Category Archives: Recent Obsessions

“Muscle Shoals”– A hit in my book

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First-time director Greg Camalier’s “Muscle Shoals,” the documentary film about the almost mythical music history of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was playing in select theaters in September, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it until last weekend. It was definitely worth the wait.

Before I go any further, I need to come clean. This review might be a little biased– I’m a history buff who loves music, and oh yeah, I grew up in Muscle Shoals. So, I guess I probably went into it knowing that I would enjoy the movie. I’ve been busy with school this semester and haven’t had time to make a trip home to that little town on the Tennessee River in a month or two. Seeing those familiar scenes of some of my favorite spots in the Shoals just made me miss it even more, and I realize that tinge of homesickness probably colored my opinion somewhat, too.

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So, yes, you could assume that I would enjoy this film because I am proud of my hometown’s music history. You could also assume that I might not have agreed with some of the choices the director made because, well, “he ain’t from around here.”

Both assumptions would be correct. I loved hearing the stories I grew up hearing, but enjoyed the ones I hadn’t heard even more. Plus, it gave me even more reason to sing along, at the top of my lungs I might add, whenever I hear the Muscle Shoals lyric in Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home, Alabama.” As much as I loved the movie, there were a few things I thought Camalier could have done differently, and after reading a few reviews, I found I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

You see, while the Shoals area is very picturesque, Camalier didn’t really show what Muscle Shoals actually looks like today. The film shows scene after scene of cotton fields and dirt roads. Muscle Shoals definitely has its fair share of those and everything else that is seen in the movie, but it’s obvious to anyone that calls it home that it was the director’s intent to skip over most of the city. It’s understandable, and I probably would have made the same choice. I mean, does anyone really want to see a shot of the CVS that sits on the corner next to Fame Studios? No, because that would ruin the aesthetic of the whole thing. It would ruin the small-town feel of it all, you know?

Another complaint that I found in reviews was that the movie never gives an answer to the main question it seems to ask–why was Muscle Shoals, a little town that most have probably never heard of, home to so many hit records in the 60s and 70s? One review summed it up best with the following:

“But the narrative at times gets disjointed and ventures into tangents that take the film off course. An inordinate amount of time, for example, is spent trying to explain what it admits early on is unexplainable: how a small city in rural Alabama became a musical epicenter. The conclusion? It must be something in the water.”

I agree with this to an extent, but at the same time, I felt that it added to the mystery of it all. The film allows you to decide. Is there magic in Muscle Shoals? I’d like to think so.

(Check out this interview with director Greg “Freddy” Camalier to hear what he thinks.)

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A lesson from Lady Sybil and Cousin Matthew

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If you have talked with me in the last two months, seen my tweets in the last few weeks, or read my blog in the last few hours you probably know of my obsession with the PBS series Downton Abbey. My obsession began over winter break, a time that is best suited for catching up with friends, family, and of course, TV. My mother has been a devoted Downton viewer from the beginning, and she had insisted again and again that I would love it, even though I didn’t need much convincing. It’s a show filled with British accents, British history, British drama, British heartthrobs, British countryside, British castles, and Maggie Smith, also very British. Need I say more?

It will come as no surprise then that I was hooked from the very first episode. My intentions to watch just one episode a day quickly faded from mind as I became more attached. I needed to know what would happen next to this family that I could no longer remember not knowing. My days were spent at Downton, and my dreams were filled with its stories.

There is one particular episode that, until the current season began, I couldn’t escape. The finale of season three left me shocked, heartbroken, and angry. How could Matthew die when everything seemed so right? (For those of you who don’t watch the show, Matthew was one of the main characters from the first three seasons. To make a long story short, the closing scene was of Matthew dying in a car accident. As if killing off a character that everyone loved wasn’t bad enough, Matthew’s wife had just given birth to their son. Everyone was happy and then disaster struck, leaving me and every other Downton addict distraught.)

I couldn’t understand why the show’s writers would want this to happen. Matthew was a favorite, and in the span of two weeks, had become one of my favorites. I was shocked, but I really had no right to be. In fact, something similar had occurred before in the series. By similar I mean that a main character, a character that was given the most likable personality and storyline, was suddenly removed from the show by means of death. This character was Lady Sybil, the youngest of Lord Grantham’s daughters, who died while giving birth to her first child. It was a horrific scene, and I was distraught then, too.

My shock led me to do what any sensible twenty-something would do. I googled it. I searched for the answer as to why my new favorite show, and family, had let me down. I wanted to find an article that said the actors whose characters died were just as angry as I was, but, of course, I didn’t. Instead, I found them saying that they would miss the show, but were excited to move on with their careers. I watched an interview with one of the writers of the show that made it sound as if it wasn’t their fault for Matthew’s untimely death. Matthew had to die because Dan Stevens, the actor who played him, was ready to leave. How could he be ready to leave?

I was angry until I read an interview with Stevens, and his explanations for leaving the show changed my mind. Dan Stevens was ready to move on because he needed to see what else was out there. The man who says he wants to be in movies, theatre, and even directing positions is getting the opportunity to try them all. He has already seen so much success, but some say he still might one day regret his decision, and he admits that there is always that possibility. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to decide to leave a show that brought him so much fame without having any way of knowing what would happen if he did.

There is a lesson in this story, and it’s a lesson we have all heard a million times, but need to be reminded of often. Taking that leap of faith into the unknown is always scary, but if you never jump, you’ll never know what might’ve been. It’s so easy to stick with what is comfortable instead of chasing those difficult dreams. As someone who admits to overanalyzing every decision I’m asked to make, I struggle with trusting my instincts and jumping. It was just a few days ago that the woman who told me to watch Downton Abbey told me that making a decision is almost always better than not deciding at all. I think it was Emerson who said that all of life is just an experiment, and the “more experiments you make the better.”

Dan Stevens is just a good example of why we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, get out of our comfort zones, and jump. 

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