Announcement: core and affiliate American Studies faculty explore relevance of ‘Gone With The Wind’

Gone With The Wind title from trailer

Mark your calendars, everyone: on Wednesday, October 1 at 4:00pm, professors Daina Ramey Berry, Jacqueline Jones, Randolph Lewis, Thomas Schatz, and Coleman Hutchison will be participating in a panel discussion exploring Gone With The Wind’s contemporary relevance, 75 years after its premiere in Atlanta.

Dr. Lewis is a member of our core faculty, while Jones, Schatz, and Hutchison are American Studies faculty affiliates.

The panel, held at the Harry Ransom Center, is a part of a series of events this semester occurring alongside the center’s impressive and comprehensive Gone With The Wind exhibit, open until January 4, 2015.

For more information, see the event announcement here.

Announcement: Deborah Willis Lecture This Thursday


On Thursday, September 18, Deborah Willis (NYU) will give a lecture as part of this year’s Flair Symposium at the Harry Ransom Center. The Flair Symposium theme for 2014 is Cultural Life During Wartime, 1861-1865, and Dr. Willis will discuss the early years of American photography alongside a reading of iconic moments in Gone With The Wind whilst examining the role black history played in producing such a controversial and celebrated cultural phenomenon. The lecture will take place in Jessen Auditorium in Homer Rainey Hall at 6:30pm.

Announcement: SXSW Film Picks

With SXSW looming over us, we’ve curated a list of films that are of interest to folks who live beneath the American Studies umbrella. If you have a moment during spring break and want to catch a flick, check these out! If you don’t have a badge or wristband, tickets will go on sale about 15 minutes prior to screening time if there is still seating available. The single admission ticket price is $10 for all screenings. Need more details? Check out SXSW’s official website.

“Film Screening,” by Andy.

The 78 Project Movie (documentary)

The 78 Project Movie is a road trip across America to make one-of-a-kind 78rpm records with musicians in their hometowns using a 1930s Presto direct-to-disc recorder. With one microphone. One blank disc. In one 3-minute take. Along the way, a kaleidoscope of technologists, historians and craftsmen from every facet of field recording – Grammy-winning producers, 78 collectors, curators from the Library of Congress and Smithsonian – provide insights and history. In Tennessee, Mississippi, California, Louisiana, the folk singers, punk rockers, Gospel and Cajun singers in the film share their lives through intimate performances, and find in that adventure a new connection to our cultural legacy.

Above All Else (documentary) 

One man will risk it all to stop the tar sands of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from crossing his land. Shot in the forests, pastures, and living rooms of rural East Texas, “Above All Else” follows David Daniel as he rallies neighbors and environmental activists to join him in a final act of brinkmanship: a tree-top blockade of the controversial pipeline. What begins as a stand against corporate bullying becomes a rallying cry for climate protesters nationwide.

As in his previous film, “Mississippi Chicken”, director John Fiege puts a human face on a complex case of social injustice, capturing the South in all its drama and contradiction.

All American High (documentary)

In 1984—before cell phones, the web, and reality TV, a young director set out to document a year in the life of a typical California high school. The result was “All American High”, an unusually honest and humorous look at 80’s teen life. The Hollywood Reporter found it “fascinating and insightful” and The Village Voice called it “a laugh out loud documentary”. Told through the eyes of a visiting foreign exchange student, the film presents an uncensored view of senior year in the era of big hair, punks and parachute pants. Thirty years after they lived it, some of the film’s original subjects return in new interviews, revisiting one of the most memorable chapters in their lives.

Born to Fly (documentary)

Elizabeth Streb is not just a choreographer; she is an extreme action architect. “Born to Fly” traces the evolution of Streb’s movement philosophy – she pushes herself and her company from the ground, to the wall, to the sky. The film asks: Why is one person’s circus another person’s dance? One dancer’s gorgeous flight another dancer’s stunt work? Why call it art? Why choreograph it? Why have a role in performing it?

How might a film inspire a broad audience, hungry for a more tactile and fierce existence in the world?

