Lesson Plan and Internet Resource Guide
The Ballad of the Sad Café
From the Hollywood Hills to the
The Universality of the
Provincial Stereotypes in
The Ballad of the Sad Café
"But," you say, "The Ballad of the Sad Café is not Appalachian!" Youre right. And the fact that it is not Appalachian, but rural, is why this is a good film to use in Appalachian classrooms. By applying regional componentsAppalachian values (non-stereotypical), hillbilly types (typically stock characters that are basically one-dimensional and often stereotypical)to The Ballad of the Sad Café, students will develop self-pride and learn tolerance. General knowledge of popular culture (movies, television, rock music, romantic novels, newspapers, etc.) and mass culture (the spread of popular culture through distribution methods such as radio, movies, magazines, newspapers, and television) enhances students understanding of the world and enables them to bring this new information to their analysis of the film. An understanding of film techniques helps students make important discoveries and connections between plot, characterization, and mood.
Grade Level: 10-College
Subject: English/Literature, Film
Time Frame: Public School: Seven class periods (45 minutes each) or Three to Four block classes (1 hour and 30 minutes each) College: Three to Four classes (1 hour and 15 minutes each)
Students are familiar with basic film terms and are able to use appropriate terminology to express their thoughts and ideas in both oral and written forms.
Students have studied Appalachian literature and are familiar with the concept of Appalachian values as identified by Loyal JonesReligion; Individualism, Self-Reliance, Pride; Neighborliness and Hospitality; Familism; Personalism; Love of Place; Modesty; Sense of Beauty; Sense of Humor; Patriotismhaving applied same to select pieces of Appalachian literature. During this period of study, students may have decided that some of the values identified by Jones no longer exist or need re-described. They will carry these new ideas into this lesson. (Jones, Loyal. "Appalachian Values." Voices From the Hills. Eds. Robert J. Higgs and Ambrose Manning. New York: Ungar, 1975. 507-517. Jones article is a response to a comparative summary of middle class American and Southern Appalachians in the Appendix to Jack Wellers Yesterdays People. KY: Kentucky UP, 1965.)
Some relevant quotes and summaries--which may lead to insightful consensus or provoke disagreement from Williamson, J. W. Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains & What the Mountains Did to the Movies. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1995. Note to Teacher: You may choose to prepare a handout with the following quotes and summaries for general class discussion or distribute different passages for group discussion and later reporting.
"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 of nature, and he now mirrors an undeniable possibility in American manhood. In other words, we want to be him and we want to flee him" (2).
"In the countryside, denials of the hillbilly identity can get even more heated, probably because so many people understand the power of the image as a class marker, hence a fighting word" (7).
Speaking of politicians who have embraced the identity for generations: "Playing dumb but showing smart was just good sense in a politician, a purely symbolic but useful leveling of power in the eyes of voters so that power could continue to be unlevel" (10-11).
"Like the fool or the village idiot, the American hillbilly clown is an impudent mirror held up in front of usboth a reflection of and a window into something rarely glimpsed, the native deep and sable face of this creature we still are" (26).
The appearance of hillbilly women in films can present 1) "a glimpse of the same democracy of violence that men have always assumed for themselves: equal freedom possessed at physical hazard" 2) a "democracy of victimization . . . women have often been depicted as sympathetic victims of unjust power" 3) a "democracy of sexuality . . . [the] tradition of the boundary-crossing female . . . sexual authority [and] willful assumption of equal status" (226).
Plot Summary for movie The Ballad of the Sad Café (1991)
The following summary is from a useful site but is not entirely accurate. "A tangled triangle. In the rural South of the early 20th century, Miss Amelia is the town eccentric, selling corn liquor and dispensing medicine. She takes in her half-sister's son, a diminutive crook-back named Lymon. He suggests they open a café in the downstairs of her large house. Marvin Macy gets out of prison and returns to town to marry Amelia. They marry, but she won't let him sleep with her; first he pleads, then he gets angry. Eventually, Amelia and Marvin stage a no-holds-barred fight in the café. Lymon's complicated response to Marvin and to Cousin Amelia figures in the resolution" (The Internet Movie Database, pg. 11 July 16, 2000 Search http://www.imdb.com Summary written by firstname.lastname@example.org).
Negative Movie Review: From Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide
Ballad of the Sad Café, The: "Truly odd stab at filming Depression-era tale of Southerner Redgrave, a loner who rules rural hamlet like a despot--until hunchback Hubbert and ex-con husband Carradine appear. Far too theatrical in its look, tone, and pacing; Redgrave's performance may interest drama students, but nothing in film really works. Based on Carson McCullers' novella (and its stage adaptation by Edward Albee). Film directing debut of British actor/stage director Callow." Copyright© Leonard Maltin, 1998, used by arrangement with Signet, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc. (From Amazon.com, Editorial Reviews http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6302413834/qid%3D964129835/104-1619846-2799956 - Search http://www.amazon.com if the previous address does not take you to the appropriate destination.)
