English 427: Studies in Southern Literature: The Cinematic South (Turner)
Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.
Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (1961)
Course Description: The American South has often been construed as a site of cultural backwardness, religious fanaticism, economic destitution, and gender as well as racial intolerance. For this course, we will explore a series of films—many of which are considered iconic—about the South. We will investigate how southern cultures and histories have been represented in films and the ways in which these depictions have altered over the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. We will also examine how the changing nature of the cinematic South speaks to hemispheric and transnational transformations. In the films under scrutiny, we will encounter a spectrum of modes germane to southern cultures, from the pastoral to the gothic and grotesque, and from the primitive to the “postsouthern” as well as the global South. Part of our task will be judging to what degree these modes match up to the shifting histories of the region. In addition to interpreting the South as reflected—or invented—onscreen, we will also read and discuss a number of the literature sources that directly influenced these cinematic representations, so matters of adaptation will also be crucial to our discussions. In addition, each week we will read and discuss scholarly and contextual sources relevant to the particular film under analysis and/or its socio-historical conditions. Moreover, our discussions will consider the interplay between various genres and new media. How do films about the American South adapt to competing media, and how do other media adapt the cinematic South into their modes? Films may include: D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939), Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955), Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump (1994), The Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003), and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012).