Cesar Chavez (feature)

Directed by Diego Luna, “Cesar Chávez” chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. Torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to bringing dignity and justice to others, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in his struggle for the rights of farm workers. His triumphant journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one individual’s ability to change the system.

Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound (documentary)

“Deep City” is an inspirational story that explores the early days of soul music in Florida, the era’s pioneers and their lasting contributions to the broader American musical landscape.

During the mid-1960s, producers Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall masterminded Deep City Records. Both from the streets of Miami, they honed the business and musical skills learned in college and went on to change the face of soul music in Miami and eventually the country by creating the first black-owned record label in Florida.

“Deep City” delves into the life and times of these groundbreaking producers, their label, the artists they spawned and the remarkable era in which they accomplished it.

For No Good Reason (documentary) 

Johnny Depp pays a call on his friend and hero Ralph Steadman and we take off on a high-spirited, raging and kaleidoscopic journey discovering the life and works of one of the most distinctive radical artists of the last 50 years.

The Frontier (feature)

Sean, a retired literature professor and civic activist, writes a letter to his estranged son, Tennessee, a ranch hand. Tennessee is uncertain how to respond, but knowing he should see his aging father, he decides to go home. Tennessee arrives just as Nina, Sean’s personal trainer fresh off a bad breakup, accepts Sean’s offer to move in and help him write his memoirs. The tension between Sean and Tennessee is ever-present. As Sean and Nina work, Tennessee avoids his overbearing father with fix-up projects around the house. One evening after Nina has gone out, Sean and Tennessee find themselves alone in the house for the first time. No longer able to avoid each other, the two men must talk.

Joe (feature)

A gripping mix of friendship, violence and redemption erupts in the contemporary South in this adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel. Directed by David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche”, “Pineapple Express”) the film brings Academy Award® winner Nicolas Cage back to his indie roots in the title role as the hard-living, hot-tempered, ex-con Joe Ransom, as he meets a hard-luck kid, Tye Sheridan (“Mud”, “Tree of Life”) who awakens in him a fierce and tender-hearted protector. Joe and Gary forge an unlikely bond. When Gary finds himself facing a a great threat, he turns to Joe and sets off a chain of events that play out with the brutal inevitability of tragedy and the beauty of a last stab at salvation.

Ping Pong Summer (feature)

The year is 1985. Rad Miracle is a shy 13-year-old white kid who’s obsessed with two things: ping pong and hip hop. During his family’s annual summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland, Rad makes a new best friend, experiences his first real crush, becomes the target of rich, racist local bullies, and finds an unexpected mentor in his outcast next-door neighbor. “Ping Pong Summer” is about that time in your life when you’re treated like an alien by everyone around you, even though you know deep down you’re as funky fresh as it gets.

Que Caramba es la Vida (documentary)

Mariachi is an essential part of Mexican culture. It’s more than just music; it’s a lifestyle that views the world from a macho perspective. The business is tough and women are seldom appreciated in this strictly male domain. Nevertheless, a handful of female musicians choose to be Mariachi. Against the backdrop of the folky ‘Día de los Muertes’ celebrations, director Doris Dörrie accompanies the musicians to their performances on the streets of Mexico and throughout their daily lives. When the Mariachi women sing about death, love and poverty, the heavy issues of everyday life in Mexico City appear slightly more bearable.

Road to Austin (documentary)

“Road To Austin” chronicles how Austin, Texas became the Live Music Capital of the World, dating from 1835 to present. The film highlights 1800s Austin, the psychedelic movement, Armadillo World Headquarters, and numerous iconic musical inflection points that shaped the American musical culture of today. Vintage photos, posters, and footage are presented to a soundtrack that truly inspires! The film story line weaves towards an all-star live performance featuring Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Eric Johnson, Ian McLagan, Joe Ely, and 40 other Artists led by Musical Director, Stephen Bruton. Kris Kristofferson dedicates this film to Stephen Bruton.

Take Me to the River (documentary)

“Take Me to the River” is a feature film celebrating the inter-generational and inter-racial musical influence of Memphis in the face of pervasive discrimination and segregation. The film brings multiple generations of award-winning Memphis and Mississippi Delta musicians together, following them through the creative process of recording a historic new album, to re-imagine the utopia of racial, gender and generational collaboration of Memphis in its heyday. Featuring Terrence Howard, William Bell, Snoop Dog, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay, Lil P-Nut, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, The North Mississippi All-Stars and many more.

