Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What you can learn about the South from movies

Hollywood has loved portraying the South from its beginning, but the only problem is that many of Hollywood’s ideas about this region are wrong.

That was the message from Bob Mondello, arts critic for National Public Radio, who visited Charlotte Monday evening to give a talk at ImaginOn entitled “Everything I Know About the South I Learned from Movies.” (Click here to read my earlier Q&A with him).

Among the things he learned, he said during his talk:

–Southern belles are a combination of hopeless incompetents and steel magnolias. Examples range from Buster Keaton’s hoop-skirted girlfriend in the Civil War-set “The General,” a 1927 silent film that screened following Mondello’s talk, to Scarlett O’Hara, to Sally Field’s Oscar-winning turn in 1984’s “Places in the Heart.”

–Southern beaux are rebellious nonconformists, a la Rhett Butler.

–The “Old South” was a paradise on earth, as shown in the controversially racist 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.” It was seen in its day by more people than saw “Star Wars,” and many other early films followed its example.

–Racial justice in the South requires the intervention of a Northerner, as learned by Sidney Poitier’s character from 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night” and many injustice-themed films afterward.

–The major themes in the South are conflict, race, alcohol, sex and depravity (i.e. “Deliverance,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” etc.).

The truth, of course, is nowhere near as stereotypical as these images, Mondello said. And later films have touched on many of the positive features of the South, such as the importance of family, strong community and attachment to the land.

Perhaps, he suggested, Hollywood – and the South itself – will wean itself of the negative aspects of these stereotypes and embrace the positive traditions. Perhaps, much like going to see a Western, filmgoers will someday talk of going to see a “Southern.”

What’s your favorite or least-favorite Southern film?


Blogger Leigh said...

I'll start with mine: For a good laugh and cry at the same time, one of my favorites is "Steel Magnolias" - it's one of the reasons Julia Roberts became a star, and another lovely turn from Sally Field. I loved all the female bonding in Dolly Parton's hairdresser shop.

3:07 PM  
Blogger jd said...

Fried Green Tomatoes - simply because of the title and I hope tha twhen I move down I can buy them all year long :-)

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got my motto -- "If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me" -- from "Steel Magnolias"!

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steel Magnolias, hands down. The relationship between Drum and Ouiser was dead on -- I have witnessed this type of thing many times over the years.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody cares Leigh, nobody cares.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got my say at the screening last night, but I'll plug Buster Keaton again just 'cuz I love him. He's a genius...and there's something about that train crashing through the bridge back in the days before special effects, that really is thrilling...sound or no sound.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How nice. Some clown from NPR comes to the South to explain that Hollywood presentations of Southerners are incorrect stereotypes.

Next up, a Southerner should go to NPR to explain that the stereotype of NPR people being elitist idiots is correct.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forrest Gump, Fried Green Tomatoes, Driving Miss Daisy sort of cast the south in a positive light.

Might I suggest that Hollywood stereotypes many other parts of the country as well. If you are not from New York or LA, you might as well be a hick in their eyes.

How many people really base their view of Boston on films such as Betrayal, Southie, or some other bad Irish gangster films?

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite movie is Gone With The Wind, and though it contains many untrue stereotypes, it does contain my favorite quote:

Scarlett: What in the world has happened to Atlanta?

Mammy: Yankees, that's what's happened to Atlanta!!!!!

(So true.........it's happened to Charlotte too!)

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Additionally, don't leave out TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard and Andy Griffith.

The Dukes was originally filmed in Cabarrus County.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a definitive portrait of the Deep South. It gets just the right balance of myth, religion, violence, idealism, depravity, and ambition that characterized the region during the first half of the 1900s. Of course, North Carolina is hardly the "Deep" South and visitors expecting that kind of culture here are going to be disappointed.

Much as it pains me to say it, "Talladega Nights" really nails certain aspects of Charlotte-area culture.

8:49 AM  
Blogger tecki said...

Junebug is one of my favorites, as is Talladega Nights. My favorite line from Junebug is between workers at Replacements Limited talking about the Panthers Super Bowl appearance: "Everytime I watch that DVD, I think, they're gonna win it this time!"

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Gone with the wind was good Played by New Yorkers Vivian Liegh; It is true about that some people in the south like to evasdrop on conversations and listen in ; Then they take the info back to the others and diseminate info to the Southern tribe why I dont know Maybe its from the old war days who knows

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did everyone know here the song DIXIE was written by a YANKEE from New England

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to anonymous at 7:36.
Vivian Leigh was actually an English actress.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For one thing, there's really nothing wrong with "stereotypes." If the portayal is true to reality, then whether the truth hurts or not isn't important. Being a transplanted Yankee who moved to Charlotte in 1992 and Dallas in 2000, I can attest to the fact that stereotypes about New Yorkers, Southerners and Texans are all pretty true. It isn't being hurtful or ugly to portray something the way it is. We all just need to laugh a little and enjoy who we are. By the way, I grew up loving Gone with the Wind, and always wanted to live in the South. Of course we all know it isn't true, but such drama. And we all know Southerners thrive on drama!!

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^ I agree that if the portrayal is true, there's nothing wrong with it. But most cinematic portrayals of Southerners are about as true-to-reality as a minstrel show. Perhaps we're just more sensitive to it because we've been in the position of cultural punching-bag for the past 150 years, but I think Southerners have a valid gripe with the "bubba" images and the notion that people of this region are fair game for insensitivity because of some perceived moral inferiority. It's good to know how to laugh at yourself, but only if the crowd is laughing with you and not at you.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My least favorite Southern film is RICH IN LOVE. The film's Southern content is not the issue. I intensely dislike one particular character--the pregnant woman who smokes and drinks alcohol during her pregnancy. This character's selfish indifference to her fetus's health is contemptable.

My favorite Southern films include the usual suspects like GONE WITH THE WIND, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, DRIVING MISS DAISY, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and a Disney favorite from the 1950s, THE SWAMP FOX.

I also include among my favorite Southern films DOC HOLLYWOOD. This charming, nuanced film about an East Coast doctor who involuntarily spends a few days in a small South Carolina town on his way to joining a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgery practice is a delight. The town's sense of affectionate and respectful community is gently revealed in scenes like the weekly outdoor movie screened on a building wall in the town's business district.

DOC HOLLYWOOD, starring Michael J. Fox in the title role, is beautifully conceived and written with a knowing ear for dialogue, especially for the town's more eccentric characters. The film is perfectly cast and expertly acted, with a terrific cameo appearance by George Hamilton. Carter Burwell's music score is an evocative compliment to the action and deft direction by Michael Caton-Jones.

11:44 PM  

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