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Reviewed by:
  • Bone Creek
  • Gustavo Mercado
Bone Creek. (2008) Directed by Emily Edwards. University Film and Video Association Conference, Colorado College, 2008

Bone Creek tells the story of Nora, an exchange student from Australia who is on a mission to rescue the "magic and folklore of the American rural South before it gets lost." A photography student, she collects images she believes capture the spirit of this area: abandoned tractors, dilapidated houses, and the indigenous ecosystem. These images, however, ultimately prove to be a collection of clichés as conceived by an outsider, and as such they are inherently incapable of capturing the "real" South she seeks. Nora has an outsider's perspective, twice removed; she is a "cultural" outsider who has a narrow, idealistic, and romanticized view of the South, and she is also (ironically) visually impaired from seeing Southern magic and folklore because she seeks it from within the confines of a photographic frame, a construct of a perceived reality filtered by her own aesthetic and preestablished notions (she quotes her photography teacher: "the camera lies because human eyes composed the shot").

Nora's outsider status makes her effectively incapable of realizing that the magic she seeks to preserve in her photographs has in fact already found her, in the form of Effie, a Southern white woman who comes to her aid when she gets lost and her car won't start. "The camera won't show you the world you think you want to see," Effie tells her, further emphasizing that the essence of the South Nora seeks lies somewhere beyond the physical realm. Effie eventually leads Nora to an abandoned house, where she narrates the story of Avenel Cannon, an escaped convict who ends up making a deal with the devil to enslave an otherworldly entity. The film's narrative crosscuts between the present, in which Nora and Effie wait for a man named Fuller to fix Nora's car, and flashbacks showing the life of Avenel, where we learn how he escapes from prison, makes moonshine, and successfully ensnares a witch with the power of his blues guitar playing.

The use of music in this film plays a central role, beyond simply empathetically supporting the mood and tone of the scenes, becoming a central narrative device. In most instances, the songs narrate the events the audience sees in the film, amplifying and providing a "Southern" context to what takes place. The contextualization provided by the songs creates several moments where the meaning of the images is altered, sometimes profoundly so, establishing a dialectic between the expectations generated by the audience according to genre conventions and the context provided by the songs' lyrics. This dialectic is a very unusual and interesting narrative device because it honors the tradition of blues songwriting where complex topics and ideas are often presented through the veil of a simple metaphor (deceptively tackling complex issues, like dealing with unrequited love, betrayal, and loneliness). Because one of the central themes in this work has to do with things not being what they seem, the ambiguity created by this particular use of music is especially apt and imaginative. The narration provided by the songs also echoes the recurrent use of narration throughout the film: Avenel ensnares the witch through the power of his music (the nature of blues music, even when entirely instrumental, mimics human speech, making the guitar "sing" or "narrate" to her), Effie enraptures Nora by her narration of Avenel's story, Israel Sommerfield (Avendel's uncle) [End Page 52] entices Avenel with his tale of how to trap a witch, and (completing a mise-en-abîme effect) the audience is sutured by the narrative of the film itself.

As the narrative progresses, Nora thinks she has figured out what is really happening, but her inability to see beyond her preconceived notions of the South, its myths, and its people ends up backfiring when she inadvertently releases Effie from Avenel's bondage and becomes a victim of a pair of drug traffickers. The film makes a number of interesting and surprising choices concerning race in its casting. For instance, the entity Avenel captures seems to be of either a mixed...


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pp. 52-54
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