Departmental Theme: The American Superhero and American (In)Security

Today we’re very pleased to share with you this reflection from Andrew Friedenthal, one of our Assistant Instructors here in AMS, about integrating the 2013-2014 departmental theme, SECURITY/INSECURITY, into his teaching this semester:


In my class, The Myth & History of the American Superhero, the departmental theme of security/insecurity is inherently a part of the course material. The history of the superhero in America is inextricably linked to a history of feeling insecure, from two young Jewish men creating Superman in response to Nazi aggression overseas to a renaissance in superhero films in the years following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Superheroes are often called our “modern myths,” but what they actually are is simpler than that – they are symbols of our hopes and fears, our highs and our lows, our feelings of safety and apprehensions about infringements on that safety. In a sense, they embody our feelings of security and insecurity about yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

As a class, we watch the 2012 blockbuster film THE AVENGERS and then spend a significant amount of time teasing out its political implications.  A movie that features shadowy government organizations, the wide-scale destruction of Manhattan, and a man wrapped in the American flag cannot help but be rife with echoes of our contemporary struggle with issues of security in a post-9/11 world.

Announcement: Dr. Shirley Thompson Participates in Roundtable on “12 Years a Slave”

The John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies and the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies (TILTS) invite you to a roundtable discussion of 12 Years a Slave on Thursday, February 6, at 5pm in the Santa Rita Suite (3.502) of the Texas Union. The film, directed by Steve McQueen from an adapted screenplay by John Ridley, tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, and it has been nominated for 9 Academy Awards. 12 Years a Slave has sparked national and international debates about slavery, American history, the representation of American history on film, and the experiences of African and African diasporic actors and filmmakers in Hollywood.

12 Years

The roundtable will be moderated by Helena Woodard of the Department of English. Panelists include UT professors Daina Ramey Berry (History), Eddie Chambers (Art and Art History), Mark Cunningham from the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at Austin Community College, and our very own Shirley Thompson (American Studies).

Undergrad Research: Interview with Kevin Machate

This past December, American Studies senior Kevin Machate was named one of UT’s “Most Impressive Students” by Business Insider. We sat down for a chat with Kevin about his experiences in American Studies, working in the film industry, and where he sees the two intersecting.

Say a little something about yourself and what you do in the film industry. 

I wanted to be an actor from the time I was very young, but growing up, I didn’t have support for that. I was raised in a military family. It wasn’t necessarily militaristic, but it was very much like, “If it doesn’t make sense to do that, then don’t do it.” Going into the military was the thing my parents wanted me to do. Both parents were military brats themselves, so they thought that at least in the military I would always have a job. Then in 1992 when George Bush decided he was going to do a big reduction in force, we found out that wasn’t necessarily true. I took advantage of that and got out early and came back to Texas. I was 21 at the time, and I decided that I was going to go back to college. But I enrolled and never went.

I got married, went into business, got divorced, moved back to Texas, worked and worked, and then in 2009 lost one of my dogs suddenly, and that was my big eye opener. I knew I needed to do something that was going to be more of what I wanted to do, but I had no idea what that was. So I took a year sabbatical and did as little as I could get away with to regroup and figure things out. I was actually going to re-enlist in the Reserves so that I could get a job because I was waiting tables at the time, and I wasn’t really going anywhere. I had never taken chemistry for this one military program, and I had to have it to get back in, so I started a class in Waco.

Around the same time, there was a call for extras for this movie Sironia, which they were filming in Waco. I volunteered to be an extra, and I got paid minimum wage to go and sit around and do nothing, because they didn’t use me. But a couple weeks later they called me back and said they wanted to use me for this other thing, so I went in and learned a lot because I realized it took three and a half hours for them to film 45 seconds of the movie.

