Movies by state continues! Yep, we still have way too many posts in this series left, but I’m going to finish it even it takes the rest of the year!
To Hollywood, Kentucky conjures up images of coal miners and horses. But for every Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) and Secretariat (2010), there are actually two or three frontier movies like The Kentuckian (1955).
The most notable film set in Kentucky is actually a documentary. Harlan County USA (1976) tells the tale of a violent coal miners strike from a visceral first person point of view. The filmmakers are even assaulted by strike-breakers at one point. While the story it tells is poignant, the film itself set the standard for dozens of on-the-scene documentaries to follow.
One would think that Tennessee, home of Davey Crockett would get some more frontier love from Hollywood, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Music gets a big focus with movies like Nashville (1975) and Walk the Line (2005). There are a couple of Civil War films too, like Buster Keatons’s The General (1926). It has its share of horror movies as well, like The Evil Dead (1981).
Speaking of which, the most notable film set in Tennessee is also the most terrifying. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is mostly set in Tennessee. It remains the only horror movie to win a Best Picture Oscar.
The Deep South has a horrifying history. Films set in Mississippi often portray both that history and its consequences. Not every movie set in Mississippi deals with themes of racism and injustice, but most do. In Mississippi Burning (1988) and A Time to Kill (1996), racism and crime take center stage. The Help (2011) also deals with racism in a less visceral, but equally effective way. Even O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) addresses some of these themes, but in a far more tangential manner.
The most notable film – 1965’s In the Heat of the Night. Sidney Poitier’s legendary performance as Vigil Tibbs, a tough detective investigating a brutal murder while passing through a Southern town. His performance is so iconic that it’s easy to forget that his co-lead Rod Steiger actual won Best Actor for his role as the racist police chief whom Tibbs reluctantly helps.
Forrest Gump (1994) hasn’t aged well – it’s essentially a sappy love letter to the Baby Boomer generation. It’s still the first movie most people think about when asked to name a move set in Alabama, however. Recently, Selma (2014) earned near universal praise from critics. Tim Burton’s underrated Big Fish (2003) is set here too.
The most notable movies set here, however, is still 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Recently released books aside, Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is still a hero in every way imaginable. It’s one of those rare movies that improve on their source material, even considering here that the source material is a literary classic.
Not many movies have been set in Arkansas. Both versions of True Grit (1969 and 2010) are set there. The most noteworthy? Probably Ridley Scott’s classic road trip film Thelma and Louise (1991).
I assumed lots of movies had been set in New Orleans, and I assumed correctly. Beast of the Southern Wild (2012), The Buccaneer (1938), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), and Interview with the Vampire (1994) are only a few of the dozens of movies set in The Crescent City. Even so, I still get this feeling New Orleans could use some more love from Hollywood as a setting.
Not all Louisiana movies are set in the Big Easy. Dead Man Walking (1995), The Green Mile (1999), and Steel Magnolias (1989) are set in greater Louisiana. So is 2013’s masterpiece 12 Years a Slave – which as time passes may surpass the Marlon Brando version of Streetcar as the most notable film set here.
Next time – Texas.
(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe