Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Country Boys: A View of The Broken Back Bone of America

If you have not been watching David Sutherland’s Frontline documentary, Country Boys, on PBS this past week, you have been missing a truly mesmerizing piece of documentarian film making.

Country Boys tells the tales of two young men, Cody and Chris, growing up in rural Eastern Kentucky.

Cody is the tall, heavy metal guitar playing, Born Again Christian, who, at first, seems unable to string a simple sentence with out trailing off to mumbling. His circumstances are unique to say the least. His mother committed suicide, and his father did the same, several years later, after killing his, then, stripper wife. To make matters more convoluted, he is being raised by his “Step Grandmother”, who, while not a legal guardian seems to be providing the young man stability and a decent home.

Chris is the husky, charming, chain-smoking, and talkative son of a totally ineffective alcoholic father and a hard working, but clearly, burned-out and under-educated mother. It appears that Chris is the family’s meal ticket as when he was younger he was diagnosed with a learning disability and so, until he is 18, his family depends on the income provided by his monthly social security checks to keep them living in their trailer home.

Both boys attend an experimental learning academy know as The David School, which appears to be an institution for troubled teens that encourages growth and education as opposed to just shuffling students through until they merely graduate or drop-out.

More than just a story about the boys, the film is also a fascinating look at life in this bleak but beautiful section of America where God, firearms, tobacco, coal and drinking seem to be the staples of life.

To say that religion is integral to the life of these people would be an understatement; it seems at every corner there is a church with signage proclaiming that Jesus is the way … Curtis wants to become a preacher and while he and his girlfriend are active sexually, they both profess to be Born Again … and (most disturbingly) is the science teacher at The David School, who appears to interject as much biblical philosophy as she can when she talks about evolution…

While both young men’s tales are compelling, it is Chris’s story that rivets the viewer. Here is a kid with the deck stacked firmly against him, yet it is clear that he is bright and verbose but, dear god; he is his own worst enemy. He is constantly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and the viewer might find himself screaming at the television when these things happen.

In this age of so-called reality television, here then finally is a worthwhile series about real life with out the top-40 soundtrack and cheap stunts, here is the story of the broken back bone of this country and it’s worth every minute of your time to check it out.

If you go to the PBS website
HERE you’ll be able to watch the episodes that have already aired.

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