@ NXNE: Saturday, June 18, 6:45 p.m.
In 2005, Kathryn McCool, drove from Los Angeles to Sand Mountain, Alabama to photograph reclusive musician Cast King. It was McCool’s chance to explore a land she had dreamed about while growing up in New Zealand. In her childhood she staged photos to look like the American South of her imagination: cowboys, farmers, trailer parks. Ever since she first heard a banjo, McCool felt the South calling her.
With a borrowed video camera, she chronicles her journey to Sand Mountain in a series of encounters. There’s the old woman who runs a Christian motel where unmarried couples and threesomes are forbidden. There’s one fellow who declares, “If I woke up one morning and found out I was a damn Yankee I’d shoot myself.”
Cast King used to record country sides for Sun Records in the fifties, then dropped out of the music business. McCool finds him to be a grizzled, old man living in a brick house where he picks tunes on an acoustic guitar next to a broken TV. His wife keeps his awards in a drawer.
King isn’t the only one making music. Sand Mountain is full of country music played by God fearin’ people on fiddles and guitars in their homes. It’s a poor place, “kind of friendly, but guarded,” concludes McCool. Sand Mountain recalls Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, but is more personal. Both films succeed in connecting place to music, where a plaintive banjo rings through the hillside, where wrongs are settled through the barrel of a shotgun, and where the Klan used to roam unfettered up until a generation ago.
McCool isn’t the first filmmaker to explore the musical culture of the south, but her outsider’s perspective is refreshing, naïve, but also honest.