Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big Screen--- Dog Jack Premier: Chicago/Pittsburgh In October

Civil War's Dog Jack Saluted After 7 Score, 4 Years: Story of Pennsylvania Regiment's Faithful Comrade Brings Movie Crew to Soldiers & Sailors [National Museum], Lillian Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 10, 2005.

Dog Jack, a mixed-breed warrior, conducted himself with such valor during the Civil War that the men of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment exchanged a Confederate prisoner for him when he was captured and commissioned a portrait of him at war's end.

The portrait hangs in Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum & Memorial in Oakland: The brown-and-white dog with the patch on his left eye lies on the floor, his head turned to look straight at the viewer. Many years ago, Florence Biros of New Wilmington, Lawrence County, saw it and had to know more. Soon there was "Dog Jack," the novel. Now "Dog Jack," the movie -- starring a deaf female pit bull named Piglet -- is being filmed.

A plaque hanging by the large oil portrait of Dog Jack tells much of what is known about him. He was the mascot of the Niagara Volunteer Fire Co. on Penn Avenue, which was headquartered close to the present-day Engine Co. 3 in the Strip District. He went with the firefighters when they enlisted in the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment in 1861 "and fought in most of their battles except during his period of captivity when he was a prisoner of war," reads the plaque. He took part in the Wilderness campaign, the battle of Spotsylvania and the siege of Petersburg, all in Virginia.

Dog Jack was known for charging straight to the front lines during battle, said Josh Fox, a Soldiers & Sailors curator. He was said to understand bugle calls and obey orders only from his own regiment. After battle, he would roam the battlefield, seeking out wounded and dead comrades. He twice was taken prisoner.

"Captured at Salem Church, six months later he was exchanged for a Confederate prisoner at Belle Isle, Va." says the plaque (other accounts say he was traded for two Confederate POWs). "At Savage Station he was again captured but managed to escape." Jack was badly wounded at Malvern Hill in Virginia but returned to the regiment after recovering in a field hospital. His last campaign was in Maryland. On Dec. 23, 1864, Dog Jack disappeared in Frederick, Md., and was never found.

Some say the silver collar the men had gotten for him attracted the attention of thieves, who dispatched him. Or he may have been wounded in battle that day and gone off to the woods to die, said Fox. The men of the 102nd commissioned the portrait, modeled on a photograph of Jack in the same pose. Soldiers & Sailors also has a charcoal drawing of Dog Jack, this time lying at the feet of a Union soldier. To this bare-bones story, Biros added a runaway slave boy, Jed, who is Dog Jack's fast companion. Her self-published novel for young adults blends fictional characters like Jed with historical ones, including Chaplain Alexander Stewart of the 102nd, who wrote about Dog Jack in his journal.

Biros met Chicago director Edward McDougal at a conference and told him Dog Jack's story; he agreed it had the makings of a movie. McDougal wrote and is producing and directing the film. Californian Woody Young, the executive producer, has provided financial backing; there also are two local investors. It was filmed mainly in Illinois, but some battlefield scenes with historic re-enactors were shot near Darlington, Beaver County, last week, and on Friday, the Soldiers & Sailors ballroom was used for a dance scene.

McDougal expects a spring release of the 105-minute film. He declined to disclose the film's budget. Biros, decked out in a hoop skirt and corkscrew curls, was on hand at Soldiers & Sailors to watch the filming and pose for photographs.

Piglet also was sitting for photographs, in front of Jack's portrait. Except for more white in her coat and a svelter build, she's a ringer for Jack -- variously described as a mutt, a bulldog mix or a bull terrier -- with the same brown patch over the left eye. Piglet had not acted before, said trainer Tracy Doyle of Rockford, Ill., who found her in a Dumpster. A pit bull, she may have been abandoned when the breeder realized the 12-week-old puppy was deaf, said Doyle, who uses hand signals to give commands to Piglet.

Not being able to hear has its advantages during filming of noisy, chaotic battle scenes, and Piglet is a sweet-tempered dog who has tolerated with patience and grace the long waits, repeated takes, lengthy sessions of playing dead and handling by strangers. As to a female playing a macho warrior dog, Doyle said, "Lassie was played by seven generations of male dogs. This is payback." The film departs somewhat from the novel, said McDougal, who has directed a number of films aimed at young audiences, including "The Prodigy."

"We wanted to expand the audience [beyond children], and we wanted to grapple with some of the issues raised," including slavery and the role of slaves and ex-slaves in the war. The movie sets up a conflict within Jed, who is encouraged to seek revenge on his former master by an aggressive soldier of the regiment and urged toward forgiveness by Chaplain Stewart. The ending was the subject of much debate, McDougal said. Having Dog Jack just disappear or die didn't play well with focus groups. "We struggled with that," he said. "The fate of the dog is a major part of the film."

Text and Image Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Image to the Right: Ann Redd and CWL, 2009. Ann's dress is lilac and was worn in the Dog Jack ballroom scene. CWL dressed as a civilian for the scene. The ballroom scene took almost four hours to shoot. Hope we are in it. The wetplate photo by Rob Gibson, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Dog Jack film's wwwsite link

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