Tag Archives: Film

La Llorona

Main Text

La Llorona is a story about this grieving, um, it’s a grieving mom who lost her children, and that, she goes around taking kids from, from other families, screaming, “¡Ay! Mis niños, ¿donde están?” which translates to, “Oh! My kids, where are they?” You know what, you know he’s just—she’s, they’re looking for them, because. They died or, they were lost.


The subject is a 21-year-old Mexican American in his third year at USC. He recalls first hearing the legend of La Llorona at around the age of four or six. Through childhood, he was frequently told the story of La Llorona by his parents as a form of discipline. If he or his siblings misbehaved, their parents said that La Llorona would come and take them away. The subject mentions that this usage of La Llorona as a form of parental discipline was common in every Mexican-American household, along with corporal punishment via the chancla (a flip-flop) or the belt. In terms of disciplinary severity, the subject as a child would have considered La Llorona to be less of a threat than the chancla and the belt. The subject stopped believing in the literal existence of La Llorona around the age of seven, eight, or nine—around the same time, he says, that most children realize that Santa Claus isn’t real.


Growing up, the subject often discussed the legend of La Llorona with other Mexican American children in his hometown of Van Nuys. The purpose of such discussion was less to ascertain whether La Llorona was real, and more to affirm a shared folk experience of being disciplined by parents in the same manner. He felt that only other Mexican Americans would understand the normalcy of the disciplinary method, rather than reacting judgmentally and mischaracterizing the discipline as a form of child abuse.

Over time, the subject’s childhood fear associated with La Llorona dulled into nostalgia, and he began to view La Llorona as a central part of his cultural history. Based on this current perception, the subject says that he finds it fascinating the legend was even used as a disciplinary tactic to begin with. He characterizes its use as a disciplinary tactic as “negative”—as the opposite of how he believes folklore like La Llorona ought to be used. He thinks folklore like La Llorona should be used as a “positive” way to build a shared sense of cultural identity through the passing down of traditions.

Another “positive” use of La Llorona, the subject argues, is for entertainment. The subject mentions an instance when his Spanish teacher showed the class a cartoon adaptation of La Llorona, to give the class a simple task to occupy their attention on a relatively work-free day. The class, which was majority Latino, was familiar with the legend; as such, the teacher had offer little explanation for what the plot of the story was. The subject especially enjoyed the video retelling of La Llorona because of its “authenticity,” which he defined in terms of aesthetic choices, such as including all the major motifs in the legend (e.g. the river, the ghostly spirit), and casting Mexican voice actors who spoke Spanish with a proper Mexican accent.

Interviewer’s Analysis

When asked to elaborate on what constituted “authenticity” in folklore adaptation, the subject compared the La Llorona video to the Scooby Doo film, The Monster of Mexico, which he felt portrayed both an inauthentic version of the Chupacabra (another legendary Mexican monster), and an inauthentic version of Mexico. The Monster of Mexico made the Chupacabra look like Bigfoot, characterized Mexicans through stereotypical sombreros and maracas iconography, and most condemnably, featured an all-white cast. For the subject, authenticity in Mexican folklore adaptation hinged on the folklore not being whitewashed. Here, the interviewer asked the subject how one might strike a balance between fighting the hegemony of whitewashed folklore, and not establishing a new hegemony by claiming to have a singularly authoritative “authentic” interpretation.

Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. The subject replied that he didn’t think ought to be a singularly authoritative authenticator for adaptations of folklore. In the context of Latino folklore, the subject suggested that his concern was less with defining authenticity, than fostering a sense of accountability. He didn’t want people to create adaptations of Latino folklore for a mainstream general audience, without creators being mindful of what portrayals of Latino culture they could potentially misinform non-Latinos with.

While the subject’s answer certainly adds nuance to defining the boundary between artificially authoritative authenticity and hegemony, the question of where that boundary is still remains—and, in the interviewer’s opinion, cannot be answered without defining what precisely “whitewashing” is. Is whitewashing the same as Americanization? Who defines and authenticates what is American, when America houses multiple types of cultures? What counts as “white” culture? Is any insertion of “white” culture into a historically nonwhite folklore adaptation automatically considered whitewashing? For instance, in the La Llorona video, the children are portrayed as trick-or-treaters, to appeal to a broader American audience—does that count as whitewashing?

