South Never Plays Itself, The
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South Never Plays Itself, The

A Film Buff’s Journey Through the South on Screen

Title Details

Pages: 304

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 12/15/2020

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8401-0

List Price: $28.95


Pub Date: 12/15/2020

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8424-9

List Price: $28.95


NewSouth Books

South Never Plays Itself, The

A Film Buff’s Journey Through the South on Screen

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  • Description
  • Reviews
Since The Birth of a Nation became the first Hollywood blockbuster in 1915, movies have struggled to reckon with the American South—as both a place and an idea, a reality and a romance, a lived experience and a bitter legacy. Nearly every major American filmmaker, actor, and screenwriter has worked on a film about the South, from Gone with the Wind to 12 Years a Slave, from Deliverance to Forrest Gump. In The South Never Plays Itself, author and film critic B. W. Beard explores the history of the Deep South on screen, beginning with silent cinema and ending in the streaming era, from President Wilson to President Trump, from musical to comedy to horror to crime to melodrama. Beard’s idiosyncratic narrative—part cultural history, part film criticism, part memoir—journeys through genres and eras, issues and regions, smash blockbusters and microbudget indies to explore America’s past and troubled present, seen through Hollywood’s distorting lens. Opinionated, obsessive, sweeping, often combative, sometimes funny—a wild narrative tumble into culture both high and low—Beard attempts to answer the haunting question: what do movies know about the South that we don’t?
What an eye-opening and significant book Ben Beard has given us. This is a long-overdue examination of some of America's most important films through the lens of the South—a wonderfully satisfying read.

—W. K. Stratton, author of The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, A Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film

Ben Beard veers like a man possessed through the fever swamps of Hollywood’s obsession with the South. The result is a clever and deftly written work—equal parts broadside and paean and wholly insightful. Movie aficionados will love this book even as they argue over some of Beard’s strong opinions. Casual movie-goers may very well become film buffs after reading it.

—Ken Wells, author of Meely LaBauve and The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous

Breezy, jazzy, self-confident, and deeply Southern-fried, The South Never Plays Itself reads like a novel, zipping through the history of films in and about the South with flair and panache and encyclopedic authority. This is a passionate, literate, page-turning deep dive through the films of Southern history; the good, the bad, and the very ugly, with impressive detail throughout. Beard tells it all, without pulling any punches.

—Wheeler Winston Dixon, author of Synthetic Cinema: The 21st-Century Movie Machine

In this engaging, often surprising blend of memoir and cultural criticism, Ben Beard refines a rich vein of unexplored material into an expansive alternate history of the movies. By juxtaposing unjustly neglected works with new takes on established classics, he has produced an insightful, highly browsable book that any film lover should enjoy.

—Alec Nevala-Lee, author of Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction

This is the greatest book about the South on screen I've ever read. Okay, it is probably the only book of its kind, but that's just partly why it's great. From Birth of a Nation to 12 Years a Slave, and much in between, Ben Beard tours us through the South he has known, loved, and hated as it is represented in American film, with an approach as personal as it is readable and provocative.

—Patrick McGilligan, author of Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light

Ben Beard gives a damn about Hollywood, the South, and their complicated, decades-long relationship. And after reading his insightful road trip through movie history, you will too.

—Brian Raftery, author of Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen

Insightful and passionate, this is the book I have been waiting for on a century of Southern movies. Never pulling his punches, Beard finds a South full of contradictions, conflicted self-delusions, and tangled racial realities.

—Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic The Ten Commandments

Ben Beard may know more than anyone about Southern movies. The South Never Plays Itself helps the rest of us connect with not only those movies, but the vastly misunderstood region they claim to represent. This striking book is as a history of over a century of cinema, as well as the deeper roots, mysteries, shadows, and light of one part of the country that explains the gifts and challenges of the U.S. today.

—Gareth Higgins, author of Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, the American Dreamlife, and How to Understand Everything and founder of

Ben Beard outlines the history of Southern movies from the arthouse (I Am Not Your Negro) to the grindhouse (Two Thousand Maniacs!).

—Grady Hendrix, author of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

Ben Beard brings a keen eye to the South on screen, calling out the lies and hypocrisy of Hollywood. His book is a reckoning of the images, from D. W. Griffith to Ava DuVernay. Truthful and insightful, his work is a much-needed addition to any film buff's library.

—Greg Proops, host of The Smartest Man in the World

Beard knows how to turn a phrase ... blending personal tales and family history into his critical analysis of the South on film.

—Library Journal

Beard takes the reader on a journey throughout the South and a variety of films that embody it, for better or for worse—period dramas, horror, movie musicals, and any genre you can muster.... He methodically and thoughtfully attempts to answer the question of which versions of the South are represented on screen and why—and how those versions helped establish ... the South as we know it.

—Chicago Reader

A must-read ... An uncommonly readable text.

—The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

About the Author/Editor

BEN BEARD is a writer and librarian. He is the co-author of This Day in Civil Rights History and the author of Muhammad Ali: The Greatest and King Midas in Reverse. In the 2000s, Beard reviewed movies and wrote features for InSite Magazine, King Kudzu, and, where he also worked as an editor. Beard, a native of Georgia who spent his formative years in the Florida Panhandle and Alabama, currently lives in Chicago with his wife and three children.