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.
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.)