When the West/ern Meets the South/ern (conference CFP)


Lieu / location: Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines,
Laboratoire Suds d’Amériques, Espaces Atlantiques (SUDS :

Dates: les 19 et 20 avril, 2013.

Langues / languages: français & anglais / French & English

Please send a 250-word
proposal to Claire Dutriaux, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre / Université
Paris IV-Sorbonne claire_dutriaux@yahoo.fr et à Taïna Tuhkunen, Université
de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines taina.tuhkunen@uvsq.fr avant le 31
décembre, 2012 / by December 31st, 2012.

Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery is often presented as the
very first western in cinema history due to the way it sets up many of the
western types and motifs found in later movies on the American West.
Bearing in mind the interest raised by The Great Train Robbery, one might
wonder why another film, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, also made in 1903, which
introduces the spectator to an ostensibly Southern atmosphere has drawn far
less attention – to the point of being easily “forgotten” from Porter’s
filmography. However, this first film adaptation based on Harriet Beecher
Stowe’s famous novel (1852) already presents us with a number of
fundamental motifs, tropes and narrative schemes highlighted by the
“southern” genre, term proposed by Larry Langman and David Ebner in
Hollywood’s Images of the South: A Century of Southern Films (2001).
Are the reasons for this lack of recognition to be sought among the
difficulties of the American South, marked by its “peculiar institutions”,
of providing illustrious enough material for fiction (illustrious in the
etymological sense of the word – illustris : “lighted, bright, brilliant” ;
figuratively “distinguished, famous”)? Perhaps, but there seem to be plenty
of other reasons for the preeminence of the westerns which tend to resonate
with the rhetorics of discovery and conquest, as well as with the taming of
various “wildernesses”, while the southern, a “bad genre”, more often
focalizes on the lost and the obscure and browses through some of the most
somber pages of American History.
While it would be difficult to evoke the westerns and the southerns
without exposing the question of their historical rootings and generic
perimeters, one cannot overlook the way these film genres interact with
American icons and master narratives. Similarly to the American West, the
referential space named “South” has been recreated multiple times on screen
with its symptomatic aesthetics and typologies. In 1915, with the
technically and aesthetically dazzling, yet ideologically intolerable The
Birth of a Nation by D. W. Griffith, the Southern film proved its potential
as an “action movie” which was definitely on a par with westerns. A quarter
of a century later, Gone with the Wind (1939), another crucial movie driven
by its own glorifications and historical and cultural obliterations,
confirmed the power of melodrama over Southern films during the
reconstructions of a world “gone with the wind”, yet oddly enough still (as
the French
put it, “in the wind”) trendy.
At the outset, the differences between the filmic West and the
cinematographic South, two equally real and fantastic spaces, seem
unquestionable. “Action films” on the one hand, embodied by masculine
heroes, “scenarios of stagnation” on the other, centered upon plantations
with their Southern Beaux and Belles ; vast plains to be conquered and
populated in the West incompatible with the cotton fields, deleterious
swamplands and the confined or ruined mansions in the South. Without
disregarding, of course, the postures of the white pioneer seen in the
midst of a panoramic landscape, defending his family against the
“red-skins”, whereas another white man is ruling his white house as the
unconditional master of black slaves.
Beyond these clichéd images which instantly summon up a series of
typical scenes, it is, however, possible to perceive signs of mingling
concerning pre-established schemes.
Luckily for the contemporary spectator, westerns and southerns tend to
escape less and less frequently the hybridization and “bastardization” of
genres by inviting us to reconsider the North-American West and South
without systematically relying on neither geographical nor cultural
polarities, multiplied and propagated, as we know, by popular culture and
mainly by the cinema.
The Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines conference will provide an
opportunity to examine the various dynamics, often less recent than one
might think, between the Far West and the (Deep/) South, projected for more
than a century on the big screen. Whichever the chosen approach or
viewpoint, every speaker will deal with the two topoi in question. For
although a number of studies already exist on the North-South as well as on
the East-West, there is still a lot to explore within the West-South (or,
if one prefers, South-West) relations in the cinema. – The thus framed
cross-over approach of our conference whose title highlights the word
“encounter” (“meets”) will allow, we hope, an improved understanding of the
stakes involved in southern movies, while shedding light on the western
genre, a field so thoroughly researched that one might be inclined to argue
that everything has already been said and written on the subject. The
cinematographic South which has never shared with the West a line of
demarcation similar to the Mason-Dixon Line, may greatly benefit from this
momentary distance or detachment from the Yankees. As for the westerns, the
deliberately oblique or off-centered approach may, we believe, enhance
reflections on some of its own “legitimacies” and “counter-legitimacies”
within the westerns’ cinematographic constructions of America.

