Thursday, September 13, 2018
Nate Hood on Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)
I remember growing up in Bartow, Florida, a tiny town of 15,000 people in the dead center of the state. Every Sunday after church my family would go to a barbecue shop for lunch. On the way we’d drive past a billboard advertising something or other with a photo of the desert, and each time we went by the desert would become my world, wrapping around all sides of the car until I could smell the sand and feel the heat.
Hale County, Alabama also has about 15,000 people and is similarly located near the middle of its state. If RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening is anything to go by, there are no desert billboards, but the area is drenched in the same drowsy slowness that makes the mind wander and summon mirages. The miracle, then, of the film is how successfully Ross captures this sense of spatial-temporal otherness that leeches into the life of small Southern towns.
Filmed over five years, it ostensibly follows the lives of two black youths—Quincy and Daniel, the former a worker at the local catfish plant, the latter a wannabe basketball star. And though they drift in and out of the film, Ross’ focus is on the act of the community seeing itself. Rarely does Ross fix his camera where we would expect, such as the backs of cheerleaders during a basketball game, sunlight stabbing through the smoke of a trash burn near an old plantation house, a nervous little girl in the shadow of her mother. Interviews with his subjects are sparse and seem like afterthoughts; one wonders if Ross ever felt the urge to eliminate his subjects entirely and create a pure cinematic tone poem. But the lure of making a statement on black American life must have been too strong, as the advertisements for the film boast its making a statement on rural blackness.
Fair enough. But the film does more. It’s introduces us to a different way of seeing and experiencing the world, one pregnant with poetry and hope born in the shadows of schools, churches, hospitals, and graveyards. It’s Faulknerian prose made manifest through images.
HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING hits theaters tomorrow including BAM's Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn and the IFC Center in Manhattan. It also is playing the Camden International FIlm Festival this weekend.