"Alabama Snake" is this week's selection.
I love this new trend of huge film and TV news dropping on Thursday afternoons, right before I publish my already-prepared Binge Blog. It's good, and I hope this keeps happening! Definitely no sarcasm intended, and my eyes are not rolling like that "Indiana Jones" boulder as we speak!
This week's bombshell(s) came from Disney's 2020 Investor Day event, where Mickey Mouse's company announced casual things like nine frickin' shows in the "Star Wars" universe and five shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, uh, universe. (I guess the "cinema" part of cinematic has lost its meaning.)
I remember going to the theater to see "The Force Awakens" in college with friends. It was right before we all went home for winter break. We spent the days before our showtime theorizing what the story was going to be, and when it was over, we spent a few hours decompressing the film over tacos and margaritas. I'm a quite casual "Star Wars" fan, but even I can admit that "The Force Awakens" felt like an Event, one that was special. It had been 10 years since any live-action "Star Wars" content had been released. Hearing the series' iconic score sent chills across my body.
To a certain extent, the build-up to "The Last Jedi" felt the same way. (I'd argue that it ended up being the superior film and maybe the best "Star Wars" film overall, but this is a discussion for a different day.) But the impact was lessened by "Rogue One" arriving the year before — a good film, certainly, but one that felt like a spin-off, like it mattered less in the grand scheme of things, because it did.
Then "Solo" came in 2018 and felt even more inessential. Then "The Mandalorian" arrived, and OK, this felt different! A live-action TV series, I can dig it. This was fun. But then "The Rise of Skywalker" was a bit of a disaster ending to Rey's story, and then "The Mandalorian" season two dropped, and it's still good but no longer feels unique, and now we have to keep track of nine more of these things? Plus standalone films from Patty Jenkins and Taika Waititi?
I've gone from feeling that "Star Wars" is special to, whenever more franchise news is announced, feeling like I just ate one too many slices of pizza. It tastes good, but any more and I'm going to be sick. But kids don't get sick of pizza, and kids (or kids at heart) are the audiences driving these moves. They'd eat it for every meal if they could. And Disney will provide.
I hope no one reading this thinks I'm chastising them for liking this content because that couldn't be further from the truth. If they're making the content, it might as well be good. I hope everyone who watches these nine (nine!) series enjoys every second of them. But I might be out. The same goes for most of the Marvel content as well. My story with "The Force Awakens" has a sister story in seeing "The Avengers." It was so cool watching years of set-up pay off in a then-unique way; now, superheroes are ubiquitous. The novelty is gone. Disney has taken two franchises that had unique auras and made them ho-hum. I don't have a will or a way to spend hundreds of hours on ho-hum. Apparently Disney thinks I do. And because of the tie-in nature of a lot of these things, you have to watch it all, or you'll be lost.
Oh and by the way, Disney's hiking its price to $7.99 a month soon. All these shows people definitely want cost money, you know? But don't focus on that; focus on all the shiny new content! Sigh.
*Goes back to watching an obscure indie drama on Kanopy*
A quick heads-up: Next week's Binge Blog will be the last one of 2020. I had the novel idea of writing about my top films of the year — perhaps in some sort of list, maybe 10 items long … still working out the kinks — so that's what next week will be. Then we'll be back to normal starting Jan. 8.
"Alabama Snake" (2020)
HBO Max, rated TV-MA, 85 minutes
"Alabama Snake" is the story of a bizarre attempted murder, but it's also the story of a niche religious sect and the story of how past trauma can cause future trauma if not processed in a healthy manner.
On a fall night in 1991, Darlene Summerford put in a call to 911, claiming her husband, Glenn, a Pentecostal preacher and snake handler, had forced her at gunpoint to stick her hand in a rattlesnake cage, then forbade her from seeking treatment. When paramedics arrived, they found that Darlene had been bitten twice, and her wounds were severe. She survived, but the incident left her shaken.
Glenn Summerford was arrested and charged with attempted murder a few days later. Because the documentary gets to this fairly quickly, I don't consider it a spoiler to tell you the outcome of the trial: Glenn was found guilty and, because of prior convictions and some Alabama minimum sentence laws, given 99 years in prison.
That's not what the doc is really about, though. It's about context, both of what happened years before "bite night," as the incident is known, and what happened after Glenn's conviction.
"Alabama Snake" uses reenactments of key scenes in the main characters' lives to flesh out the story. They're nothing new if you've watched a lot of docs. Although they're well done (until one scene at the end, which is admittedly rough), I wish there was more footage of actual Pentecostal services from back in the day. That footage is great, but there's just not much of it.
What's more interesting is learning what it was like to grow up in the hills of Alabama, where life was rough and the people even rougher. Glenn was physically abused by his stepfather in the name of making him tough. That abuse stayed with Glenn his whole life, turning him into a tornado of violence, and on tapes played during the doc, he fully admits as much — until, he said, he was saved.
Because the facts of the case and trial are laid out early, the ending of the documentary focuses on belief. Either you believe Glenn, who claims Darlene's bites came during an attempted suicide, or you believe Darlene. The doc mirrors this with questions about Glenn's own faith. He claims he was saved by God after spending 30 days in a cave with nothing but a Bible. He entered being unable to read; he left having read the Bible cover to cover. He then quickly became his church's pastor. Was it all an act to cover for his wicked ways?
As much as "Alabama Snake" wants to get viewers to think about big ideas, like the nature of belief, it is much more effective as an 85-minute transport into backwoods Alabama, a glimpse at the kind of life most people never see or think about. It's not revolutionary, but it's an entertaining watch and a good one if you've been missing some spooky vibes since October; demons and evil spirits are brought up a lot.
It's also the only documentary I've seen that focuses on a family with a pet raccoon. So that's something.