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A range of other viewpoints are well represented here: rca researcher/producer Ernst Jorgensen (Denmark) and independent photo-archivist Ger Rijff testify to European fascination with Elvis and show how fan interest can translate into serious careers. (Jorgensen is largely responsible for the excellent latterday Elvis boxed CD sets and compilations.) Collector/artist/devoteeJoni Mabe describes how rampant fan-dom led to her current traveling collection of over 30,000 Elvis artifacts. Sociologist Mark Gottdiener explores Elvis asJesus impersonator and shows how his image operates on the religious level. Primitives, such as painter Rev. Howard Finster and shrine-builder/archivist Paul MacLeod, weigh in with rambling, idiosyncratic homages to Elvis. But Chadwick's own introductory overview is perhaps the most illuminating contribution to the volume, because it most fully suggests the exciting sweep of "Elvis" as a talismanic Excalibur—a "master key" for the study of contemporary America. Ifone can look beyond Nazareth's preposterousness, Elvis studies represent a rich landscape ofpossibilities lyingrelativelyuntouched and ready for the scholar equipped to explore it, unafraid, as it were, to pull the sword from the stone. Hillbillyland What the Movies Did to the Mountains and What the Mountains Did to the Movies ByJ. W Williamson University ofNorth Carolina Press, 1995 325 pp. Cloth, $39.95; paper, $15.95 Reviewed by James C. Wann, composer and performer, whose credits include Broadway's Pump Boys andDinettes and die recendy filmed (for pbs) KingMackerel <¿r The BluesAre Running. Some dozen years in the making, this thoroughly researched (800 films) yet highly readable treatise draws on J. W. Williamson's long-time fascination with hillbilliana , and on the long-running "Hollywood Appalachia" class he teaches at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He knows his subject. "My assumption is that the hillbilly mirrors us, and like most mirrors he can flatter, frighten, and humiliate. As a rough-and-ready frontiersman, he can be made to compliment American men. He can also terrify. Put him in the same woods, but make him repulsively savage, a monster ofnature, and he now mirrors Reviews 89 an undeniable possibility in American manhood. In other words, we want to be him and we want to flee him." Davy Crockett on the one hand, and Deliverance on the other. On screen so many ofthese stories are played for laughs—Ma and Pa Kettle, early Andy Griffith , and more recendy, Raising Arizona. Williamson's assessment of the latter: "[T]he Coen brothers who made it are snide and contemptuous at heart. But they also invented and entertained like no one else making movies in 1987 . . . Raising Arizona employs a screamingly funny (and absolutely deadpan) narration by Nicolas Cage as Hi, coupled with a cartoonish . . . visual style that we might call Hillbilly Reckless . . . the story mocks the sentimentalYuppie desire to achieve the ideal American family." Williamson also explores, in depth, Jesse James's many screen incarnations, the moonshine genre, and "Hillbilly Gals," among other representative characters. Particularly fascinating is the book's section on Thunder Road (1958). Writes Williamson, "In the history of celluloid hillbillies, Thunder RoadVas a landmark, the first film since Biograph's The Moonshinerin 1904 to look at the moonshining oudaw from squarely inside the culture." Luke Doolin, played by Robert Mitchum, who "thought up the story, produced the film, starred in it, even wrote the tide song," is a moonshine runner who foughtin Korea and has come home to find that the family tradition ofmaking whiskey on their own land was now illegal. His story is "a fable about resistance , bound to fail, but brilliandy romanticized." Here is Williamson's description of a key scene: As Luke Doolin, Robert Mitchum lights a cigarette like a rattlesnake buzzing itself into a coil. His don't-tread-on-me potency is all the more powerful seen through the eyes of men in the audience who feel they've been trod upon. In the closing minutes of the movie, driving tight, but cool, and pursued by Lucky, the big-city henchman, Luke is overtaken on a winding mountain road. Lucky, the hired gun, pulls even with Luke and tries to muscle him off. Luke glares and Lucky glares back. Then Doolin, like a striking snake, flicks the cigarette he's been smoking through the window ofthe other car and into the face of Lucky, who flinches, who therefore loses, who presendy dies. This is the clear, clean gesture of defiance in a dying fall, for Luke Doolin won't survive this auto race either. The skill of Williamson's narrative portrait, with its atmospheric echoes of hardboiled crime fiction, bolsters his critical analysis. This analysis has its overreaching moment when Williamson, describing the car lights winding up the mountain to bring Luke's body back home, says, "The distant moving string of headlights are votive candles, for is not Luke Doolin a ritual sacrifice, the last, admirable, real man in America . . .?" More interesting is 90 Reviews his observation that "the movie was an incredible hit in the drive-in