Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More Watch: First Trailer For Rom-Com 'Playing It Cool' With Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza & More Watch: First Trailer For Rom-Com 'Playing It Cool' With Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza & More Watch: First Trailer For ‘Serena’ Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper Watch: First Trailer For ‘Serena’ Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper First Look: Matthew McConaughey & Ken Watanabe In Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea Of Trees’ First Look: Matthew McConaughey & Ken Watanabe In Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea Of Trees’ Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made Revisiting On The Rise: Where Are Our 2012 Picks Now? Revisiting On The Rise: Where Are Our 2012 Picks Now? Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 TIFF Review: 'Still Alice' Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin & Kate Bosworth TIFF Review: 'Still Alice' Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin & Kate Bosworth The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

LAFF Review: ‘Billy Mize And The Bakersfield Sound’ Is A Warm Look At One Of Country Music’s Hidden Titans

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist June 14, 2014 at 7:30PM

While the musical biopic today suffers from inescapable story arcs and tired imitations, thankfully a good story remains that way when told by those who actually lived it. Consider well-made music docs a personal sweet spot -- a blend of archival footage, a famous record, and an aged, accented character explaining how, when they tweaked a guitar amp then threw it down a city sewer, the song’s tone really took off. “Billy Mize and The Bakersfield Sound” adopts this path, charting the rise of a unique style in the mid-‘50s Southern California country scene, but more importantly it highlights one of the pivotal figures that helped it thrive.
0
Billy Mize

While the musical biopic today suffers from inescapable story arcs and tired imitations, thankfully a good story remains that way when told by those who actually lived it. Consider well-made music docs a personal sweet spot -- a blend of archival footage, a famous record, and an aged, accented character explaining how, when they tweaked a guitar amp then threw it down a city sewer, the song’s tone really took off. “Billy Mize and The Bakersfield Sound” adopts this path, charting the rise of a unique style in the mid-‘50s Southern California country scene, but more importantly it highlights one of the pivotal figures that helped it thrive.

Billy Mize is a name missing from mentions of the era that spawned Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, yet here is a documentary that has you smiling at each cultural icon that respected it. Names like Dean Martin, The Beatles, and Elvis Presley surrounded Mize and the sound that he and other acts perfected -- hazily defined, but “definitely using a guitar and fiddle”, as one interviewee says.

Billy Mize

The film is also directed by Mize’s grandson, William J. Saunders. That’s important mainly for two reasons: access and respect. Gathering a great deal of home video footage and interviews with friends and family—most of whom had to reckon with Billy’s highs and lows growing up—Saunders achieves a comfortable intimacy with those on-camera. One of the subjects is Mize, now 85 and still living in CA; he’s described as a quiet fellow when not on-stage – partly due to his shy personality, but more because he partially lost his voice at 59 after a stroke.

Mize’s medical troubles lend the documentary a lived-in and current feel; it’s not just titans of country gabbing about their early trials and tribulations, it’s a poignant portrait of a man figuring out his life when his prime instrument has been stripped from him.

Billy Mize

Saunders manages to conduct a subtitled sit-down interview with Mize, who was able to build his voice up to a raspy grumble. The throughline, it turns out, is family: when every act took to months of touring if they wanted to make a living and name for themselves, Mize chose the TV route, racking up 3,000 miles a week driving to LA and Bakersfield for daily music shows and variety hours.

Tragedy and substance abuse are present in many show business stories, and Mize’s is no different. But the same central aspects to Saunders’ approach—access and respect—also hobble it somewhat by remaining too close to the subject. “I’d rather not,” Mize whispers when asked about details from his past. He really doesn’t have to respond—his eyes do the heavy lifting—but Saunders repeatedly settles for the surface-level tale elsewhere in exploring Mize’s life events. Mize’s ex-wife Martha is one such case, a lively woman who hints at a greater wealth of feeling about her and Mize’s past than she initially lets on.


Billy Mize

The scattered direction deepens as Mize’s medical progress intersects with his professional life. Saunders uses Mize’s forthcoming 80th birthday party as a framing device and source of tension—the challenge is posed whether Mize will attempt to sing once more—but again, the matter is rarely addressed. One wonders whether simply the footage wasn’t there or if Saunders had it in and decided to cut it out – however, it’s another aspect that highlights the two films Saunders aims to make: a tribute to his grandfather’s contributions to country music and a journey of recovery. Neither quite land with any weight as a result.

That doesn’t mean the film’s lighter sections, featuring musicians ribbing one another, sharing their processes, and showcasing their music, isn’t greatly entertaining, and as an investigation into country music there’s a unique glance around at some of the history and people involved. Saunders’ film will have you looking twice at music photographs in the future, noticing Mize in the spots you’d gloss over before; but as a tribute to a should-be-famous figure, the film frustratingly stays static above the intriguing core of Mize’s life. [C+]

This article is related to: Reviews, Review, L.A. Film Fest, Los Angeles Film Festival, Billy Mize And The Bakersfield Sound


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates