States of Independence
Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity

United States of Cinema: the South

Heading south on our cinematic road trip, we pick one film which best represents each of the 50 states

blue-velvet-1
Still from "Blue Velvet"

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day.

Every day this week, we'll be taking a cinematic road trip through all 50 states of America – what are the clichés, the archetypes, and the shining examples that represent each state's individualistic character? We split the US into five regions (the Pacific, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Atlantic). So hop in the car for the United States of Cinema.

If you were to choose a film for each American state – one that best describes the character of the place – trends start to emerge. There are the obvious clichés (horse films in Kentucky), and the inconspicuous (coming-of-age dramas in Illinois). Surveying the Wikipedia listings of which films were set in which states, we combed through to pick the best films that represent each of their respective states.

ALABAMA – The power of imagination to escape reality

HOUNDDOG (2007) – DEBORAH KAMPMEIER

Dakota Fanning’s first taste of controversy came way before those Marc Jacob perfume-between-her-thighs ads, at age 14, when she featured in a rape scene in Deborah Kampmeier’s 2007 coming-of-age film Hounddog. It even became known as the "Dakota Fanning rape movie" at the Sundance Film Festival. Set in the 50s, the plot centres on Fanning, an Alabama kid obsessed with blues music, which she uses to escape a life of poverty. Kampmeier defended the script saying, “I’m not saying accept it, but stop trying to censor it” – but that didn’t stop the film having a hard time finding a distributor.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Hounddog marked the real-life transition of Dakota Fanning from sickly sweet child-star in I Am Sam to fully-fledged adult – and yes, adult themes applied. But, more than this, it's representative of a classic trope of films set in the Heart of Dixie: childlike imagination and its power to escape reality. But, as Hounddog showed (much to audience's distaste), the grim reality always catches up with our main characters. Our leads in Forrest Gump and (Forrest Gump-alike) Big Fish must face death and war, whilst Scout's childlike gaze in To Kill A Mockingbird is confronted with the realities of racism.

Other films set in Alabama: Forrest Gump, To Kill a Mockingbird, Big Fish, Heart of Dixie

FLORIDA – Stormy "family" dynamics in the "Sunshine" state

MARVIN'S ROOM (1996) – JERRY ZAKS

Not only is Marvin’s Room a sultry slow jam by Drake, it is also one of Leonardo Dicaprio’s lesser known flicks – probably because he isn’t the main draw. Starring Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro, it’s a low(ish) budget, performance-heavy production, which sees two estranged sisters, Streep and Keaton, come together because Keaton needs a bone marrow transplant. Their relationship is also partly repaired with the help of Leo, putting in 110% as a mental patient who set fire to his mother’s house. “They’re not strapping me down anymore!” he yells at her mother during a hospital visit.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Marvin's Room brings together Meryl, Diane and Leo in sunny Florida, all in the name of light-hearted family drama. When it comes to Florida, though, severe weather conditions will always apply. Oscillating between a mental institution and the living room, the dysfunctional family of Zaks' film is echoed in other weirder-than-thou coming-togethers in filmic Florida: from Korine's trigger-happy, bikini-clad adopted family in Spring Breakers, to the male strippers of Magic Mike.

Other films set in Florida: Spring Breakers, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Bully

GEORGIA – The dark side of stepping over the line 

DELIVERANCE (1972) – JOHN BOORMAN

Based on the 1970 novel of the same name by American author James Dickey, Deliverance and its themes have been much echoed, if never quite matched, since. Starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds, it's the story of four Atlanta businessmen – "nothing very unusual about them" – who decide to canoe down a river in the remote Georgia wilderness on a weekend trip. As it turns out, maybe they should have played golf: when they become the targets of local hillbillies, the scene is set for a murderous thriller in the woods. The "squeal like a pig" male rape scene has gone down in movie history, and shocks now as it did then.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Whether set in the town, or, as in Boorman's film, the backwoods, there's a sense of uncharted territory to films set in Georgia. Psychologically gruelling for the characters and likewise the viewers, Deliverance is the ultimate in great adventures gone wrong – a theme reflected in Georgia-set films that unrelentingly portray a downbeat, depressing atmosphere.

