American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary

American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary

American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary

American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary


Employing innovations in media studies, southern cultural studies, and approaches to the global South, this collection of essays examines aspects of the southern imaginary in American cinema and offers fresh insight into the evolving field of southern film studies. In their introduction, Deborah Barker and Kathryn McKee argue that the southern imaginary in film is not contained by the boundaries of geography and genre; it is not an offshoot or subgenre of mainstream American film but is integral to the history and the development of American cinema. Ranging from the silent era to the present and considering Hollywood movies, documentaries, and independent films, the contributors incorporate the latest scholarship in a range of disciplines. The volume is divided into three sections: "Rereading the South" uses new critical perspectives to reassess classic Hollywood films; "Viewing the Civil Rights South" examines changing approaches to viewing race and class in the post-civil rights era; and "Crossing Borders" considers the influence of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and media studies on recent southern films. The contributors to American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary complicate the foundational term "southern," in some places stretching the traditional boundaries of regional identification until they all but disappear and in others limning a persistent and sometimes self-conscious performance of place that intensifies its power.


Deborah E. Barker and Kathryn McKee

All movies smell of a neighborhood and a season.

—Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

In Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, the movies tell people who they are and where they are: suspended in a South that is as much imagined and represented as it is concrete, as much created and performed as it is organic. the neighborhoods and the seasons Binx Bolling smells borrow their scents, at least in part, from the movies that have themselves shaped his expectations for ordinary, non-Hollywood space. in Ordering the Façade: Photography and Contemporary Southern Women’s Writing, Katherine Henninger maintains that the U.S. South’s visual legacy is as strong as or stronger than its fabled oral tradition. Henninger’s argument focuses primarily on the South’s rich photographic history, but likewise in film the “South” takes on a variety of sometimes contradictory meanings that nonetheless converge to locate it as a primarily visual and visualized place that may shape all subsequent encounters of it for the moviegoer. Yet the last collection of essays devoted exclusively to the topic, The South in Film, was published in 1981. Since that time, crucial changes have occurred in both southern studies and film studies that call for a reevaluation and rethinking of what we mean when we talk about southern film.

Capitalizing on innovations in media studies, southern cultural studies, and the global South, American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary is an exploration of the various ways in which the southern imaginary is constitutive of American cinema and of the ways in which the makers of movies—from Hollywood films to independents and documentaries, and from silent films to the latest technological innovations—have imagined the “South” both to construct and to unsettle national narratives. in bringing together the authors in this collection our purpose is to publish new essays that help to theorize and contextualize the evolving and expanding field of southern film. the essays included here complicate the . . .

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