PERFORMING ARTS

The South Never Plays Itself: A Film Buff’s Journey Through the South on Screen

NewSouth. Nov. 2020. 544p. ISBN 9781588384010. $28.95. FILM
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Inspired by the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, Beard (Muhammad Ali: The Greatest) here views the history of the South through the lens of Hollywood and the history of American movies via their depictions of the South. Beard, a born and bred Southerner, begins with an overview of his lifelong interest in cinema, from watching films with his father to making VHS movies with friends. He traces the genesis of the concept of “the South” to the post–Civil War Reconstruction, illustrating the role the movies played in cementing the Civil War–era South in the American cultural imagination and tracing the development of the filmic South through Southern gothic, horror, noir, music, comedy, and Black cinema. Throughout the text, Beard returns to discussions of race and examines the interplay between the filmic South and the real South, once asking, “Did the movies create my beliefs, or did beliefs like mine create the movies?” Beard knows how to turn a phrase, and his prose is conversational, blending personal tales and family history into his critical analysis of the South on film.
VERDICT Recommended for film buffs and those interested in a reflective, nonacademic examination of race and film.

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