In 1964, having starred in several movies, including West Side Story, Richard Beymer put his acting career on hold and spent the summer in Mississippi, where he was one of several activists who worked to register blacks to vote and who taught at Freedom Schools. He brought a Bolex camera with him, filmed what he saw, and later edited that footage into a 30-minute documentary called A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer.
Set to a soundtrack that is a mix of rock and roll and the blues, A Regular Bouquet is a heartfelt and often angry portrait of day-to-day life in the Jim Crow era. Over footage of black women and children working in a cotton field, a woman explains how, every year, she picks more cotton and gets paid less money for her work. There is positive and hopeful footage of young black children learning at a Freedom School but, at the same time, the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner hang over the documentary. One of the documentary’s most strongest moments is a montage of still photographs that illustrate how far the authorities were willing to go to try to stop the civil right movement from reaching Mississippi.
A Regular Bouquet is available on YouTube. If some of the footage looks familiar, that is because it has regularly been reused in other documentaries about the civil rights movement. If you only know Richard Beymer as the evil Ben Horne on Twin Peaks, A Regular Bouquet is an eye-opening movie.