notice it, and can barely imagine a motion picture presented in any other way.

The basic grammar is: start the scene with a long shot to orient the viewer, cut to medium shots for interaction between the actors, go to tight close ups for intimate thoughts or words. Use music to change scenes and set moods.

For breaks in the forward movement of the story, or big changes in scenes, go back to the long shot and start the process again.

I wanted to try that approach on stage.

However, instead of panoramic scenes, multiple camera shoots, post production editing bays, special effects, symphony orchestra backgrounds and a “cast of thousands” mine would be a one man, one guitar spectacular. This was a disadvantage. But the advantage was this show would be presented in the finest performance hall in the world, the theater in each person’s mind.

Star of the show was Porter Rockwell, AKA, “Ol’ Port, frontier marshal, body guard, and personal friend to Joseph Smith and later Brigham Young. Feared by outlaws, appreciated by law abiding folks, and one of my personal heroes.

For ten years or so, I took the show all over California and many other cities in the United States. Port was always an audience pleaser. After the show lines of people came up, women to talk about the aesthetic nuances of the presentation, men to tell me their favorite Porter Rockwell story.

Part of the appeal was Ol’ Port himself. He was known to dip into the “valley tan” home brew, but was not the drunken hired gun portrayed by his enemies. He was an ally to the threatened, and a good neighbor. But when they murdered his boyhood friend Joseph Smith, he swore justice on any law breakers, and he used his skills to track, relentlessly pursue, and when necessary, close the deal with hot lead to fulfill his oath.

Ol’ Port’s adventures, colorful character, and personal challenges fired the imagination of the audience. They willingly leaped into the saddle and rode with him. Folk songs and ballads about him, some of them I wrote, moved him from one scene to the next. Voice characterizations and body language placed other people in the scenes. Guitar chords occasionally punctuated the dialogue, or added a sound effect. But these were only suggestions to launch the individualized story playing in the imagination of each audience member.

Ol’ Port is one of the most enjoyable and successful performances I have done on stage. His long gallop over the years would indicate that a lot of folks enjoyed riding with him.