trade . . . many a teenage hellraiser tried to duplicate the boodeg turn. Most of the ones who survived the squealing tires eventually knuckled under to the world ofwork and wages in the button-down, drip-dry Eisenhower years . . . mythic tragedy has a way of reasserting the status quo." In the book's "Hillbilly Gals" section, Williamson refers to Thelma andLouise as the "ThunderRoadof feminism." Respect, independence, and freedom are the issues . "For the first time, the women are allowed the full implications oftheir egalitarian potential, without being repossessed in every way by the close of the story." Williamson describes such repossession by revisiting Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Calamityfane (1953), and The UnsinkableMolly Brown (1964). "In these musical extravaganzas, the hillbilly gal is always scapegoat and clown. In her crossdressing , she parodies masculine power politics, openly satirizing the structure of domination, but ultimately, she succumbs to the masculine hierarchy by doffing her pants and donning a dress. All formerly free country gals eventually give up their male display (and their symbolic as well as their real independence) to become standardized wives of the most traditionally eligible male characters available . And they always give up willingly, for love. In other words, "insofar as these movies hint at a female challenge to male expectations, they are elaborate frauds and retrograde to boot." "High concept" is a term heard often since the days of Flashdance and Fatal Attraction (come to think of it, two urban hillbilly gals—a dancing welder and a rabbit-boiling man-eater), and high concept can either "dumb down" a story (Indecent Proposal) or give it a zing. In the case of Calamityfane, before her transformation into a dressed-up wife, there are some zingy screen moments, as described by Williamson: In Chicago, Calamity is first mistaken for a man on the street and is winked at by another women . . . later she finds another woman (Adelaid) Adam's maid Katie Brown, in her bustier. "Gawd Almighty! You're the prettiest thang I've ever seen! Never knew a woman could look like that!" From that point forward . . . Calamity courts Katie, even seems to marry her at one point ... At her dilapidated cabin, Calamity's a bundle offirst-night nerves. She wants so much to please Katie and Katie accepts the overture: ". . . All it needs is a woman's touch. . . ." And she paints the front door with "Calam & Katie" inscribed in a kind of lover's knot of flowers. But shordy thereafter, "Calamity and Katie burst into a duet . . . before the song is over, we see Doris Day first in clean men's clothes and then in lacy, full ballgowns . . . Calamity becomes feminized . . . and begins her ineluctable track toward subordination as wife of Wild Bill Hickok." It would be fun to see this story with a contemporary spin sometime, in which the hillbilly gals stay togethReviews 91 er. "You is what you is what you is" said Gertrude Stein once while passing through EUijay, Georgia. Of course, she was ahead ofher time. At the back ofthe book, under "Sources," are forty-three pages ofnotes, chapter by chapter, adding texture and evidence to the already detailed anecdotes and arguments in Hillbillyland. This book is likely to become a work as enduring as its popular subject. Re-Searching Black Music ByJon Michael Spencer The University ofTennessee Press, 1996 1 54 pp. Cloth, $25.00 Reviewed by Michael Taft, sound and image librarian and Soudiern Folklife Collection archivist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written a number of books and articles on Norrh American popular music, including several on African American blues. Jon Michael Spencer's latest book may be taken as an extended introductory essay to his theory oftheomusicology. His tide invites us to "re-search" the subject and nature of black music; that is, Spencer asks his readers to begin again their consideration ofAfrican American musical traditions from a new, and in his opinion, fundamental standpoint—theomusicology. Defining this standpoint takes up much of Spencer's book. He contends that religion or spirituality together with rhythm (and thereby music) are the two pillars ofhuman society and ofAfrican American society in particular. No study of music is complete without this understanding, and all studies ofmusic that do not acknowledge the centrality of religion are flawed. In arguing this point, Spencer shows how even the most secular forms ofAfrican American music, particularly the blues, are manifestations of the sacred, and that in fact the dichotomy between secular and sacred is a false one, that both heaven and hell are God's dominion . In expressing his understanding of the interconnectedness of the spiritual and worldly realms, Spencer employs a number of analogies or metaphors, from the circularity of the African American ring-shout to the return of the prodigal son. This circularity, however, defines Spencer's argument as much as his subject, 92 Reviews ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 89-92
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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