#456) Our Day (1938)

#456) Our Day (1938)

OR “My Old Kentucky Home”

Directed & Written by Wallace Kelly

Class of 2007

The Plot: Amateur filmmaker Wallace Kelly chronicles a day in the life for him and his family in their hometown of Lebanon, Kentucky. After waking up and having breakfast, Wallace, his wife Mabel, and brother Oliver go to work, while mother Mattie and dog Lady Luck tend to the garden. Upon returning home, the family entertains themselves with croquet and Crokinole. Seemingly dull stuff, but Wallace Kelly has a knack for editing and staging that makes his home movies feel like a professional short film.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it an “exquisitely crafted amateur film”, though most of its superlatives are lifted from the accompanying essay by film archivist Margaret Compton (or did she lift it from them?).

But Does It Really?: The NFR sure loves putting home movies on this list. “Our Day” is definitely a notch above your average home movie, with its fine balance of cinema verite and polished set-ups, but its induction as a significant film is a bit puzzling. Ultimately, “Our Day” makes the cut for representing Wallace Kelly, an amateur filmmaker far removed from Hollywood, and for its depiction of average Kentuckians free of any hillbilly-esque stereotypes. The Compton essay makes enough of an argument for me to give “Our Day” a very slight pass. You win this round, NFR.

Everybody Gets One: Wallace Kelly was born and raised in Lebanon, Kentucky (his ancestors founded the town!). A skilled artist, Kelly moved to New York as an adult to pursue an illustrator career.  It was during his time in New York that Wallace first became interested in moviemaking, saving up for a year to buy his first film camera. Shortly thereafter, Kelly returned home following the death of his father to help run the family business (Dad was the editor of “The Lebanon Enterprise”). Kelly and his fiancée Mabel settled down in Lebanon, eventually studying portrait photography and opening the studio featured in “Our Day”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Mostly radio as a primary source of media entertainment, and professional cameras the size of a mini-fridge.

Other notes 

  • Though not shown in the film, brother Oliver was the editor of “The Lebanon Enterprise”, taking over for their late father.
  • Lady Luck Kelly is giving me flashes of Asta from “The Thin Man“.
  • I just want to point out that the adults in this movie are in their late 20’s and appear to still be living with their mom/mother-in-law. Typically the people in this living situation would not want any of their lives to be documented.
  • Hand-written intertitles: you just don’t see that kind of handcrafted charm in other movies.
  • Ooh, instant coffee. I didn’t realize this was One Day in the life of the Rockefeller’s.
  • Sure that dog acts all sweet and innocent, but then we get to the garden and we watch Lady Luck take down a cat. It’s not at a “The Hunters” level of animal cruelty, but it’s more intense than I would have anticipated from this film.
  • I had never heard of the game Crokinole until this movie; I guess it’s a tabletop version of bocce ball? It looks complicated, but the Kellys seem to be having fun.
  • This movie ends with two pastimes that really don’t come across in a silent film: listening to the radio and playing the piano. That being said, Oliver appears to be quite an accomplished player.

Legacy 

  • Wallace Kelly continued to make well-crafted home movies until his death in 1988. Despite his extensive filmography, Kelly never screened them outside of family or neighborhood gatherings.
  • “Our Day” received its first public screening in 2007. In attendance was NYU Professor Dan Streible, a National Film Preservation Board member who successfully lobbied to get “Our Day” on the NFR list later that year.
  • Wallace Kelly’s filmography has been made available online courtesy of his daughter, Martha Kelly.

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