“Get Low” Gets High Praise
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You’ve read the story in Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” about Tom and Huck attending their own funeral, right? Well, in “Get Low,” the dramedy film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema, we see a Tennessee hermit throw his own rollicking funeral so he can enjoy it while he’s still alive.
Not a bad idea. Why should you miss all the fun? Especially when you’re the guest of honor.
The cast of “Get Low” is headlined by three aging legends – cranky ol’ Robert Duvall, knee-slapping funny Bill Murray, and classy country gal Sissy Spacek.
Duvall plays backwoods recluse Felix “Bush” Breazeale. Uncle Bush, as folks called him, has a shady reputation. Some say he’s committed murder. Others allege he’s in league with the devil. So you can imagine the consternation when he marches into town to ask the funeral director to conduct a pre-death funeral for him. Eulogies and all, he wants to know what folks will say about him while he’s still around.
Murray co-stars as Frank Quinn, the funeral director who believes the publicity will be good for business. Spacek takes the role of a local widow who figures in the mystery that surrounds Felix Breazeale. It all comes out at the funeral.
Robert Duvall’s performance is getting Oscar buzz. Both funny and serious, the film is about “loneliness, guilt, redemption, forgiveness, love, and human mortality.”
“Get Low” is loosely based on events that took place in Roane County, Tennessee, back in 1938. The Knoxville Courier interviewed some of the people who still remember Uncle Bush’s living funeral.
Eleanor “Pete” Quinn Barnes, the daughter of the funeral director, was 18 when it happened. “It (drew) an awful big crowd,” she recalls, “and it was awfully hot. It was more like a three-ring circus than a funeral. It was big.”
An estimated 8,000 folks attended Felix’s funeral. Traffic to Cave Creek Baptist Church was backed up for four miles.
“High-profile politicians and ministers showed up,” noted the Knoxville paper. “Choirs sang. It was almost like a picnic, complete with ice cream being served. One Roane County newspaper report says 10 guests fainted during the party – probably due to the heat and the large crowds, not because Breazeale was alive. Breazeale made no pretense he was dead. A skilled craftsman, he made his own coffin and sat beside it as mourners came up to speak with him.”
Rev. Charles E. Jackson said in his sermon, “This service is not a bad idea. Much good should come from a service divested of the usual tears and heartaches.”
The funeral made Uncle Bush a celebrity. On the 4th of July, he and his mule were guests of honor at a Harriman Independence Day party. Fliers invited people to “Come and Hear the Living Corpse.”
A Quinn family member developed the story for the screen. Nonetheless, local folks pick apart details of the movie. “Daddy never had a mustache in his life,” says 90-year-old Eleanor Barnes.
“The movie is 5 percent truth and 95 percent Hollywood embellishment,” observes the funeral director’s grandson, Larry Robinson. “Bill Murray had some entertaining lines, but my grandfather was very moralistic.”
In the movie Frank Quinn is portrayed as a lonely guy whose wife has left him. He’s childless and in need of money. But, in truth, Quinn had a happy marriage and two children.
“I know they have to change things to make for a more interesting story,” says a grandson of Frank Quinn.
Uncle Bush enjoyed his funeral. “This will be my only funeral,” he said. “It was the finest sermon I ever heard, and when I die there won’t be another one.”
True to his word, when Felix “Bush” Breazeale died five years later, his second service a quiet affair, barely noted.
[from Solares Hill]