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Popular Film as Vernacular Culture

Sharon R. Sherman and Mikel J. Koven

Publication Year: 2007

Interest in the conjunctions of film and folklore is stronger and more diverse than ever. Ethnographic documentaries on folk life and expression remain a vital genre, but scholars such as Mikel Koven and Sharon Sherman also are exploring how folklore elements appear in, and merge with, popular cinema. They look at how movies, a popular culture medium, can as well be both a medium and type of folklore, playing cultural roles and conveying meanings customarily found in other folkloric forms. They thus use the methodology of folklore studies to “read” films made for commercial distribution.

The contributors to this book look at film and folklore convergences, showing how cinema conveys vernacular—traditional and popular—culture. Folklore/ Cinema will be of interest to scholars from many fields—folklore, film studies, popular culture, American studies, history, anthropology, and literature among them—and will help introduce students in various courses to intersections of film and culture.


Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Popular Film as Vernacular Culture

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pp. 1-8

We both have been working in the areas of folklore and film studies for a number of years, and this current volume demonstrates that we are not alone in exploring the convergence of popular cinema and folklore. Folklore/Cinema first emerged out of our work on film and folklore for a special issue of Western Folklore (2005). When we edited that issue, we ...

I. Filmic Folklore and Authenticity

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1. "I'y ava't un' fois" (Once Upon a Time): Film as Folktales in Quebecois Cinema Direct

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pp. 10-30

This chapter concerns a small group of films produced at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Golden Age of Canadian documentary. These short films, which aired on Radio-Canada TV as part of the television series Temps présent (1957–64), intended only to deliver direct reportages of their subject material with-...

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2. Elvis Gratton: Quebec's Contemporary Folk Hero?

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pp. 31-53

How can a fictional film character potentially be considered a Québécois folk hero in a contemporary narrative setting? The attempt to suggest or discuss the heroic nature of Robert (Bob) “Elvis” Gratton (affectionately known as Elvis Gratton), the Québécois film character and social political...

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3. A Strange and Foreign World: Documentary, Ethnography, and the Mountain Films of Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl

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pp. 54-72

With its celebration of mountains and masculinity, of pure white land-scapes and strong white men, the popular genre of Weimar cinema known as the mountain film (Bergfilm) lends itself readily to interpretations that emphasize its relation to Nazi ideology. A number of factors have encouraged the perception of the mountain film as Aryan-myth ...

II. Transformation

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4. PC Pinocchios: Parents, Children, and the Metemorphosis Tradition in Science Fiction

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pp. 74-92

What viewer of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) can forget the moment when the computer HAL 9000 faces his death and sings “A Bicycle Built or Two”? The melody winds down as HAL loses consciousness. It is a poignant moment in which the technological creation, a conscious...

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5. From Jinn to Genies: Intertextuality, Media, and the Making of Global Folklore - Mark Allen Peterson

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pp. 93-112

There is scarcely a tale in the whole of the Nights which does not have its precursors, derivatives or analogous versions. Tales evolve into other tales and they replicate, elaborate, invert, abridge, link formation—but was there ever the first version of any story? It is almost always impossible to tell when a story was first told and ...

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6. "Now That I Have It, I Don't Want It": Vocation and Obligation in Contemporary Hollywood Ghost Films

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pp. 113-128

What Makes Hamlet’s ghost so memorably disturbing, for audiences as well as its unwilling interlocutor? Jacques Derrida has pointed out in Specters of Marx that the ghost’s inscrutable form and ambiguous prov-enance are crucial to its power. We grasp, with Hamlet, the familiar lin-eaments of a demanding father, yet “that does not prevent him from ...

III. Through Folklore's Lenses

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7. Marchen as Trauma Narrative: Helma Sanders-Brahms's Film Germany, Pale Mother

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pp. 130-148

In Germany, Pale Mother (1980), Helma Sanders-Brahms depicts her childhood experiences in Germany during and after World War II. The film’s tripartite structure consists of the prewar courtship of the film-maker’s parents, the wartime tribulations and adventures of mother and child, and the postwar era of domestic misery. In an attempt to ...

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8. The Three Faces in Eve's Bayou: Recalling the Conjure Woman in Contemporary Black Cinema

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pp. 149-165

Kasi Lemmons’s neoclassical (re)visioning of the conjure woman in her film Eve’s Bayou (1997) not only reinforces the idea of this archetype as the place where West African and early African American spirituality and consciousness melded to formulate one means of a people’s psychical...

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9. Allegories of the Undead: Rites and Rituals in Tales from the Hood

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pp. 166-178

Ed Guerrero argues in Framing Blackness, “Hollywood’s unceasing efforts to frame blackness are constantly challenged by the cultural and political self-definitions of African Americans, who as a people have been determined...

IV. Disruption and Incorporation

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10. The Virgin Victim: Reimagining a Medieval Folk Ballad in The Virgin Spring and The Last House on the Left

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pp. 180-196

Two films could not be executed more differently than Ingmar Bergman’s crisp, black-and-white Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring, 1960), and Wes Craven’s boldly bloody The Last House on the Left (1972), yet both ultimately spring from the same source: a ballad of tragedy and revenge...

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11. Beyond Communitas: Cinematic Food Events and the Negotiation of Power, Belonging, and Exclusion

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pp. 197-220

Many classic studies of foodways by folklorists and other scholars have effectively shown the sophisticated ways that food functions to foster communitas, a heightened sense of group cohesion. Owing to the eth-nographic tradition of representing cultures in a decidedly celebratory manner, as well as the tendency for individuals and groups to perform ...


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pp. 221-224


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pp. 225-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780874216752
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216738

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2007