These questions are complicated, and any definition of “whitewashing” for the purposes of evaluating “authenticity” of folklore will inevitably struggle to cover every scenario. Perhaps a more appropriate starting point, would be to consider folklore adaptation in terms of social power structures. What cultures does one group get a “pass” to freely adapt from? Who authenticates the “pass” under what circumstances? How do dynamics play out when authenticity gets contested?  Who is contesting authenticity, under what definition, and why?

Movie Quote Passes Into Normal Speech

Main Piece

The following is often quoted in the informant’s family: “You fall behind, you get left behind.”

For the origin and correct wording of this proverb–like quote, see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Directed by Gore Verbinski, Walt Disney Pictures, 2003.



Nationality: American

Location: Connecticut

Language: English

The informant’s immediate family say this to each other “all the time” whenever someone is moving too slow. The informant’s family first learned the quote together while watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, but the quote is no longer a reference to the film, as it has become a regular part of their speech pattern. It functions like a proverb.


The informant and their family misquoted the line. The actual line is “Any man who falls behind is left behind.”


The interchange between media and folklore is exhibited here and is very interesting. The quote is not really a proverb, but it is not really fakelore either, because the film did not do anything intentional to pass it off as fakelore. It is interesting how misquoted lines are themselves something of a folklore genre; one of the most famous movie quotes of all time, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is “No, I am your father,” but it is usually misquoted as “Luke, I am your father.”


The PA and the Light Bulb

The following is a common filmmaking joke phrase:

How many Pas does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I don’t know, how many?

Six, one to do it and five to stand around and wish they got asked to do it.


The informant explained that often PAs are not really given jobs to do, so they just want something to do


Context: this was collected during our in class collection time


Thoughts: This joke I found particularly interesting because rather than complaining about having to do work, which I found to be a common theme of occupational jokes, rather this joke is about complaining because you don’t have any work to do. I think it would be interesting to compare the jobs of PAs to other jobs on a film set to see if this is really true.

Fix it in Post

The following is a common filmmaking joke phrase:

If something is not working right while working on a film you just say

We’ll fix it in post


According to the informant it means that you will let the editor deal with it.


The informant also added that it is said by a lot of newer people but describes it as less funny the longer you have been there.


Context: this was collected during our in class collection time


Thoughts: I think it’s kind of funny how the reception of a joke can show how long you have been in that business, if you are a newcomer you will laugh more than a veteran. It can sort of outline your status. I also find it funny that the joke is technically about not wanting to do work, so you are passing it off to another person. I found that to be a common idea in many occupational jokes.

Gaffers vs Grips

The following is a common filmmaking joke:

How many grips does it take to fix a light bulb?

I don’t know

None, let the gaffer do it


The informant explains that gaffers only handle electrical work, while grips handle everything else and its disrespectful to do the gaffer’s work if you are not one


Context: this was collected during our in class collection time


Thoughts: I found this joke to be amusing, mainly because you can look at it from two sides. One, that you do the work you are assigned and don’t take someone else’s work. Or two, you don’t want to do extra work, so you leave it to someone else. I find it funny that even where I work retail, we have similar jokes, about not wanting to do extra work too.



In the film industry, ordinary wooden clothespins are used to attach colored plastic gels to lights and they’re called C-47s.

A prominent visual effects artist told me an origin story of the phrase:

Back in the early days of Hollywood, studio heads would do audits and they’d see that the lighting departments were spending a ton of money on clothespins. And they said “we’re spending all this money on clothespins. This is ridiculous!” And they shut it down you know,  not understanding that the clothespin is a very important tool for lighting that we use everyday. So the lighting guys started calling them ‘C-47s’ so that when the big-wigs saw so-and-so hundred dollars for C-47s and they said, “Oh sure, ‘C-47’ that sounds important, no problem.”

