RIDE WITH THE DEVIL
About The Production
When America went to war with itself in 1861, the young boys growing up in the Kansas and Missouri regions were
forced into manhood, virtually overnight. Their loss of innocence was
one of the first and most palpable casualties of the Civil War.
Meditating on that loss, Missouri-born author Daniel Woodrell wrote his 1987 Civil War-era novel Woe to
Live On (published by Henry Holt and Co.). (The novel had its origins in one part ["I Have Been Found in History Books")
of a three-part short story written by Woodrell in 1983 and published in The Missouri Review.) Present-day television news
images of children in overseas countries brandishing automatic weapons reminded Woodrell of the young Bushwhackers
(the name originated from their hiding places in the bushes) whose personal histories he had studied while
attending the University of Kansas: "They fought under no specific rules."
Woodrell states, "The Civil War period of history has resonance in Vietnam [where Woodrell served a tour of duty], Bosnia
and Nicaragua. It literally was neighbor against neighbor, and often even family member against family member."
Given his own family history in Missouri and time Kansas, Woodrell was naturally motivated to write
about the guerrilla warfare that tore through both states, near the separating them. "The devastation was tremendous.
The war actually started earlier than the official War, and there revenge raids going on for a decade or more after the
war. It wasn't abstract — it wasn't an army from some distant state, it was that guy from down the road," he
While researching the period anew, Woodrell had been surprised to learn that
there were black men who at different times rode with Southern raiders.
"These men had actually taken up arms because of friendships they had, but
then once the larger cause became central to their lives, they realized they
actually were not fighting in their own best interests," he said.
Woodrell was also fascinated by the contradictions of the young men's
experiences, or lack of same: I wanted to get through the humanity of all
involved. "I wanted to get through the humanity of all involved. During this time wasn't unusual for a man to be a Captain of Cavalry and
have participated in soul-searing things by 25 years old, yet still be a virgin. The concept of having been at war for three or four years and never having kissed a girl.. .it really humanized
the poor guys for me."
People's humanity has always been the primary focus director Ang Lee, whose films have spanned very different times and places but have always honed in on the characters'
human natures. Lee was seeking to apply his considerable director talents to tell a story in a film genre different from the one he had explored just prior. "Ride With The Devil" associate producer Anne Carey had read and savored Woodrell's novel years earlier. Remembering it, she saw the potential for an intriguing
pairing of filmmaker and subject matter, and showed a copy to Lee. The director responded to the material immediately: "I could see the movie in my head as I read the book. It's dramatic: young
people coming of age in the worst possible time in American histo:ry.
I liked the theme of self-emancipation."
The material certainly would be something different for director, and filmmaking team, always seeking a new cinema challenge. "Ride With The Devil" screenwriter and producer James Schamus recalls, "When we were making [Lee's 1995 film of] 'Sense and Sensibility,' there was a moment when Ang turned to me and said,
' You know, some day I'd like to make a movie with characters who have dirty fingernails.' And there are lots
those in Daniel's book."
The "dirty fingernails" would have to wait a little
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