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This writeup last updated on Aug 25, 2003

Firecracker is a movie that has currently begun filming near Wamego, KS. The main shoot for the film doesn't begin until October 15, 2003, but a few scenes have been shot already. Some noteable names have climbed on board this project including: Mike Patton (of Faith No More) , James Russo, Karen Black, Susan Traylor and Jane Wiedlin (of the Go-Gos).

Steve Balderson created the script and story boards for the Firecracker. Balderson is an up-and-coming filmmaker from Wamego, Kansas. His previous film Pep Squad (1998), which he wrote and directed, won world acclaim at several prestigious film festivals (including being shown four times at the Cannes Film Festival and then later in the U.S. it was featured at the Raindance Film Festival). Unfortunately, partly as a result of the Columbine massacre and partly due to the lack of no "big name" actors, the major U.S. distributors refused to take the film. The film was included a violent school incident and the studios were scared to be associated with a violent school film after a string of real-life incidents in the news. Balderson went on to write his next script for Firecracker while all this was going on. His critical praise for Pep Squad provided him with some limited access to a few "big name" actors. He wasn't going to let that factor hurt this film.

Part of the true story:
(note: I have no idea if any of the information below qualifies as a spoiler. Of course I haven't seen the movie or the script and I have no idea how much of this story will eventually make it into the movie. Rest assured that Balderson doesn't seem to be too worried about spoiling the movie - he provides nearly all the details himself on his website albeit in a more visual disjointed manner ).

The plot of the movie is based on the true story of the disappearance and murder of David White that happened in 1951 in the small town of Wamego, KS. David was an outwardly friendly 45-year old tire repairman at a local gas station who lived with his devoutly religious mother Eleanor and 17-year old brother Jimmy.

David disappeared on the night of July 4th during the town's annual carnival. At first it was viewed as a missing persons case. David was known to be an alcoholic and he would sometimes vanish for days during his drinking binges, so when he first disappeared nobody thought too much about it. But after a few days it became apparent there was foul play involved.

Wamego's Chief of Police Edith "Ed" Carlisle worked many hours to solve the case. A sideshow performer named Cassandra "Miss Sandra" Koertz from the carnival was immediately suspected. Sandra worked for the burlesque show (or Girlie Show) and was the billed as "an oddity". It was thought by some that Sandra might have even been a female impersonator. She had an on-and-off affair with David that recurred yearly during the carnival's return to Wamego. The police also knew that shortly after midnight on the night of David White's disappearance that Sandra and David were seen together fighting in public at the Victory Cafe.

The Wamego Police, with help from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, tracked the carnival to North Dakota. There they found "Miss Sandra" but they also learned that she had been born a female. More importantly she was married to the carnival's owner Frank Shehi. That was one reason the affair with David was kept so secret. In any case, after the police heard Sandra's story they determined that she was not involved.

For 8 weeks the town was gripped in fear as David could not be found. Then luckily police back in Wamego found some bloodstain clues and the whole story finally blew apart when David's 17-year old brother Jimmy confessed that he murdered his older brother and buried him in the alley behind their house. Jimmy was arrested and the authorities found the murder weapon a few miles away. Jimmy had also befriended Sandra and their relationship ultimately led to his brother's demise. David's badly decomposed body was dug up from his own backyard.

Later on we also learn her husband Frank was an abusive and controlling man that used violence against his employees including his wife and kept his workers (the sideshow "girlies" and "circus freaks") in a virtual prison. It is also discovered that many years prior to this Sandra had ran away from a controlling father at the age of 15 to become a singing performer in what she thought was a vaudeville show. Then Sandra's father discovered her daughter had run away with the help of her mother -- he killed his wife with a meat cleaver and shot and killed himself. So at the age of 15 she had no money and no parents and no where to go. She married Frank.

Sometime in her late 20s or early 30s Sandra being seeing David White and began a long secret affair that lasted at least 10 years. Sandra became pregnant and their relationship changed for the worse.

The missing parts of true story:

The information about the true story above comes from Balderson's investigation into the crime as he reports it on his own website and in interviews he has given. This was a small town murder from 60 years ago and it was reported on very little (if at all) nationally. Balderson spent many hours investing this crime -- calling witnesses and interviewing everyone that could tell him anything. Just as he had the pieces to the story unravel to him, he is letting the viewers wait for movie to see the whole story.

First, we are told on the web site that Jimmy's arrest was the first arrest in this case. Obviously we must conclude -- by the use of that phrase -- there must be one or more subsequent arrests. The other major players "Miss Sandra", Frank (the owner), and mother Eleanor are all possible accomplices. Who else was arrested as a result of the investigation? I'm guessing since Hopper has the lead in this film as the dark abusive and mean-spirited carnival owner Frank that this character was one of those later arrested in the crime.

Secondly, we are told that "Miss Sandra" was billed as "an oddity", but it is not revealed what kind of oddity it was. We only learn that she was not a transsexual. Sandra was believed to have been pregnant soon before the murders, but we aren't ever told the rest of the story.What was so odd about Sandra and what ever happened to her baby?

Lastly, we are told that the records in this case were expunged and all the evidence was sealed. Why did this happen? Was it because of Jimmy's status as a minor? Did Jimmy later recant his confession? Did the authorities ever figure out the whole story?What eventually happened to Frank, Sandra, Jimmy, and Eleanor?

The Firecracker story:

Like all works "based on a true story" the filmmaker has taken some artistic license with the tale. He had to use his own intuition to fill in the pieces to make the story complete and also to make it more entertaining. He is including footage of some current sideshow "freaks" and made-up human oddities (rather than attempting to duplicate the characters that were in the carnival at the time). The mother Eleanor's strong religious beliefs in Catholicism are explored in the movie. Also he admits that in the movie version the time will be greatly compressed. What the people of Wamego went through for 8 weeks will be made to feel like it happened in a much shorter time frame rather than the long saga it was. In fact he even says that the time and date is irrelevant in his movie. It is made to be a story that could have happened in any small town -- anytime -- anyplace.

Balderson had this to say in his own synopsis:

FIRECRACKER pulls no punches nor hides from the ugliness that mars reality. It also reveals in its imagery a vividness and majesty that transcends mere mortality, exploding the myth of Middle America’s sanctity and piety, while opening the door to atonement.

DAMMIT! Enough already! When can I see it?:

Filming is now begun! After all editing and post production work is completed it will probably be very late 2003 or early 2004 before this movie is released.

The cast: (from the official movie web site)

and introducing

I lived in Manhattan, KS (where the director grew up) for many years. I first knew of him when he was still in high school making film shorts. I later became aquainted with most of the actors in his film Pep Squad as they oftened partiedrelaxed at my house after long days on the set.

As this film progresses (or declines) in its status I will have to update this writeup. Please send me a /msg if you see anything here that needs to changed.

November 30, 2002 update: I just received e-mail from the director. Here's part of what he had to say:

...I wanted to tell you that FIRECRACKER is full speed ahead. Some exciting things are happening. I won't give it away. Looks like we'll be shooting the thing on location in Wamego this Spring. .

SOURCES: (the movie's official web site) (Steve Balderson) (Deborah Harry and Blondie) (Deborah Harry) (Due Design) (The Enigma aka Paul Lawrence) (Joe Dallesandro aka "Little Joe") (Jane Wiedlin and the Go-Gos) (Pleasant Gehman)

Fire"crack`er (?), n.

See Cracker., n., 3.


© Webster 1913.

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