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More Than One Thing

During its existence, media coverage of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, Missouri, was dominated by images of poverty, dilapidation, and crime, with scant attention paid to the lives of the Pruitt-Igoe residents themselves. Pruitt-Igoe was often in the headlines, but almost entirely for the problems that made it infamous. Rarely did the media cover Pruitt-Igoe in a more nuanced way that balanced the very real problems of Pruitt-Igoe with the complex, and largely positive, experiences of many of the housing developments’ residents. Put simply, media cameras showed up for the problems; they rarely came around to display the joy, determination, and sense of community that many resident remember best.

One proud exception was the short film More Than One Thing. Photographed in 1968 and 1969 by director Steve Carver, then a graduate student at Washington University, with the participation of various Pruitt-Igoe youth More Than One Thing set out to tell a different Pruitt-Igoe story. The film explores the daily life of one Pruitt-Igoe teen, Billy Towns. Narrated by Billy and Billy’s mother, we learn about the joys, hopes, and dreams of a young Pruitt-Igoe resident that often defies the stereotypically negative Pruitt-Igoe stories that have defined the housing development over the decades. Although the film doesn’t shy away from some of Pruitt-Igoe’s harsher realities, it remains strongly positioned as a voice box for Billy, his experiences, and the way that he views his own life, rather than taking the easier, and potentially exploitive, role that the mainstream media traditionally embraced. The result is a beautifully poetic and unique slice of life piece that shows a side of Pruitt-Igoe that has rarely been seen in moving image format.

The film, however, was only shown once in St. Louis, at a May 24th, 1970 public screening at the St. Louis Ethical Society. This much needed alternative perspective on Pruitt-Igoe would remain largely unseen for decades.

Luckily, while doing research, producers for the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011) came across a newspaper notice about the single Ethical Society screening and tracked down director Carver, who still had a 16mm print of the film, as well as various photographs taken during production. After allowing for footage from More Than One Thing to be used in The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, Mr. Carver agreed to donate the 16mm film to the Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive in 2013. With the assistance of a Basic Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), the 16mm film has now been preserved and digitized so that all can enjoy this one-of-a-kind film. And on November 6th, 2016, the HD transfer of the newly preserved More Than One Thing was screened by the Film & Media Archive as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival, the first time the film was shown in over 45 years. For the screening, special guests Billy Towns and his brother Tommie Towns (also in the film) shared their memories of the film, the shoot, and their friendship with director Steve Carver, a man who made a lasting impression on both of these men’s lives.

Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive is now pleased to present this online exhibit to celebrate this remarkable film. Via video clips, audio oral history interviews with Billy and Tommie Towns, never-before-seen still photographs, and, of course, More Than One Thing itself, we hope to help keep this film, and its thoughtful, sensitive take on Pruitt-Igoe alive for future generations. 

--Brian Woodman 

Film & Media Curator