Here are a few tracks, among many others, one might wish to consider –
from the West to the South, or vice versa (the route chosen by Captain
America in Easy Rider) – in order to examine the numerous kinds of
interaction, overlapping and porosity that seem to take form between the
two genres:
• The genre indicators in the westerns & the southerns ;
Thematic constants, typologies, recurrent spaces and character traits,
narrative schemes and strategies, aesthetic codes ; Is the “southern” an
autonomous genre or a mere “sub-genre”, is it “illegitimate” compared to
the western? The southern as the “reverse side” or the “flip” / “flop side”
of the western?
• (Founding and regenerating) myths and legends in westerns & southerns :
polarities or crossings ? The pastoral myth ; the myth of the lost paradise
; the de/composition of the agrarian myth (Thomas Jefferson) ; Eldorado &
Dixieland ; Typically American values (democracy, freedom of opinion,
liberty to undertake, individualism, etc.) revisited through these two
• Genealogy and evolution of the two genres, also through the interaction
with other art forms and medias (dime novels, plantation novels, minstrel
shows, Tom shows, etc.) ; The role of subtexts / intertexts (ex. The
Bible); filmic
intertextuality and transtextuality.
• Westerns and southerns as cultural mirrors intimately associated with the
imaginary and History of the American nation. Connections between History
and memory? For what kind of representations of the “New World”? Is the
shadow of the “peculiar institution” restricted to the (official) slave
society? The representation of other institutions (family, school, church,
etc.); Links with the law and the outlaws ; the judicial system ; law
establishment/-ing (enforced by the West / the North).
• Violence and trauma in the westerns & in the southerns : origins,
manifestations and scope ? The violence of the “savage West” and the
“civilized South” ; primitive violence and the struggle for survival ;
violence as recreation in the West vs. disturbing, distressing violence in
the South?
• The creation of westerns & southern spaces; permeability of frontiers and
borders; the wilderness
: a benign or a malignant, revengeful nature ? The relationships with the
land and the concept of territorial integrity; the notion of the “frontier”
and of liminal territories that invite us to reconsider West/South
relations (such as Texas in Giant or Lone Star).
• Heroes and heroines (frontiersmen, conquerors, cowboys, ranchers,
sheriffs, lawmen, bounty hunters, saloon girls, school marms, etc. ;
planters, Belles, rednecks, hillbillies, poor white trash, etc.). Crossings
between characters from both ends of the western/southern spectrum; the
specific case of the former Confederate turned outlaw, sometimes lost in a
western universe (The Searchers, Shane, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dances with
• Relation to time ; retrospective vs. prospective approaches (is the
immune to the nostalgia of “grand old times”?) ; Existence, in the
symbolic system of the westerns, of similar splits as those of “the Old
South” and “the New South” / ante- and postbellum Souths? Presence of these
time-related questions in the narrative strategies of films?
• The question of gender; Dixie chicks & frontier girls ; Calamity Jane &
Scarlett O’Hara : convergences or distinct forms / types of femininity ? ;
Reinvestments and transvestism; Female freaks in the West & in the South:
the old ancestral fear or new territorial variations ? Southern women in
western settings (ex. Belle Starr, True Women, Thelma & Louise).
• Ethnic alterity and racial questions ; representation of ethnic
minorities (ex. characters of color in westerns ; Native Americans in
southerns ?) ; men and women from abroad (Europe, Asia, South America) ;
Mixed couples, miscegenation, etc.
• Problems of class in the westerns, less
visible than in the southerns? ; Social hierarchies in the era of American
classics and today?
• Parodies and pastiches of classic westerns & southerns in the service of
the renewal of the western & southern genres (spaghetti westerns, western
comics ; Hillbilly movies, multi-character movies, etc.)
• Music of the West & the South in the cinema ; Do westerns & southerns
have a musical identity of their own ? (ex. “Yankee Doodle” vs. “I Wish I
Was In Dixie”).
• Film directors who have used both genres (ex. John Ford, John Huston, Don
Siegel, Joel and Ethan Coen, King Vidor) : intersections between the West &
the South or cinematographic territories and experiences not to be mixed up
• Commercial exploitation of the West & the South in the cinema ? Phases
and periods ; in/compatibilities concerning the successes of western &
southern movies in the box-office? Turning points, successes and flops in
the evolution of the two genres.
• Postmodernist blendings ; renewals of archetypes ; recirculation of
western & southern effects (ex. next film by Tarantino, Django Unchained,
expected release in 2013) ; What does cinema gain with these inter-spatial
and interfilmic games between the West & the South, by frustrating and
playing with the spectators’ expectations, and by weaving links between the
“lost” and other, more “illustrious causes”?

Looking forward to your proposals.
Best regards,
Claire Dutriaux et Taïna Tuhkunen

N.B. The April 2013 conference will be preceded by a preparatory workshop
which will take place at Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University on
Friday, October 12, 2012 from 9.30 to 12.30 at the Laboratoire Suds
d’Amériques. The workshop participants will discuss the main themes of the
conference (as indicated above). Further
information concerning the workshop and the conference (as well as the
suggested bibliography) will be posted on the laboratoire SUDS website in
September : http://sudam.uvsq.fr


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