Appalachian moonshiners are the focus of this mini documentary. We are shown the life and habits of the folks making up the illicit spirit industry. Hic!
Ninety-nine bottles of hooch…
Fans of classic cinema know that movies were more than just one feature back in the days. Cartoons, newsreels, recorded songs and dances… There was always more to see in a movie theater. In the Moonshine Country is an “actuality” that lasts just a few minutes. It was part of a series called the Paramount-Bray-Pictographs, which billed itself as the Magazine of the Screen.
Anyone who thinks that using short video presentations to entertain an audience is a modern invention is hereby corrected. Bray Productions is probably best known as one of the earliest major animation studios (their talent included the Fleischer brothers) but the studio had other ambitions as well. Bray’s magazine was a split reel affair, which was made up of short snippets of content that included actualities like In the Moonshine Country and cartoons like Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series. (The series jumped from Paramount to Goldwyn for distribution.)
Lest you think this was a haphazard affair, Bray formed an editorial board for the magazine comprised of editors from popular print periodicals like Popular Science, Field and Stream and the Women’s Home Companion.
In the Moonshine Country was released after the series was well-established. The style of filmmaking displayed in this actuality has its roots in the very start of motion pictures. Early filmmakers soon realized that a camera could allow their audiences to travel to exotic locales from the comfort of their theater seats. Moviegoers were treated to real and faked scenes from the holy land, Russia and China, just to name a few subjects.
In the case of In the Moonshine Country, the title cards do give a gawking, slightly sneering flavor:
The film assumes a little bit of familiarity with the concept of a moonshiner. We are told that their fishing technique is “another” way to evade the law. Well, the short is right about one thing: legal or illegal, freshly caught fish are delicious.
(Should you be interested in the technical side of process of making moonshine, here is a complete breakdown for educational purposes. Please drink responsibly, don’t blow yourself up and don’t actually do anything it says. Full legal disclaimers on the linked site because yowza.)
Being a California girl, I was shocked the first time I heard that there were still dry counties in the United States. See, we’re as liquefied as can be out here on the west coast and can buy alcohol any time from any place that has a license but the more easternish, southernish parts of the country have moist and dry areas. Time warp!
At the time of In the Moonshine Country’s release, nationwide Prohibition was still two years away but individual states were already banning alcohol. Kansas banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol in its state constitution in 1881 and other states followed its example. When alcohol was finally banned in the entire United States, it was the culmination of a culture war that had been raging almost since the founding of the nation.
Of course, you would never know any of this from In the Moonshine Country. The idea was to create an interesting little movie-magazine item that would amuse the audience for a few minutes. The general attitude of the short is more “moonshiners will be moonshiners” than one of condemnation. I imagine, though, that the piece would not have received much play in more conservative parts of the country and I certainly hope that it was not played in the moonshiners’ hometown. It’s not generally good practice to allow yourself to be filmed whilst committing a crime.
In the Moonshine Country is fun because it gives modern viewers an idea of the variety that was offered to audiences of the silent era. Features were the main course but the appetizers are worth tasting as well.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★
Where can I see it?
In the Moonshine Country was released on DVD and Bluray as part of Flicker Alley’s We’re in the Movies anthology.