'Talihina Sky' kicks off deadCenter with a rock-'n'-roll bang
What do Pentecostal Christians and sweaty, international rock stars have in common?
More than you think.
About three-quarters through the worldwide premiere of director Stephen Mitchell’s Kings of Leon-focused rockumentary “Talihina Sky,” the brothers and cousins Followill whip their hair back and forth (sorry) in a montage of high-octane, rock-'n'-roll-driven frenzy, interspersed with vintage black-and-white and home recorded shots of impassioned parishioners writhing, tongue-waggling, shaking and otherwise undulating under the influence of the Holy Ghost.
It was easily the coolest and most perceptive visual juxtaposition of the documentary, the premise of which examines the boys’ personal conflict between their fundamentalist Christian nurturing and the fleshly indulgence of their "youth and young manhood."
The film, which headlined this year’s deadCenter Film Festival, premiered to a crowd of about 3,000-4,000 gathered on Automobile Alley on Friday in downtown Oklahoma City. Many people leaned up against parked cars and — with craned necks — sprawled out on the bare concrete, aching for a decent view. Also in attendance was much of the Followill clan (none of the Leon boys, though), who loudly cheered every time one of their own appeared on the big screen.
And that was fairly often.
Named for the miniscule Oklahoma town where the Followill family gathers for their annual reunion, “Talihina Sky” did well to depict the roots of the band’s religious rockabilly and Southern charm that eventually earned them international acclaim with the release of 2007 album “Because of the Times.”
“We mostly play arenas now,” one of the boys casually tells his wrinkled, tiny aunt in what becomes one of the film’s surreal moments upon the realization that they’re treading barefoot in a town whose greatest point of interest is its Iron Cowboy Motorcycle Camp.
Like every rock documentary, there’s footage of The Band Playing Holes-in-the-Wall Before They Were Famous, there’s footage of The Band Doing Stupid But Humorous Things While Under the Influence of Semi-Controlled Narcotics and footage of The Band Getting Off Their Enormous Touring Plane Now That They’ve "Made It."
Adhering perhaps too strongly to conventional rockumentary form, the film lacks a satisfying answer to its implied premise. It ends with lead singer Caleb (who gets epically chewed out by one of his bandmates midway through for his excessive narcissism) shrugging off years of debauchery with the type of grin some describe as "shit-eating."
It’s not to say “Talihina Sky” is a loss, far from it actually. The Followills are compelling characters, each funny and charming in a self-defeating sort of way. Also, their family — with a few uncles one could mistake for "King of the Hill" character Boomhauer — is a hoot-and-a-half, enthusiastically shouting “Sooners!” at the end of the National Anthem and treating the boys in the band no differently than if they’d grown up to become the local mechanic or gas-station attendant.
The film’s a must-see for Kings of Leon fans, as well as anybody who considers themselves a scholar in the field of music native to our state. Highly perceptive at times and only mildly stale at others, “Talihina Sky” was an excellent choice to kick off the week’s deadCenter festivities.
— Matt Carney, professional writing graduate