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Cinematic Memory and the Southern Imaginary: Crisis in the Deep South and The Phenix City Story


Cinematic Memory and the Southern Imaginary: Crisis in the Deep South and The Phenix City Story

Hedges, Gareth (2016) Cinematic Memory and the Southern Imaginary: Crisis in the Deep South and The Phenix City Story. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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This dissertation is a historical and theoretical study of the southern imaginary at the intersection of mass and regional culture. The focus is on two cinematic treatments of significant violent crimes in the region during the 1950s: firstly, the assassination of Albert Patterson, which prompted the clean of the “wide open” town of Phenix City, Alabama; and secondly, the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, which played a critical role in accelerating the African American freedom struggle. The Phenix City Story (Allied Artists, 1955), and Crisis in the Deep South, an unproduced 1956 screenplay written by Crane Wilbur, were both products of the media frenzy surrounding these actual events and they each involved investigation and research into local circumstances as part of their development and production.
Rooted in film studies, history and cultural studies, the method of this thesis is to look backward to the foundational elements of the texts in question (e.g., the ‘raw material’ of the actual historical events,), and forward to the consequences of cinematic intervention into local commemorative regimes. In this way, I chart how the overlaps and interconnections between these film projects and others of the era reveal the emergence, consolidation and dissolution of a larger “cycles of sensation,” a concept outlined by Frank Krutnik and Peter Stanfield. The thesis offers a radical close reading of these texts to illuminate the complex relationship between Hollywood film and historical fact.
The thesis examines southern exceptionalism and outlines the ways its romantic visions of “moonlight and magnolias” inform the treatment of the American South in the cinematic imagination, while tracing presentations of the modern American South through the popular hicksploitation cycle of the 1970s. The failed attempt to make a film out of the murder of Emmett Till in the 1950s demonstrates the limitations of Hollywood’s ability to address civil rights issues. My analysis of The Phenix City Story uncovers connections between the film’s racial melodrama and the Alabama town’s hidden history of racial violence and the Ku Klux Klan activity, while arguing for the role race played in the political corruption that the film’s narrative exposes.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Humanities: Interdisciplinary Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Hedges, Gareth
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:14 September 2016
Thesis Supervisor(s):Russell, Catherine and Razlogova, Elena and Straw, Will
Keywords:Film Studies, History, Cultural Studies, Southern imaginary, Commemorative Regimes, Mass Culture, Regionalism, Race, The South, The American South, Motion Pictures, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Deep South, Civil Rights, 1954, 1955, United States,
ID Code:981825
Deposited On:09 Nov 2016 16:18
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:53
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