Fantasia 2022 Review: COUNTRY GOLD, The Second Best Legend After Johnny Cash
Mickey Reece, prolific indie filmmaker, is no stranger to tackling stories of famous musicians (according to my partner, Reece's film Alien is a far superior look at the life of Elvis than the recent Baz Lurhmann film). After his previous films of more supernatural fare, Reece takes a detour into more surreal territory, with an odd but significant night in the life of two celebrated country stars - one at the height of his power, and the other far past the peak of his. Country Gold is a strange tale of strange proverbial bedfellows, two men who find themselves on either side of a concave mirror, as they each navigate this significant and dangerous moment.
It's 1994, and Troyal Brooks (yes, that is deliberate and hilarious, and even more hilarious is a very deadpan Reece in the role) is America's top-selling music artists; he's a self-proclaimed good ol' boy: family man with a wife and two kids, living clean, giving America the new country it wants to hear. One day, he gets a letter fro George Jones (Reece regular Ben Hall, in fine form), one of the greatest country stars of the 20th century; Jones invites Brooks to join him for a nigh in Nashville, the heart of their music world. Brooks accepts, and Jones tells him that, the next morning, he's going to have himself cryogenically frozen to (hopefully) later be revived and return to his former glory. Thus begins a surreal evening of women, guns, drugs, and everything Brooks tells himself is not a part of his world.
Not that Brooks was ignorant of Jones's famous boozy, womanizing ways; that doesn't stop him from loving the man's music or wanting to spend time with his hero - but like the saying goes, it's not long before Brooks starts to regret meeting his. Jones' tales of music, women, and all-around merriment quickly devolve into something darker, and as they pick up an entourage who have perhaps other plans and desires besides just hanging out with a couple of famous musicians, Brooks finds himself on a journey of what might be, if he allows his life to take a darker path.
The use of black and white is not so much a suggestion that there are only two paths to take (eitehr Brooks or Jones), but more to emphasis the shades of grey that lie along any path of stardom. The idea that celebrity does more harm to a human that good is not new, but Reece frames it in such a way that we see the absurdity not only of Jones trying to escape his regrets rather than face them, but also Brooks in trying to keep a clean image that is equally unrealistic. Where Jones runs away, Brooks supresses and ignores. That leaves them both at the mercy of certain impulses, though Jones embraces them much more readily.
It's never enough, Jones says, lamenting how the younger generation have no use for the likes of him. Country music is all about ordinary people telling their stories; but once you're not ordinary anymore, what does that mean for your stories? Reece peppers the film with some intriguing animation, sex murders, an interlude of a strange foray into rock music for Brooks (those in the know will have no trouble with that reference), and as Jones drags Brooks deeper into the literal and proverbial night, surrounded by the neon lights of Nashville bars, Brooks keeps trying to steer himself back on his chosen path, while knowing it will never quite look the same.
The only straight path through the trappings of fame and fortune is a crooked one, and Country Gold shines a stark light on that path's dark corners. It's a whiskey-infused feverdream for one man who wants to keep his nose clean, and another who refuses to acknowledge the dirt of his own making.