Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Movies about the South

Phil Morrison, the director of "Junebug," gets a story in The New York Times that looks at Southern sensibilities. (You may need to register to read the story on the NYT site, but let me know if you can't get to it.) If you've lived in Memphis for a minute or more, then you've seen how often stories/movies cancheapen the Southern experience or get it flat wrong.

Mr. Morrison was not content to merely dash or discard Southern stereotypes. He calls that a "fool's errand," and ridicules the clich├ęs that await those who try: "Salt of the earth. Simple people have greater wisdom. Blah, blah, blah."Instead, his film ... quietly skewers not only Southern caricatures, but also the Northerners who condescend to them, and the Southerners who allow and even encourage them to do so.

And there are degrees of authenticity:

"We Southerners are complicit in defining our region by what is peculiar about it," Mr. Morrison said. This may be lost on some viewers, he acknowledged, but it should be all too familiar to anyone who has exalted barbecue or Elvis for effect. "It quickly becomes kitsch," he said. "It's broadcasting what is idiosyncratic, as opposed to just being good."

So the question is, who's getting it right?

Though, with Hollywood taking up Southern subjects ranging from the cartoonish "Dukes of Hazzard" to "Elizabethtown," Cameron Crowe's version of an awkward homecoming scheduled to open in October, Mr. Morrison's small film could hardly be called exploitative.
By contrast, he pointed to three other Sundance films set in the region - "Hustle & Flow" and "Forty Shades of Blue," both stories about music in Memphis, and Tim Kirkman's "Loggerheads," a film with gay themes set in North Carolina - as the kind of company he hoped to keep.
"It may be nothing, but it may be something," he said of the spate of specialty films from Southern filmmakers. "Maybe it's people wanting to speak for a multifaceted South, and we all wanted to take that on, and say, This is what it means, to me."

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