Review: Kings of Leon try to reconcile rock and faith in 'Talihina Sky' documentary
Southerners and Southern accents get made fun of a lot in this country. In some circles, Christianity – particularly Pentecostal and evangelic – get it too. There’s a lot of all that in “Talihina Sky: Kings of Leon”, but the documentary doesn’t try too hard to parse what’s fair and not about such biases. The lens, instead, is turned toward the family and upstart of one of the most popular current rock bands in the country and perhaps the world.
Directed by Stephen Mitchell and produced by Casey McGrath, the Tribeca-selected film made its premiere last night, and there was a lot of laughter in the auditorium. Some was derived from the interview ramblings of crazy uncles and neighbors from the Tennesee-based, Oklahoma-bred band. Other times it was from the typical trough of trash-talk exchanged between brothers and family close in age, who had forced themselves into small confines of tour buses, studios and green rooms. Then there was the abundance of archival footage and photos from the Brothers (and Cousin) Followill shot in their childhoods and their early days touring, a funny and grim reminder that the hours and money spent documenting such things could make it into an odd, impressive rock doc one day.
“Such things” include a young Followill stoned, dropping his pants and cradling his balls, or smoking pot and blowing smoke into the camera like the little sh*ts they were (or, sometimes, are). Mom Betty-Ann’s steady hand captured her sons Caleb, Nathan and Jared hoisting up ugly gift sweaters at Christmas, and footage from “The Price Is Right” when the show prominently featured the band on the cover of “Rolling Stone” (which resulted the neighbors calling the Followillls in a star-struck tizzy). There’s even a 30-second promotional video of Jared and Caleb singing a worship song, like a commercial, hocking their talents for Pentecostal church services and recordings.
It’s the Kings of Leon’s deeply religious background that intrigues me most about this film, in that the band members, nor their families, express any real surety as to their relationship to faith and a sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. The Followill’s father, a preacher and pastor, can’t get himself to definitively declare that his sons will escape hellfire because of their career dabblings in “the Devil’s music.” Caleb doesn’t say exactly what he believes in anymore, but it doesn’t look like speaking in tongues, or singing from the hymnal. His mother imagines her offspring more vividly as anointed church-goers and preachers’ sons than chart-toppers.
No, KOL’s matters of faith were more a matter of tradition and lineage than subscription to religion, as over 15 years the band has graduated from t-shirts and flannels to even nicer t-shirts and flannels. Mitchell sometimes heavy-handedly compares the mission and actions of a rock band to that of religious service, but overall distinguishes these now-grown men from their family members, and vice-versa, warts and all. It’s a refreshing look at celebrity, music celebrities, in that it’s not out to make KOL to look like good people just doing their job. It’s an artifact of their current status and trajectory as “family” men, without many bombshells and a whole lot of heart.
Watch the film's trailer: