Empty Kingdom by Ron Steinman

Showtime, the pay channel that spends much of its time putting on programs that try to eat into HBO’s dominance in the world of pay TV, has been showing a documentary called Talihina Sky, The Story of Kings of Leon. I can only think Showtime put the film on in the hope that it would pick up an audience that otherwise would spend its time elsewhere, and should. Poor choice. The documentary is a mess of home videos, poorly shot, so-called behind the scenes interviews, some of which run on for what seems forever, bad editing, a poorly conceived story line, not nearly enough music or concert footage, too much boozing and marijuana sucking and everything else crude that goes into making a film. It is a form of documentary filmmaking that has the filmmaker throw what he has against the wall to see how it sticks. Obviously when this happens, no matter how stylish or creative one thinks one is, it never really comes together in any coherent fashion.
Two brothers started Kings of Leon in 1999 in the backwoods in rural Oklahoma where poverty and Pentecostal evangelicalism dominated life. TV and rock and roll were sinful and the real world was inherently evil. The film centers on an annual family reunion in Followill, Oklahoma where the band members and their extended families gather once a year to drink, eat, play and enjoy each other. Not a bad hook to hang a film on to develop the background of the lives once lived by the band members, and in many ways still lived. It is always good to understand creativity, to see and experience the wellspring of success, in this case, in the highly competitive world of rock and roll. But first time director Stephen C. Mitchell puts up too many barriers to a coherent understanding of who the band members really are,
There is occasional valuable insight from the mother and father of the bandleaders and even a few, too few, relevant comments by members of the band. but there is almost no variety in where or how we see them. This is a slice of life movie, so messily sliced that it is impossible to get a handle on the why of the band’s lyrics, the band’s current success or the band’s future. Perhaps the director thought that by seeing the extended family in all its glory, drinking and carousing, the audience would come away with a sense of who they are and where they come from. From watching the film, it is easy to see where the band members come from, even partly to understand why they write and play as they do, but it takes great effort to get inside the heads of the main players and I am not sure the effort is worth it. Finally, there is no character in the film for whom I have any sympathy, and without a feeling of empathy for anyone on screen, for me, watching the movie was a waste of time


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Filed under Cable, TV criticism

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