Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Last One

Thanks to Neal Hutcheson
Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton in The Last One.
Photo by Neal Hutcheson

I was introduced to mountain dew at an early age. I’m not talking about that sickly sweet syrupy soft drink that came in the green bottle bearing the ominous warning, "It’ll tickle yore innards."

Nope, I’m talking about the real thing.

I was about ten years old and up some cove near Whittier. It was my first time ever to visit some family friends at their place, and I was sitting alone on the porch when another boy, a year or two younger than me, approached with a glass of water. At least, I assumed it was a glass of water. He held it out toward me and smiled, "You want some moonshine? I put rock candy in it and that makes it good. I like it!"

It wasn’t water. And I didn’t particularly like it.

As far as that other little boy is concerned, I wonder how his liver is holding up these days.

He may have been the first, but certainly not the last, mischievous guy to offer me a swig of corn squeezins’. If I had a hankering for the stuff today, though, I really don’t know who could help me out. But thanks to a new film by Neal Hutcheson, I’m (almost) inspired enough to revive a timeless mountain tradition and make a batch myself.

The Last One follows Popcorn Sutton to a suitably secluded spot in the mountains where he proceeds to set up a still and make one "last" batch of illegal liquor. If it’s not a step-by-step guide to do-it-yourself distilling, it’s the next closest thing.


Several months ago, I posted a story on Popcorn, and I continue to get hits almost daily from people searching for his book, Me and My Likker, and his self-produced video, The Last Run of Likker I'll Ever Make. The last I heard, Popcorn was facing federal charges and the people of Maggie Valley were circulating a petition asking the judge to go easy on him.

By the end of The Last One, I had a new-found respect for the technical knowledge of a craftsman like Popcorn Sutton. Some of the old traditions that have been a mainstay in these hills, like running dogs and making ‘shine, are fading fast. And the time will likely arrive, sooner rather than later, when they’ll just be memories.

Fortunately, Neal Hutcheson has preserved a closeup look at the work of one mountain master keeping his tradition alive. I’d like to see a sequel, where Popcorn could tell us more of what would no doubt be an endless string of stories from a lifetime of bootlegging.

I don’t consider it a shortcoming of The Last One that Popcorn Sutton remains as much an enigma at the end of the film as at the beginning. Questions remain unanswered. Is Popcorn Sutton the genuine article? Or is he a caricature of himself?

But in raising those questions, I recognize they could just as easily apply to the rest of us. To what extent are any of us authentic people and to what extent are we self-consciously (or unconsciously) playing roles?

While Popcorn Sutton is more than willing to reveal the secrets of crafting fine likker, he is much more guarded about the secrets of crafting Popcorn Sutton. And to that extent, I’d call The Last One a mystery story.

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Neal Hutcheson produced The Prince of Dark Corners, written by Gary Carden and featuring Milton Higgins as the outlaw Lewis Redmond. Hutcheson has produced other films with local connections, including The Queen Family and Mountain Talk. They’re all available at the Sucker Punch Productions website, http://www.suckerpunchpictures.com/

Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton with mountain musician Abigail Moore in The Last One.
Photo by Neal Hutcheson

7 comments:

Western North Carolina Writer's Underground said...

If Popcorn retains his freedom (and he should--mercy, not justice) he should be able to command some hefty speaker honorariums to help pay his legal fees. Maggie should treat this guy as the (deserved) King of the valley. Caricature, no; icon, yes.

Anonymous said...

popcorn you are a hero and I think the law should leave you alone. I have drink some of your loveing likker and I got married the next week it was the best i had ever drink but the gallon didn't last long, because i took a head cold after i got married and i drink all the likker and it will take your cold away. popcorn you are a hero.

donniecrow said...

Dear popcorn
popcorn you are a hero I watch the picture and injoy it a lot I like to meet you
and talk to you I am waving my hand at you thank and god bless
donnie in tennessee

Anonymous said...

hey popcorn you want to show me how to make some of that good ole likker.

Anonymous said...

RIP Popcorn! I met Uncle Ted when I was a little girl and I wish I could have met you too!

Anonymous said...

I still have 2/3 of a mason jar of popcorns finest above the fridge. guess I'll be saving it for special occasions. I had a sip yesterday for popcorn.

BAREFOOT TS said...

I KNEW POPCORN HE IS A DISTANT KINFOKE OF MY FAMILY HE IS A LIVING MOONSHINERS LEDGIN ALL THE FOKE SURE WILL MISS HIM AND HIS LIKER I THINK HIS SHINE AND DAYS MAKE HIM MORE POPULAR THAN THE OLDER SUTTON MEN TED AND CHARLIE WHO WERE BUSTED MORE THAN ONCE CHARLIE SPENT QUITE SOME TIME FOR THE CRIME