Fade In, Crossroads: The Southern Cinema, 1890-1940

Jackson, Robert Andrew, Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Ed, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to the cinema to consider the U.S. South in national and global contexts during the first half of the twentieth century. It is as much a narrative of modernist awakening through the encounters between southerners and motion pictures, and between the rest of the world and myths and images of the South, as it is an analysis of the mutual emergence of Jim Crow segregation and the American cinema. Chapters address such key topics as independent southern filmmaking and moviegoing traditions from the early silent era through the mid-twentieth century, the film work of southern literary figures from William Faulkner to Zora Neale Hurston, the long life of Civil War memory on film, the rise and fall of the African American "race film" industry, the prolific production of lynching films across the period, and the impact of southern film censorship and regulation on the development of the medium. Broadly uniting these topics is the argument that the South and the cinema were intimately entwined and mutually influential: motion pictures contributed in myriad ways to the modernization of the region-its politics, economics, and social history-while segregation, the modern South's defining social and cultural institution, gave the emerging medium and industry perhaps their most important metaphor and organizing principle. Focusing on the social and media networks that emerged across a half-century of migration and modernization, this work makes connections between regional developments and concerns of national and even global scope, and explores the complex and far-reaching significance of the South's modernity and modernism across movements 3 in art and politics. From Booker T. Washington's industrial films and D. W. Griffith's early Civil War one-reelers to Faulkner's mercenary screenwriting sojourns in Hollywood and North Carolina filmmaker H. Lee Waters's avant-garde documentaries during the Great Depression, the southern cinema registered an extraordinary range of southern responses to the challenges of the modern world, and fashioned many of the possibilities and limitations American culture continues to deal with today.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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