Movie Review – George Washington

George Washington (2000)
Written & Directed by David Gordon Green

I have noticed in these reviews for the Visions of the American South series that few of the directors are actually from the region. Only Billy Bob Thornton and David Gordon Green are actually from the areas where their films take place. Because of that, I think these are the most naturalistic movies. That doesn’t mean they aren’t made with a stylistic flourish. In the case of George Washington, the film is almost like a visual poem. George Washington is also the first film in our series to prominently feature Black characters.

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Movie Review – The Apostle

The Apostle (1997)
Written & Directed by Robert Duvall

I first saw The Apostle approximately twenty-two years ago. I checked it out from the local public library, where I was working at the time and absolutely loved from the first viewing. I mentioned earlier in this series how author Flannery O’Connor referred to the South as a “Christ-haunted landscape.” Robert Duvall furthers this by exploring a character who lives in seeming constant open dialogue with God. He implores the deity for guidance as often as he rages at him for life events the man cannot understand.

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Movie Review – Sling Blade

Sling Blade (1996)
Written & Directed by Billy Bob Thornton

One of the notions observed about the concept of Family at the end of the 20th century & especially in the 21st is that it is no longer the people whom you are born into but the people you choose to populate your life with. Sling Blade is a movie about that kind of a family, focusing on one particular member and how they navigate their role in the group. This film is the evolution of a one-man show into a short film and finally the feature film we review here. This story meant a lot of Billy Bob Thornton so much that he would devote so large a portion of his life to playing a singular character. He becomes lost in this character, and my wife didn’t realize it was Thornton until the end credits rolled.

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Movie Review – Rambling Rose

Rambling Rose (1991)
Written Calder Willingham
Directed by Martha Coolidge

The role of women in Southern culture is a complex one, and as a white man, I will not be able to adequately convey what it is like from my perspective. Rambling Rose, though, is a film that gets somethings right but so much else wrong, like problematically wrong. I sat stunned within the first few moments of this movie, and throughout the rest of it at how tone-deaf and overly melodramatic so much of the story becomes. The female character at the center of the picture really has no voice, and instead, the narrative is shaped by an adolescent boy that lusts after Rose. There’s an attempt to have him learn a lesson about women, but it’s muddied with troublesome archaic thinking.

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Movie Review – Deliverance

Deliverance (1972)
Written by James Dickey
Directed by John Boorman

The opening dialogue of Deliverance, based on the novel of the same name by James Dickey, tells us everything we need to know to understand the conflict that underlies the entire film. The quartet of friends talks about a new damn built on the fictional Cahulawassee River and how this effort of modern industrial ingenuity is going to change the landscape. This plays out over scenes of massive earth-moving machinery and explosives clearing away cliffs. This will be a story about modernity clashing with primal forces of nature and how masculinity navigates how a strange old world redefines it.

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Movie Review – Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Written by Henry Farrell & Lukas Heller
Directed by Robert Aldrich

The box office success of 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was a complete surprise to producer-director Robert Aldrich. Upon seeing those returns, he decided a follow up needed to be made, another picture pairing Bette Davis & Joan Crawford. This time around, Aldrich switched the roles with Davis playing the invalid and planning on Crawford being the conniving villain. However, the rivalry between these two women kept going into the filming. Crawford filmed her on-location scenes, but when production returned to Hollywood, she claimed she was sick and dropped out of the film. This led to Olivia de Havilland being cast as Crawford’s replacement and many scenes being reshot.

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Movie Review – A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Written by Budd Schulberg
Directed by Elia Kazan

Southern folksy charm is one of those things I see visitors to the American Southeast remark upon often. The city of Nashville likes to boast that it’s the largest small town in the country, and I have to admit, if you are walking down the street, you will have strangers saying, “Hello” and waving. But this friendliness can also be a sinister mask, obscuring ulterior motives and manipulations. When this manner is adopted by someone in the media with less than divine intentions, it can be downright corrosive to society. All that is warm, genial, and welcoming is not good for your health.

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Movie Review – Baby Doll

Baby Doll (1956)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Elia Kazan

Stanley Kubrick called fellow director Elia Kazan, “without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.” Quite a compliment from someone I consider to be the best American film director we’ve ever had. I’m not unfamiliar with Kazan and have seen a number of his films like A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, among others. After gaining acclaim with pictures like East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, Kazan was able to produce some films independently with Baby Doll being one of those.

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Movie Review – The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Written by James Agee
Directed by Charles Laughton

Of my thirty-nine years on this earth, the last thirty-fours (sans one) have been lived in the American South, specifically Tennessee. The American South is a complex region, the hub of an insurrection that led to the Civil War. The place where slavery festered and even upon its dissolution, its legacy poisoned any possibility of a greater sense of community to the present day. Jim Crow was born here. The American South is a “Christ-haunted landscape,” as author Flannery O’Connor once said, words that could not be truer. Churches pop up so that one city block is crammed full with them. A drive through the country will guarantee passing by at least half a dozen. History and Religion bleed through the trunks of the trees and up through the lawns. These are Visions of the American South.

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