I confess I know almost nothing about the music group Kings of Leon. The name rings a bell, as if I’ve heard it somewhere, but I couldn’t name one of their songs or even in what genre they play. No longer! The just-released documentary, “Talihina Sky is the story of Kings of Leon,” details the rise of the Grammy-winning band from roots in poor, Bible-Belt Oklahoma and Tennessee to global fame and success as progressive/alternative rockers.
In some ways, it was refreshing to be ignorant of the band and anything about them. I brought no per-conceived notions about the topic to the film, and thus my reaction was purer than it would be, say, if I were to watch a new Michael Moore (whom I believe to be a rank liar) documentary.
An old film school professor of mine divided documentaries into two camps, the “autocratic” and the “democratic.” The autocratic documentary is one in which the filmmaker manipulates and directs the viewer’s point of view to provoke a certain outcome. Michael Moore is the essence of the autocratic documentarian, for he essentially produces propaganda (can you tell I don’t like his work?). Other documentaries present a subject then take a step back, and, in democratic fashion, allow the viewer to come to his or her own conclusion. “Talihina Sky” falls securely in the democratic camp.
Appropriately enough, within this “democratic” model, I found myself viewing the film in different ways at different times. “Talihina Sky” derives its name from the town of Talihina, Okla. where a few of the members of Kings of Leon hailed from. The documentary never lets us forget the origin of these musicians: they were dirt poor and Christian. Thus, my first reaction was that the documentary was what some wags call “poverty porn.” If the tone of the movie wasn’t mainly serious, I would have thought I was watching a Jeff Foxworthy performance. “You might be a Redneck if…” could be applied at every turn in this doc: there is plenty of kitchen and bathroom appliances in the front yard, splashing in the creek, drinking and guns, shirtless men, and all sorts of kooky behavior.
However, the band members themselves are the executive producers of the documentary, so it’s not as if they were ambushed by someone wishing to mock them and their origins. Any wounds in Talihina Sky are self-inflicted, and later on in the film I came to see it more in line with the great documentary about the heavy metal band Metallica, titled Some Kind of Monster. Some Kind of Monster is intensely introspective, detailing the band’s struggles with addiction, creative conflicts, and family.
Like the Metallica doc, “Talihina Sky” shows a music group trying to come to grips with its identity. The Kings of Leon, at the same time, wish to pay homage to and escape their background. I’m not sure if this film will appeal to those who are not fans of the group, but if you do happen to see “Talihina Sky” you will be impressed by not only the technical competence of the film, but also its ability to convey the joy and the pain of rising from humble and dysfunctional origins to worldwide fame and adulation.