Other films set in Georgia: Wise Blood, The Neon Bible, Gone with the Wind

MISSISSIPPI – The slave trade and breaking chains 

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – QUENTIN TARANTINO

Sixteen years on and Leo’s still mental – but this time in a plantation owner sort of way. A graphic portrayal of America’s 1800 slave trade, the Tarantino hit also starring Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson was his version of a spaghetti western, which he coined a 'southern'. He wanted “to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies," he explained to the Telegraph. "I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to."

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Tarantino showed he still had the power to shock with Django – but this time, it was with America's own history. With some added ultra-violence and super stylised Antebellum landscapes too, of course. The film marks the latest in a lengthy history of Mississippi-set films that concern themselves with portraying the journey to freedom of those trapped in chains – whether its timeframe is Civil Rights era America (The Help), or the light-hearted story of prisoners on the run (O Brother, Where Art Thou?).

Other films set in Mississippi: The Help, Cat on a Hot Tin RoofO Brother, Where Art Thou?

NORTH CAROLINA – Mysteries in the unknown

BLUE VELVET (1986) – DAVID LYNCH

I can’t think of a much eerier opening sequence than in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The picturesque set up – red roses, a picket fence, a fresh lawn (plus the soothing sounds of Angelo Badalamenti) – is interrupted when an old man watering his garden (who we later learn is the lead, Jeff’s father) suddenly falls to the ground. But instead of revealing the cause behind his collapse, Lynch, who “saw life in extreme close-ups” turns the camera into the dirt and on to a gang of beetles, setting the scene for what was to come – a dark, criminal exposé of a seemingly ‘perfect’ small town. The story develops with Jeff, a college student, returning to Lumberton to look after his dad. After leaving the hospital he finds a human ear and turns detective with the help of a policeman’s daughter in a quest to discover the source of the AWOL body part.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Blue Velvet is the arty, sophisticated cousin to a family of films set in North Carolina with a distinct preference for darkness. The cult neo-noir starts with all the makings of a classic horror – an ear, found in a field, leads to a mystery that has to be solved – and as much as the multi-layered plot just gets weirder and weirder, it's still got that classic North Carolina flair for the unknown. The region's also home to more generic horror flicks, but Blue Velvet is the classic that never fails to intrigue on re-watching. 

Other films set in North Carolina: The Descent, Cape Fear, I Know What You Did Last Summer

SOUTH CAROLINA – Soldiers all come from South Carolina, apparently

FULL METAL JACKET (1987) – STANLEY KUBRICK

So South Korea may in reality be a Cambridgeshire backlot, but it looks convincing as a war-torn landscape in Kubrick's hardcore, viscerally destructive army film. "Get some! Get some!" the soldiers shout, pelting down "VC"s (Viet Congs) without remorse. The Oscar-nominated war drama follows the slow burn of waning sanity among United States Marines. From boot camp through to boots on the ground, this stunning film challenges mercilessly the concept of national pride, while still giving off a grandiose feeling of 'Murica! at its best.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Kubrick's Vietnam epic is a film of two halves, and it's the first – set in Parris Island's Marine Corps Recruits depot – that arguably has the most memorable scenes of the whole movie. From the classic opening of recruits having their head shaved, to the high-tension confrontation between Joker and Gomer Pyle, the portrayal of one recruit's descent into insanity before he's even gone to Vietnam challenged war film conventions and stayed with audiences.

