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Tennessee Williams' South

The Tennessee Williams Collection

The "bonus disc" within Warner's welcome (but frustratingly incomplete) Tennessee Williams Film Collection, this 80-minute documentary offers a meandering introduction to one of America's pantheon playwrights and our chief spokesman for Southern discomfort's most idiomatic losers and wannabes. Being Harry Rasky's 1973 documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, it's not a new look at Thomas Lanier Williams. What it is, though, is a candid view that gives us Williams himself (who died in 1983) in and around New Orleans and his Key West home, reciting poetry, touring us through his childhood and family, reading from his plays, and reinforcing his own self-mythology through the people, places, and events he used for inspiration.

Williams' first-person chronicling comes supported by lengthy scenes from his plays recreated for this production — Burl Ives as the proto-Big Daddy in Mister Charlie, Colleen Dewhurst and John Colicos in the "God" scene from Night of the Iguana, William Hutt performing Quentin's big monologue from Small Craft Warning, Broadway's original Blanche DuBois, Jessica Tandy, delivering a famous monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire, and Maureen Stapleton's Amanda (with a painfully miscast Michael York as the Gentleman Caller) from The Glass Menagerie.

"It seems to me that I'm the head of my own country," Williams says. The movie adaptations of his plays are fine — a couple are first-rate — but Williams' "my own country" and its troubled population always existed first on the stage, where his unfiltered scripts grab us by the collar better than in any other medium.

Tennessee Williams' South is an entry-level and stylistically dated look at Williams, but we recommend it for newbie enthusiasts, American Lit or drama students, and film buffs wondering where all these poetic dreamers, misfits, and good ol' boys came from.

Warner's DVD gives the film only a basic slap-it-to-disc treatment. Throughout the print (full-frame OAR) flecks and wear betray its age and 16mm classroom-use history, but it's not bad. The DD 1.0 audio does the job. And extras would just be adding okra to the pudding, wouldn't they? Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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