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Video Review

Brothers in Word
By Ray Gray
Ray Gray Productions
Reviewed by Elizabeth Claytor

Brothers in Word is a documentary film that introduces the viewer to seven men who are storytellers, one-time competitors and now, friends. They meet for a day of storytelling, enjoy a sauna set deep in the woods, and share good conversation and good company. The film is set in the beautiful countryside near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This film is not recommended for children or classroom use because of brief male nudity and the sexual overtones in the poem, In the Sweat, by Robin Moore that is used in the opening montage.

The seven storytellers are Bill Wood, Ted Fink, David Mettler, Bill Mettler, Ray Gray, Dick Humphreys and Robin Moore. They met as storytellers and competitors, but once they found their own individual voices and niches in the storytelling world, the competitiveness fell away and a strong bond of friendship has taken its place. The film is highly personal; some parts will only be fully appreciated and enjoyed by the seven storytellers themselves; other sequences will be of great interest to budding storytellers, veteran storytellers, and those who merely enjoy a good story.
The first storytelling sequence begins when the Brothers in Word open a jar of condensed milk that has been boiled down to a sweet paste. Stories and thoughts about sweets followed. Bill Wood told an excellent story about a Japanese ascetic priest eating bean paste, but he didn’t want his acolytes to know that he was indulging himself, evidence that he was not living a pure existence. Wood ‘s compelling style makes the story pop. Bill Mettler tells a second story about a mother who brought her young son to Mahatma Gandhi to learn the secrets of spirituality. He told the woman to return with her son in two weeks. When she and the boy returned, Gandhi told the boy, "Young man, do not eat sweets." The mother inquired why he couldn’t have told them this two weeks ago. Gandhi answered, "Two weeks ago, I was eating sweets."

The second sequence shows the storytellers sharing stories of their fathers in the sauna Dick Humphreys built, using native stone, into the hillside on his property. He has been successful in creating a house "that looks like it grew there" in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania countryside. The best story is an improbable, but engaging story about Robin Moore’s grandfather training a fish to live on land. Coincidentally, the poignancy of the story is enhanced by the fact that the summer of the fish story was the last summer Robin was able to spend with his grandfather. His grandfather passed away in the fall of that year. The other men share brief reflections about fathers and grandfathers, but no one tells a full-fledged story.

The third segment explores how one becomes a storyteller and first storytelling experiences. Before returning to their respective homes, the Brothers in Word visit the picturesque Quarryville Family Restaurant where we all are able to enjoy "the company of rogues and raconteurs." Bill Wood tells of being called to storytelling. He left a teaching job with great students, a great principal, and great facilities, but also great unhappiness with himself and his life. He knew that teaching was wrong for him. After eighteen months of searching for the right path, he discovered that the journal that he had been keeping for no special reason contained the stories and drawings that would launch his career as a storyteller. Ray Gray explains quite simply that "Everything is the story. Whether the story is good or bad, it makes no difference." Storytelling is the way for him to communicate. Dick Humphreys asserts that storytelling is not easy for him. He tells stories to children because he, himself, enjoys hearing stories. Getting started as a storyteller is not always easy either. Ray Gray told his first story, The Three Billy Goats Gruff to a group of pre-schoolers. When he finished the story, a three-year-old girl raised her hand and pointed out that he had changed a word in the story. The lesson learned? "Don’t ever tell a story that someone else knows."

The film is an unusual and innovative way of exploring the art and the joys of storytelling to the uninitiated, or providing food for thought for the experienced storyteller. However, it leaves the viewer wanting more. More stories, please! This reviewer would have enjoyed a complete story from each of the Brothers in Word.

—posted in September, 2003


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