In which I beat my old dissertation supervisor with a soft stick.

I spotted Fifty Key American Fillms (Routledge, 2009) at one of the few Christchurch City Library branches that remained open – the one on Colombo in Beckenham. I have a planned “The Geography of American Cinema in Academia” chapter in the Atlas, so I picked it up. Scanning the contents, I noted that Paul Young wrote two entries: Applause (1929) and Star Wars (1977). Applause makes sense, PDY’s an early cinema dude. Although the term has lost most of its meaning, PDY is also a dork of the old school: comics and scifi especially.

PDY confesses his film studies PhD origin story:

but at last I see that I’ve been repressing the true answer. After mumbling responses about post-war French cinema and Hollywood film noir and Gloria Grahame and Luis Buñuel for years, I’ve finally come to terms with my professional primal scene: My epiphany [about film criticism as a “calling”] happened in 1977 when I was 9 years old, watching a summer blockbuster that my small-town single-screen theater screened one season late because it had held over Smokey and the Bandit for 20 weeks. That blockbuster was Star Wars, and it is my favourite film of all time (178).

My heart began to sing, because it’s not so often that one can Kill The Academic Father with a bit of current research. I was already drafting a good natured email to Paul in my head when I came across a second, even better bit of PDY bio:

[Star Wars] would gross more than one hundred million American dollars (1977 dollars, mind you) by the end of the summer – before the Burt-Reynolds-drunk Majestic Theater in Centerville, Iowa, had even bothered to bring the movie to my attention ( 180).

Two mentions of Smokey and the Bandit inside a Star Wars piece seem to get Paul a lot of rube-cred: Iowa was behind the rest of the country, but he caught up and passed us. That’s a nice story, but I am here to historicise for you: Burt Reynolds was a gigantic fucking movie star in the seventies. It wasn’t weird that the Majestic would hold Smokey and the Bandit over for long. Burt sold tickets, and I’d go so far as to say he is the most important movie star from the seventies.

Between 1970 and 1980, the non-Burt-Reynolds, set-in-the-South films in the top-20 box office were: Sounder, Walking Tall, Let’s Do It Again, Ode To Billy Joe, Walking Tall 2, Deep Throat, Song of the South, Coal Miner’s Daughter (when my parents went to see this, I was bit in the face by my babysitter’s poodle, ruining my parents’ night out). One of those films takes place in the contemporary “New South” – Let’s Do It Again. Deep Throat certainly takes place in Miami, but I don’t think I’m cheating to leave it off to the side of my argument

During that same time period, look at all the legit major hits Burt Reynolds had: Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit, Semi-Tough, Hooper, Smokey and the Bandit II, and Sharky’s Machine as well as another bunch of did-OK films like Gator, WW and the Dixie Dancekings, and White Lightning. All of those are set in the New South of the 1970s.

For 1970s Hollywood, the American South takes two forms: the past, and Burt Reynolds’ playground. Burt Reynolds, all on his own, brought the New South to the rest of the country’s movie screens. Take heart, Paul. Iowa wasn’t a cultural backwater; it was exactly in tune with the rest of the country’s