The Soul and Magic of Memphis, Tennessee
By Kate Donnelly
Memphis, Tennessee is Director Craig Brewer’s cinematic muse. This vibrant river city situated on the southwestern corner of the state is steeped in rich history and offers an ideal canvas for creativity. “I think there are few opportunities that artists…get a chance to talk about the special thing that Memphis has; I believe it truly is a magical place,” Brewer says. “It is the only place that I can really be creative.”
He isn’t the only one inspired by Memphis’ soulful spirit and distinctive vibe. Iconic music recording studios, Stack Records and Sun Studio, put Memphis on the musical map and launched genres of music like Rock ‘n’ Roll. Legendary artists like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rufus Thomas got their starts here.
When Brewer was writing his 2005 Academy Award-nominated musical drama Hustle & Flow, he passed legendary record producer Sam Phillip’s recording studio with Al Green’s song Jesus is Waiting on his car radio. Brewer remembers thinking, “Oh, that’s gotta be in my movie.”
An early education of cinematic dialogue and plot points were born at the local, divey P&H café, which stands for “Poor & Hungry,” and the title of Brewer’s first movie. “People would come by and talk to me and I would just steal, I would just steal life and try to put them in these screenplays,” he says.
For visitors, Brewer points to downtown’s famed two-mile stretch of Beale Street where “in the ’20s, you could gamble, shoot craps and go see live music.” Today you can experience the excitement of Beale Street with its street performers, live music venues and quirky restaurants. Brewer is quick to point out that “everybody wants to get barbecue” and, of course, a trip isn’t complete without a visit to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, a place he deems a “religious experience.”
The director likens Memphis to the “capital of the Mid South” – a compilation of three states joined together by Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. “You’ve gotta have strength and spirit to live here,” he says. Perhaps the architecture of this Southern river town best represents Brewer’s real love for Memphis, including the worn aesthetics of an old iron bridge. “There’s trains going by…I still think it has the best view of the Mississippi River.”
For more information, visit Our Memphis Guide.