By Roger Ebert
1. Provide students following out-of class reading:
Kolker, Robert. "Film as Cultural Practice." Film, Form, and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill College, 1999. 60-97. (Any good film text may be substituted. Topics covered in Kolkers text, pages 60-97, include Popular Culture, Definition of Culture, How Popular Culture Becomes Mass Culture, Theories of Culture, Cultural Studies, Cultural Criticism Applied to Cinematic Texts.)
2. Allow for in-depth class discussion and analysis of Kolkers "Film as Cultural Practice."
Sample Questions (substitute appropriate questions for different text):
A.) Kolkers provides the following definition of culture: ". . . culture can be seen as the text of our lives, the ultimately coherent pattern of beliefs, acts, responses that we produce and comprehend every day (61-61). What is your reaction to Kolkers definition? Explain.
B.) Kolker states: "Now, our cultureor that part of our culture that makes divisions between high and low, serious and popular artdefines culture much more narrowly than we just have. It defines as culture those serious works make by independent imaginations that are complex, difficult to understand, and acceptable only to the few who have, want, or like culture. In other words, culture segments and segregates itself" (62). He explains that high culture includes such imaginative works as paintings in museums, symphonies played in concert halls, etc. Those things that do not fit this definition fall into the category of low or popular culture, which includes things like movies, television, rock music, romantic novels, newspapers, etc.all of which are commodities. Within these narrowly defined types (often based on things like class, education, race, and gender), groups split into subcultures based on their particular interests. Do you agree that cultures (high and low) segment and segregate themselves? Can you provide examples? Explain.
C.) Do you agree with Kolker that "In order for popular culture to become mass culture, storage and distribution methods had to be developed" (64)? In other words, radio, movies, magazines, newspapers, and television became venues for and worked together in the distribution of popular culture, that without these technological advances, popular culture might well have faded away. Explain.
(D.) Will Kolkers belief that "for popular culture to become mass culture, storage and distribution methods had to be developed" hold true if you accept the premise that terms applied to humans as identifiers (such as hillbilly or redneck, etc.) are/can be part of culture, popular and mass (64)? Do you personally think that terms applied to humans as identifiers since before storage and distribution methods were developed are aspects of the same type of culture that Kolker writes of, that they can be seen as aspects of popular or mass culture? Explain.
3. Introduce movie The Ballad of the Sad Café by providing credits. Distribute handout "Credits for The Ballad of the Sad Café (1991)"
4. Screen movie for students
5. Discuss the term hillbilly and all it implies. If the following "types" do not come up in discussion, introduce them: fool, monster, woman (not heard, cross-dresser/mannish misfit.) For a more thorough explanation see Williamson, J. W. Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains & What the Mountains Did to the Movies. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1995.
6. After screening movie, have students work in groups to analyze and discuss the following:
(A.) Appalachian values as revealed in the movie
(B.) Hillbilly types
(C.) Filming techniques (including camera shots, lighting, music) that impact the audiencess response to the filmadd to or detract from the film
(A.) Appalachian values as revealed in the movie
(B.) Hillbilly types
(C.) Filming techniques
There are many film techniques that contribute to the movie as a whole. A few examples include
Additional questions for class or group discussion
(A.) The term hillbilly, and all it implies, has come to identify Appalachians. It has become part of popular culture. Is it now, in some areas of the world, part of our mass culture? Has the mass culture adopted the term hillbilly (or some similar term) to identify people on the "poor rural fringes of the economy who [do] not seem to be accompanying everyone else into the dawning of the thoroughly modern twentieth century" or does it simply continue to identify people from the Appalachia region (Williamson 37)?
(B.) Has this aspect, the identification of a rural "something" or "someone" in terms typically used in the media to identify people of the Appalachian region, always been present throughout rural regions across the world?
(C.) Kolker discusses several theories of culture in Film, Form and Culture. One theory is that offered by Walter Benjamin. As Kolker summarizes, Benjamin believes that "the growth of popular culture [is] something to be understood not as an oppressive reality, but as a potentially liberating one. . . . Everyone could come into contact with works of the imagination and everyone would be free to make of the auraless work what she could. Curiously, the loss of aura could lead to a greater intimacy with the work. The ritual and awe that surround the work of original genius [aura] might be replaced by the intimate interpretation of each viewer" (Kolker 70)? Do you agree with Walter Benjamins premise? Explain. How does this premise fit into the idea of the hillbilly-type character as a member of the world rather than a member only of Appalachia? Or does it? Is the idea of a worldwide hillbilly- type persona a liberating idea?
7. Have students write a three-page essay (documentation, typed or word-processed) discussing some aspect of their findings. Students should be prepared to present a summary of their paper in class. Note to Teacher: You may wish to provide in-class time for peer revising and editing.
Choose a film we have not studied and evaluate it as has been modeled in class. Write a three-page essay (documentation, typed or word-processed) discussing your findings. Be prepared to present a summary of your paper in class, along with an excerpt from the film that will highlight your findings/conclusions. Note to Teacher: You may wish to provide in-class time for peer revising and editing.
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This Page Created: 7/23/2001
Last Update: 09/05/2001 09:50:09 AM
Links Checked: 02/05/2004