As a film student, I’ve heard several contradictory stories about the phrase C-47. Some of the other prominent origin tales are that they were names after a WWII fighter plane by returning soldiers turned filmmakers, or that C-47 is the patent number.

All of these stories are equally unverified. In practice, the lingo ‘C-47’ mainly serves as a test of membership on film sets. If you’re a newcomer on a set and a grip asks you to fetch a C-47, you have no idea what they mean and are forced to ask someone. It’s embarrassing to realize that a C-47 is just a simple clothes pin. The lingo functions as an inside joke, and an initiation that everyone on a film set must undergo.

Ghost Light

Background information:

My informant is a theatre major from New Jersey, now living and studying in Southern California. She has told me about many superstitions from the theatre and film world, and this particular one is about the ‘ghost light’ that must be on all sets. There are two reasons for having this light, a practical and a superstitious meaning. I have physically seen this light on one of the sound stages in Warner Brothers studios in Burbank, where the guide concurred with what my friend told me about ghost lights. She doesn’t believe in this superstition, and finds it a little creepy when working late at night when this is the only light on. She is signified in this conversation by the initials B.I.

Main piece:

B.I.: Basically ghost lights are a kind of bare bulb light, usually, which is left on all the time on a set or in a theatre. They’re a bare bulb lighting in a metal frame, in a tall stand. They serve two purposes. Practically, they’re for lighting up a stage or a sound stage out of hours as normally there would be no lights on if a person was working out of hours. The second reason is more superstitious. They say that the ghosts of the stories haunt the sound stages and the theatres, I don’t know if they’re literal ghosts or metaphorical ones, and that the light drives them out. It’s said that all theatres and sets have ghosts, and sometimes people say that having the one light on allows for the ghosts to perform on the stage out of hours, so they’re not unhappy with the living and leave the actual performances themselves alone.


Performance Context:

This piece of folklore was related to me in a larger conversation about film and theatre superstitions, in which she related to me the superstitions about “The Scottish Play.” I asked about this superstition in particular after seeing a ghost light on set on a tour of Warner Brother in Burbank.


My thoughts:

It seems that the entertainment industry is very focused on superstition. This seems to me to stem partly from the insecurity of success in film and theatre, and the ability to be famous one day and ruined the next. Whilst these are standard facets of the industry, these kinds of superstitions act as a kind of regulating influence, a way for humans to control both their personal fate, and in general the uncontrollable. Overall, one could see most forms of mythology and legend as ways of putting order on those things which are physically unknowable by humans. The idea here that it may be the ghost of a particular performance locates the tale very clearly in the film/theatre world, yet the practical usage of the light as a way for people working out of hours to see both legitimizes those working under the guise of needing light, but believing in the superstition, and actually allows them to get work done. As many sound stages sets in particular do not have overhead lighting, as light is normally moved around during the production, the presence of one stable light allows people to work out of hours without having to interfere with the set.

“The Room”

“It is just a, you know, one screen theater, one screen thing, and so the entire theater is totally packed, mostly with young people, you know, people in their twenties and thirties. And it’s just like packed. And we sit behind this group of college kids who explain to us that there is certain things that you have to do when certain scenes come up or when certain things come on screen and that one of the most important things is that you throw spoons when there is this picture of a spoon like sitting on the mantle of one of the things in the apartment and so they actually gave us some spoons so that we could do that. So we all four were sitting there going like ‘okay. What have we gotten ourselves into?’ And the movie starts and it is just ridiculous. And we suddenly … it is kinda like Rocky Horror Picture Show, where everybody has their certain things that they say so like when there is water shown, you know the ocean or something like that, everybody in the room screams water. Or, there is a bunch of parts where two of the main characters are throwing a football around so they throw a football. There’s all sorts of stuff like that throughout the entire movie, which is ridiculous in and of itself, so by the end of the night, we realized that this is some sort of like phenomenon that we’ve happened upon that none of us really knew what we were getting into.”

The informant was explaining the first time she went to see “The Room,” but has since been ten or more times since.

