Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, is an artistic documentary without a narrative. It offers an impressionistic portrayal of several moments in the lives of its many subjects from Hale County, Alabama, primarily two young men. The film’s primary focus is not to tell a concrete story, but rather to give a glimpse into what life is like in the poor, historic South. While at times profoundly powerful, the work often falls into the stereotypical pitfalls many artistic films do – and which many comedians have been poking fun at for decades.
That’s not to say that the movie is a failure. No – there is much to admire here. The cast – or rather subjects, since it’s a documentary – is excellently chosen and provides a highly varied and fascinating insight into these people’s lives, with all the joys, sorrows and moments of desperation that they would have been confronted with over the span of the five years of filming. Many of the shots are very effective, highlighting significant details to create an artistic impression that burns itself into the viewer’s mind. Occasionally, director RaMell Ross changes the scenes with thoughtful quotes, which (sometimes) highlight or elaborate on what is displayed on the screen afterwards – on one occasion even with a slight touch of humour.
But the flaws are obvious and could easily have been avoided. A fractured documentary can certainly work, but when coupled with uncomfortably long shots – such as three minutes of a toddler running around or five of someone practising basketball on his own – a general audience will be thrown off much too soon. Some of the cuts to horrific moments of history – a blackface, cotton fields – feel too forced and unnecessary. At other times, low, drum-like, distorted noises gradually emerge in the background before becoming louder and making it difficult to concentrate on what’s happening. These moments are more tedious and annoying than uncomfortable and disturbing.
All this makes a film with great potential seem unpolished and immature. A few tweaks here and there – especially in the editing – could have made this a fascinating, engaging take on a community most viewers wouldn’t have been familiar with. As it is, Hale County This Morning, This Evening will throw most audiences off. But those who can sit through its 80-minute runtime will be rewarded with a similarly fascinating insight.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening is released in select cinemas on 18th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for Hale County This Morning, This Evening here: