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Southern (Dis)comfort: The American South in Cinema

November 11, 2011 - December 11, 2011


The South has never shaken its past. It sits like mist on the land, seeping into the drawl of the everyday. Secession, the cotton gin, a God-fearin’ people, slavery, pecans and poke salad, moonshine, hounds and possums, a big Rebel yell—there’s enough cultural ammo here to fight the Civil War all over again. Those munitions will never run dry as long as Southern artists (and a few carpetbaggers) plow the fertile fields of Dixie mythology, milling it into a genre all its own, the Southern Gothic. This genre wallows in the grotesque, prefers the randy to the restrained, knows Jim Crow isn’t the national bird, considers blood for an old debt paid, plunders the plantation, and imagines it all residing inside a delirious melodrama like one big corn mash-up. Primed by the literary likes of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Erskine Caldwell, and Horton Foote, then agilely adapted by directors Fritz Lang, Sidney Lumet, Otto Preminger, Elia Kazan, John Huston, and others, these ten films beckon back to a Civil War drama of seduction and surrender (The Beguiled), then charge forward to a gritty tale of race agitation in the sixties (The Intruder), covering every bayou and bygone way in between. Southern (Dis)comfort is a lingering gaze at regional renditions of our Deep South side.

We are excited to announce that the Roxie Theater in San Francisco is joining in Southern (Dis)Comfort, adding six double-bills of its own.

Series curated by Peter Conheim and Steve Seid.

Friday, November 11, 2011
7:00 p.m. House by the River
Fritz Lang (U.S., 1950) Archival Print! The Southern Gothic fiction tradition fittingly informs this tale of a writer, played to smarmy perfection by Louis Hayward, whose move on the hired help ends in her unfortunate demise, and a grisly cover-up attempt. (88 mins)

Friday, November 11, 2011
8:50 p.m. The Fugitive Kind
Sidney Lumet (U.S., 1960). Sidney Lumet’s overgrown adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play places four consummate actors—Marlon Brando, Maureen Stapleton, Joanne Woodward, and Anna Magnani—in a backwoods bastion of stifling meanness. There’s enough heat to set the town on fire. (119 mins)

Friday, November 18, 2011
9:10 p.m. The Story of Temple Drake
Stephen Roberts (U.S., 1933) Preservation Print! Miriam Hopkins plays tempestuous tease Temple Drake in this decidedly uneasy (and censored) melodrama with an aftertaste of noir, moodily shot with Depression-era realism and expressionist sleaziness by Karl Struss. (71 mins)

Saturday, November 19, 2011
8:15 p.m. Suddenly, Last Summer
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (U.S., 1960). Juggling family secrets and whispered desires, the Big Hollywood trio of Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Montgomery Clift make the South a shade more searing in this screen version of Tennessee Williams’ Garden District plays, adapted by Gore Vidal and Williams himself. (112 mins)

Saturday, November 26, 2011
6:00 p.m. The Beguiled
Donald Siegel (U.S., 1971). Clint Eastwood plays a wounded Union soldier nursed back to health at a remote all-girls school in Louisiana in this thriller from Don Siegel, part plantation melodrama, part gothic horror, and part salacious romp. (109 mins)

Sunday, November 27, 2011
3:00 p.m. Hurry Sundown
Otto Preminger (U.S., 1967) Archival Print! It’s not quite as off-the-wall as his later Skidoo, but Preminger’s overripe rural Georgia drama comes close, in no small part due to its eyebrow-raising, stars-gone-wild casting of Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, and Burgess Meredith. (146 mins)

Saturday, December 3, 2011
9:00 p.m. Baby Doll
Elia Kazan (U.S., 1956) Preservation Print! A dilapidated antebellum manor is the fitting site for Tennessee Williams’s menagerie à trois between a bigoted cotton gin operator (Karl Madden), his vampy teenage bride (Carroll Baker), and the Sicilian immigrant (Eli Wallach) who gets in the way. (114 mins)

Friday, December 9, 2011
7:00 p.m. God’s Little Acre
Anthony Mann (U.S., 1958) Restored Print! A white-trash family, led by patriarch Robert Ryan, looks for gold and deals with desirous daughters in this adaptation of Erskine Caldwell’s novel. One of Anthony Mann’s least-seen films—and one of his most fascinating. (110 mins)

Friday, December 9, 2011
9:10 p.m. The Intruder
Roger Corman (U.S., 1962) Archival Print! Pro provocateur Adam Cramer (William Shatner) arrives in a small Missouri town, but it’s not goodwill he’s spreading, but racist ideology. A change of topic (but not pace) for B-movie king Roger Corman. (80 mins)

Sunday, December 11, 2011
5:15 p.m. Wise Blood
John Huston (U.S., 1979) Archival Print! Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 novel gets the big-screen treatment from legendary director John Huston (The Maltese Falcon). The son of a preacher invents his own religion, “the Church of Truth Without Christ,” in this satire of a faithless milieu where evangelical hucksters peddle “prophets” to those just achin’ for salvation. (108 mins)

Special thanks to Todd Weiner and Steven Hill, UCLA Film and Television Archive; May Haduong, The Academy Film Archive; Anne Morra and Mary Keene, MoMA Film Preservation Center; Mark Johnson and David Pendleton, Harvard Film Archive; Fleur Buckley, British Film Institute; Mike Keegan and Elliot Lavine, the Roxie Theater; Brian Block; Joe Dante; Jon Davison; Brian Belovarac; Kyle Westphal; and Guy Maddin.