Selluloid Myth Takes: "We Been Framed!" Louisiana in the Movies

By Jon Griffin Donlon


This paper presents a preliminary review of approximately the first decade of the Louisiana Motion Picture Tax Incentive Act by offering a glimpse of the state's historic record, via a partial list of film activity in the state. Placing the larger body of work into the context of recent productivity seems to suggest that filmmaking may be a useful tool (aside from being, as the act states, good for the economy) for anthropologists, sociologists and especially folklorists by giving researchers insight into both consumer desires and perceptions of the state.1

While this article does seek to provide something of a representative sample after this short introduction (with most of the annotated entries kept brief), the author also feels that even at this preliminary point, indications exist of further benefit flowing from both greater longitudinal intensity (with effort directed toward a more thorough itemization of all film activity in the state), greater verticality (more fully formed descriptive text devoted to each entry), and other modes of enquiry, including but not limited to careful economic vetting of the overall effects of the film industry in the state. Finally, this pilot inquiry indicates further benefit may also reside in an expandable, searchable, hyperlinked database devoted to Louisiana film activity.

Louisiana's successful film initiative is explained this way on one website: "In 2002, the Louisiana legislature enacted the Louisiana Motion Picture Tax Incentive Act (The Act) in order to induce production companies to shoot their film and video productions (i.e., movies, television shows, commercials, music videos, etc.) in Louisiana. The Act provides a tax credit incentive for qualified, Louisiana-based productions organized under an LLC and using local banks and residents" (FBT Films and Entertainment) and has stimulated both the economy and the pace of film production in the state. However, the Gulf Coast, Louisiana in particular, has long been a haven for feature film production. Its strong attractants of pleasant working conditions, economical settings, and usefully exotic cuisine may be offset by what can be brutal seasonal heat and a paucity of technical support. As a result, some films not shot in the state are set, are posed, as if they took place in its sultry embrace.

Reviewing the rich tapestry of a compiled list of films shot in the state, or of films portraying the state's culture (social or material), presents to any critical, reflective observer, a number of patterns likely to emerge. First, it might be a bit of a shock just how many feature films such a review turns up. Then, quite quickly, even a weakly motivated observer—not to say a trained anthropologist, sociologist, or folklorist eager to detect established categorical units or groupings—might note the great variation in style and tone these products exhibit. Within this variation some themes do coalesce. Many films shot in or set in Louisiana (especially involving New Orleans) involve crime, corruption, squalor, and/or "scandalous" sexual behavior. In a way, they present a backward PR campaign for the Pelican State. A good deal of this sample list is what Graham Greene called "entertainments" in a slightly different context: insubstantial productions for TV or what were once identified as "B" films. Some titles are more important for any number of reasons: documentary efforts, substantive dramas, skillfully crafted thrillers, or cultural products of enduring stature.

Indeed, dozens of films have been made in or about Louisiana and especially the beautiful and intriguing Crescent City over the years. No doubt, folklorists in particular who are interested in film and film-making in and of itself, as a mechanism for storytelling—or, put another way, as a species of tradition bearing—could use this corpus as a trove of material both as a reservoir to interpret and as a tool to suggest how the rest of the nation views the south and Louisiana. Central for many will be concerns about authenticity or legitimacy. Here, however, I intend to merely codify film presentation as a tangible undertaking toward a necessarily ephemeral artifact, which as a process of commercial narrative may represent, misrepresent, or even participate in the invention of or construction of some meaning. Thus, I suggest that the well understood demand that consumers "suspend disbelief" while processing a fictive narrative—which I acknowledge may or may not be limited to the mise-en-scène presentation—implies that people who engage in critical analysis at most other times may choose to suspend these faculties in favor of being lost in the narrative.

That is, as story "listeners" and viewers we may, if we choose, both enjoy the tale and know it to be untrue. So, when in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) the goofs accidentally launch a rocket in which they intended to visit Mars, but instead it lands in Carnival, New Orleans' Mardi Gras does indeed convince them they are on Mars. They do go planet hopping; on Venus they think they're in Hollywood. Some films are made in the state for want of being made anywhere (that is, by expedience). And, similarly, as noted, some films are perhaps engaging entertainments that perform essentially as "play," Huizinga's "time out of time" (1950) with no serious ramifications; setting does not matter, really. As Pieper might suggest, thinking critically would convert the play into work and force the consumer to know their proletarian status (1952). Other films are set in Louisiana in order to extract—some might say exploit—cultural markers, social meaning, folklore, historic perception (real or imagined), landscape, or local area material culture. By "extract," we can also mean, "invent with ludicrous and absurd excess."

Moreover, when a "face" of folkloric Louisiana is presented for consumption (and of course, all films are cultural productions of approximately equal weight) it is extraordinarily easy to rank Angel Heart (1987) in one way and the certainly more frivolous Banjo on My Knee (1936) another. But, most of the audience pretty much suspects that the devil doesn't really live in Algiers. At the same time, Louisiana did have a population of people who lived and worked aboard "shanty boats." As a result, being a total fabrication, however fantastic the story of Banjo on My Knee might be, it doesn't utterly distort a certain species of reality.

See the 2012 Louisiana Folklore Miscellany for a Partial List of Louisiana Films with Annotations.2


1. The author wishes to acknowledge the kind assistance of the editor and editorial assistants at Louisiana Folklore Miscellany Carolyn Ware, Corrie Kiesel, and Braden Dauzat, and my coworkers in the Department of Sport and Leisure Management, School of Physical Education, Tokai University, Japan, for their support and superb example. I also wish to thank my life partner and my social circle for their enormously important contribution to this and all of my work via vital and energetic conversation and discussion. I apologize if I have inadvertently poached your ideas; I fully acknowledge the importance of your contributions, and I praise your comradeship and especially the very hard work of the editors. Thank you all.

2. For this text, the IMDb (Internet Movie Database) is considered the source of record for common industry information including dates, director identification, and spellings. I've relied on Wikipedia for occasional facile comments and quotations.


A Streetcar Named Desire. Streetcar_Named_Desire_(1951Film).

Bergan, Ronald. 2005. Obituary: Virginia Mayo. The Guardian. 19. Bleeding Skull: A Continuing Exploration of the Curious and Obscure vintage Cinema. /features/jackweis.html.

FBT Film and Entertainment.

Flower Films.

Frank, Aaron. 2009. Five Questions for Dennis Hopper. Motorcyclist Magazine (August).

Gaitely, Patricia. 2008. Perceptions and Misconceptions in James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux Novels. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany XVIII: 91-108.

Horror Movie a Day. Huizinga, J., 1950. Homo Ludens. London: Roy Publishers. Internet Movie Datadase (IMDb).

Nugent, Frank S.. 1936. Banjo On My Knee. The New York Times, December 12.

Pieper, Josef. 1952. Leisure: The Basis of Culture. New American Library: New York: New American Library.

Terry Southern. Thompson, Howard. 1965. The Cincinnati Kid. The New Times Film Review, October 28.

T.R. 1941. The Flame of New Orleans, Rene Clair. The New York Times Film Review, April 26.

Jon Donlon, PhD, researches leisure and teaches at Tokai University in Tokyo, Japan. This article was origianlly published in the 2012 Louisiana Folklore Miscellany.