Other films set in South Carolina: Dear John, G.I. Joe, Asylum, The Notebook

TENNESSEE – Welcome to Weirdsville

TRASH HUMPERS (2009) – HARMONY KORINE

Seniors literally humping trash does not normally a compelling film make – and with the deluge of hate after what many think is a Harmony Korine misfire, it's difficult to appreciate this for what it is. But, taken with a grain (or lump) of salt, this strange-beyond-belief humper horror about an urban cult is weirdly (stress on the weirdly) endearing. "Make it, make it, don't fake it!" the seniors chant as they hump garbage. So nonsensical. So unsettling.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Landlocked Tennessee has its fair share of weirdos and freaks, if its cinematic history is to be believed – and some are darker than others (for "dark", see: Hannibal Lecter). Its got to be Korine's vision of a "loser-gang cult-freak collective" in Trash Humpers, however, that really takes the prize for weirding audiences out. 

Other films set in Tennessee:The Silence of the Lambs, This is Spinal Tap, Mystery Train

VIRGINIA – The end of the world starts here

DONNIE DARKO (2001) – RICHARD KELLY

Um, Jake & Maggie Gyllenhaal played a brother and sister in this. Not to belabour the point, but they are brother and sister I. R. L (mindblown.gif). They were only in two other films together, both made by their father Stephen. In Richard Kelly's spooky thriller – where Donnie Darko follows the vocoder instructions of his imaginary, rabbit-face friend Frank – Jake Gyllenhaal made his name. Donnie only has 28 days, 6 hours, and 42 minutes (fun fact: the film was shot in 28 days) to save the world from ultimate destruction. Keep an eye out for Drew Barrymore's turn as a teach! And shoutout to Grandma Death.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

Donnie Darko is about the end of the world. Sort of. Anyone who has seen the film will know that there's much more to this time-travelling, mild-melding film than a mere disaster flick. Set in the 80s and with a super-synthy soundtrack to match, there is still something of Virginia's filmic history in the explosions, crashes and sense of "something else" out there of D. Darko.     

Other films set in Virginia: Deep Impact, the Box, The X Files: I want to believe

WEST VIRGINIA – Annie get your gun

DEAR WENDY (2004) – THOMAS VINTERBERG

Penned by Lars Von Trier (the megalomaniac mind behind Nymphomaniac), Dear Wendy might sound like the title of a Little House on the Prairie sequel, but it’s actually a ‘western’ – at least a Danish version of it. An exploration of violence and race issues in a poverty-stricken town in West Virginia, it follows Dick (Jamie Bell) who purchases what he thinks is a toy gun. It turns out to be vintage – he names it Wendy – and forms a secret club with some of the town’s other teen misfits who begin collecting the antiques. “Never draw your weapons” is a club rule for the pacifists – but no surprise for a Von Trier flick, things turns bloody.

WHY WE CHOSE IT: 

West Virginia isn't the most chronicled state in the US by a long way, and apart from Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, the cinematic offerings of the Mountain State are a bit thin on the ground. However, the shoot-em-up gun-totin' lifestyle is prevalent in A Killing Affair and The Night of the Hunter. There's even some rocket power (and a coal-dusted Jake Gyllenhaal) in October Sky. When you visit, best to don your bullet-proof vest…

Other films set in West Virginia: A Killing Affair, The Night of the Hunter, October Sky, Silent Hill, Paradise Park

LOUISIANA – Suspend your disbelief for supernatural "things"

THE SWAMP THING (1984) – WES CRAVEN

The king of the horror movie, you can thank Craven for such slasher icons as A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and the entire Scream franchise. Elm Street might have overshadowed 84's The Swamp Thing, but we still have a soft spot for the thrills, chills, and (in Roger Ebert's words) "winsome humour" of this tale of a science experiment gone wrong. 

WHY WE CHOSE IT:

Whilst 2013's 12 Years a Slave might have realigned the state's cinema along more serious historical lines, Louisiana's history as a movie location is actually subject to Swamp Things, exorcisms, zombies and just about every other horror trope you can think of. Craven's influences go back to this B-Movie heyday, where things that go bump in the night were the favourite subject of cinema audiences everywhere.

Other films set in Louisiana: The Alligator People, Dark Waters, Texas Killing Fields, The Zombie Farm, The Last Exorcism, Creature

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