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Talihina Sky, Unique Look Into Kings of Leon’s Life Off Stage
It has been a few weeks since the premiere of Stephen Mitchell’s Kings of Leon documentary, Talihina Sky, but the film is too good a review to pass up.
Mitchell worked with Kings of Leon when the band started, and visited Talihina,Okla., the city where the band — three brothers and a cousin — celebrate family reunions once a year, for the first time in 2002. He is very open about this and other tales not told in the documentary on Adam Carolla’s podcast.
The film is very well done, especially considering it is Mitchell’s first documentary. The juxtaposition of religion and the band’s debauchery and travels is astounding. From subtleties such as when the band is talking about their Uncle Cleo and how “bad” he was and the camera is on Uncle Cleo, holding a snake, the Bible’s symbol for the devil, to when mother BettyAnn Followill is talking about being saved and speaking in tongues. The picture does a back-and-forth between the band’s head-throwing performances to parishioners falling at the altar in salvation.
Kings of Leon is made up of Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill and their cousin, Matthew Followill. The three brothers were nomads, as their father, Ivan Followill, was a traveling pastor. The boys were always very poor and brought up in an extremely religious household. It was discovered later Ivan was a closet alcoholic. He and mother BettyAnn ended up divorcing and Ivan’s career as a pastor was over.
Whether it was this event or coupled with being poor and not feeling provided for by God, the brothers seem to have a complex relationship with religion. They wear crosses around their necks at all times, prominent at concerts, but do not follow the Christian life their parents were hoping they would pursue. Caleb is clear in the film about feeling scared, feeling like he will go to hell because he got a rock-and-roll contract and was absorbed into a life of alcohol, drugs and women.
There is a scene in the film where oldest brother Nathan is filming a clearly-drunk Caleb and screaming about how much the band hates the middle brother, how he should be grateful to “the people that made you.” It is a powerful scene and one punctuated by scenes leading up to it of Caleb being critical of the band during recording sessions.
Caleb is clearly the leader of the band and it seems he is passionate about making it perfect. While he seems to push the band in a negative way at times, he is also like a father-figure to his younger brother, Jared, and Matthew since they dropped out of high school to be in Kings of Leon.
What really makes the film is the extended family. Grandparents, dozens of uncles, cousins and townsfolk are characters a director/writer/producer couldn’t make up. Talihina is the smallest of small towns and rural as the day is long. Fishing for crawdads and playing games of horseshoes is common practice in this small, wooded town and offers a glimpse into the unseen lives of these four bandmates.
Overall, the film was engaging, interesting and well done. Mitchell should certainly consider doing more documentaries.