But it opened a door and the same casting director called me back about two months later and asked me to be a police officer on a show called Lone Star that had a lot of big names in it. At this time I was doing a lot of extra work. I did eleven episodes of television and three films in about eight months. For these roles, you don’t have to audition, you just have to look the part and pay attention and mostly sit down and shut up, because there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting. So I did that for a while, but I got to the point where I wanted to start actually talking, so I auditioned for a student film at the University of North Texas at Denton and got the part. Being in Waco, I was able to go back and forth to Dallas and Austin. After a year of doing that, I started taking my first professional acting class in Austin, and that was when I decided I needed to move back down here. I had still been taking classes in Waco, but I transferred to UT and kept going.

After I transferred to UT, I started pre-production on the first short film that I produced, which I also co-starred in. After having worked for a while in the industry, I thought, “I can do just as good as these other people are doing,” so I found the scripts, the crew, and a director, and I found another actor. I picked the script because it had minimal locations, it only had two characters, there wasn’t a whole lot of extra stuff–it was just a basic storyline. So that was the first film I produced, and it is now in the festival circuit. It screened in Belarus about a month ago.

The directing part of my work was kind of an accident; there was no one else available to do it at the time. So I said, “OK, I’m going to do this.” And it worked out. Not long after this I got an idea for a film that we just finished and is being edited right now. Me not being a screenwriter, I have to draw on people to help me with that aspect of the film. I have been lucky enough that the same writer has written three of the films that I’ve directed. When you find someone you work well with, you want to stick with the same thing, but at the same time I am trying to branch out so that I’m not always doing the same dumb silly comedies. As an actor I used to get either a cop or a serial killer as roles. Within a month I think I played three different serial killers in three different projects. All of them dies at the end, by the way. Earlier this year when I switched my major to American Studies I realized that I was going to be able to continue the whole film thing in my studies as well. Maybe not every single time, but this last semester I was able to incorporate some aspect of my film projects into all of my classes, or a film that I enjoyed–writing about it or using it for a project.

You talk about putting film into your schoolwork. Does this happen the other way around, where your general interest in American culture informs what you are doing on set?

Not yet, but it does definitely make me aware when I am watching other people’s films or television. In class we talk about Boardwalk Empire and how fictionalized it is even though it is based on historical fact. There are a lot of things that aren’t really accurate. I am very anal when it comes to certain details, and when I see something in a film that is not historically or culturally accurate, it makes me not like the movie quite as much. When it comes to the point that I am making a film with a clear cultural message about something like masculinity or femininity, my American Studies training is definitely going to make me more aware to the extreme, so I will make sure that the details are exactly right even if I am the only one that understands them.

Can you talk a little bit about your future after AMS? What does your next year look like?

I transferred into the program as a senior, so I am crunching everything into one year. But it allows me to only have to take AMS classes and one class for my minor and a language. I’m able to focus on AMS and really figure out what I do want to do next. I want to make my interests in film and pop culture and history converge in a way that hasn’t already been done. I graduate in December and I want to go to grad school.

Anything else you want to add?

My newest film is called Hashtag-RIP. We’re hoping to premier it at the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival in May. It’s about the Hollywood mentality but also about pop culture and Twitter. We are getting the third rough-cut tomorrow; we’re still working on sound and color correction and music. I have a four-time ASCAP award-winning composer doing our score. He’s an old friend who just happens to also work for TV Land on Hot in Cleveland. Pop culture is a big focus in the film. Miley Cyrus gets a mention. Hopefully she will still be relevant. I don’t see her going away any time soon.

Announcement: AMS Film Series Returns This Thursday with ‘The Game’


Join us for another installment of the AMS Film Series, which is featuring films related to this year’s department theme: security/insecurity. This week’s film, David Fincher’s The Game, will be introduced by Dr. Randolph Lewis, whose research includes surveillance culture and cinema studies.

The film features wealthy financier Nicholas Van Orton, who gets a strange birthday present from wayward brother Conrad: a live-action game that consumes his life. Before there was Fight Club, there was The Game, Fincher’s under-appreciated masterpiece — a dark examination of morose privilege, perverse entertainment, and Situationist surveillance. Nothing is what it seems… no one can be trusted… nothing can protect you.

Check it out in CMA 2.306 at 6:15 on Thursday, October 24.

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