Before her first time going to see it though, she had known nothing about it, except that it was a film that something called “Rifftrax” had done (it is a website that has three guys watching a movie and making fun of it on a track you can play alongside the film at home). When she was a sophomore at USC, she saw an ad for a screening of the “The Room” in Westwood Village and asked her roommate if she would go with her. However, the movie screening started at 12am, so they decided it would be better to get a bigger group and asked the two guys that lived across the hall from them.

When the four of them got to the screening, they immediately saw people dressed up as characters from the film and reanacting scenes from the film, making them realize that this screening was a much bigger thing than they had believed. They also learned it was screened there every first Saturday of the month. The theater was filled with people between in their thirties, but also a lot of college students because of it being near two huge universities. It became clear to the informant that a lot of the audience members had been going to this for some time. On top of everything, a Scandinavian news program was there interviewing people as to how they came to find it. The four of them realized this wasn’t even just local, but was also known internationally.

After their first experience, the group started taking anyone they could convince to go. The group continued to grow and soon became a regular thing, with their own traditions building along with it of getting desert at Diddy Reese in Westwood Village, then getting tickets and waiting in line.

In regards to the actual screening, the informant explained that what is being yelled or acted out is usually led by a few people who are the loudest, with the rest of the audience following along with them. There are certain things that are always said, but there is also a ton of room for variation. People are always yelling out something entirely of their own, which sometimes will build into the “routine” of sayings.

The informant feels as if she has been accepted into this sort of cult surreptitiously. She felt even more exclusively in the group when the star, director, producer of the movie, Tommy Wiseau, came to a screening to sign autographs and she got her “Room” t-shirt signed by him.

The informant relayed this story to me while driving us back to Los Angeles. This informant is a relative. The informant has also taken me to see “The Room.”

Having personally experienced “The Room,” I can say I also am part of “The Room” group. This is solidified after you go the first time because you definitely feel like an outsider not knowing what or when to say the specific things. I found it to be an extremely fun experience, but I believe that it is made fun because of the group that you create. Inside jokes and memories are made there others will never understand until experiencing it for themselves.

Two Directors on a Tour


This participant performed this story as if he was on a college tour, since he learned it in his training to become a tour guide.  

“I don’t really know it that well, but I’ll try. So this right here is the School of the Cinematic Arts courtyard, and here you’ll see two buildings: the George Lucas building and the Steven Spielberg building. Now, does anyone know who actually went to USC? …  It was actually George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg was actually denied from USC, legend has it, not once, not twice, but three times. And um, so uh, the reason why the building is here, you’re probably wondering why this building is here when he didn’t go here. Well, legend has it that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had a bet a long time ago, when Lucas was working on the first Star Was. The bet was, whoever’s movie did worse in the box office would have to donate to a building, or at least a large sum, to the others’ alma mater. So they agreed to this bet, blah blah blah, time goes on, and guess who’s movie did better? George Lucas’ because it was the first Star Wars. So Steven Spielberg, unfortunately, had to donate this building to George Lucas’ alma mater, which is the University of Southern California. Now we have two buildings at the School of the Cinematic Arts, well many buildings, but two facing each other the George Lucas building and the Steven Spielberg building.”



This legend is told on tours to prospective film students. The participant doesn’t know if it’s actually true, and prefaces the story on his tours by saying so. This would be told in the cinematic arts school, in the courtyard between the Spielberg and Lucas buildings. In my collection, it was performed while working in the office.


Background information

There are a lot of legends in the Tour Guide’s office, both that are brought up by the tour guides and brought up by guests. If you were to ask tour guides to tell you about the legend of the Lucas and Spielberg bet, you would probably hear 100 different versions.  Just like you might hear 100 different tours all together, each of us have nuanced performances of each of our informative tours.


Personal Analysis

This legend is interesting because of the dynamic between the tour guide and the guest. The guest comes to USC to get an informative experience that will aide them in their decision of what college to go to. While tour guides do not claim to know the true validity of this legend on their tours, it is still interesting in that it leaves an impression upon the student.

The tour guides also are taught these legends, either formally or informally, through their training to become a tour guide. So while the validity of the bet remains a mystery, its perpetuation year after year, through the teaching of new workers, gives the story credit in it of itself.

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”


Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.



“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.



Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.