Everything For All Reasons
Director/Scott Ballew
Watched on Amazon
Rating 4/5

 

I’m not going to make the case that there is anything stylistically unique about this documentary profile of grizzled singer-songwriter Terry Allen. It follows the beats of the pro forma music documentary: a sprinkling of talking heads lauding the main character, scenes of him working in his home studio, old photos of the “early days,” several windswept shots of the West Texas landscape where he was born, and seemingly staged-for-the-camera concert footage. But what makes this documentary a refreshing change from the usual music doc banalities is that practically no one outside of the narrow sub-genre of outlaw country has ever heard of Allen, nor do many of those inside that sub-genre know that Allen was and is an accomplished visual artist and sculptor. Nor do they know that he has been married to the same woman for eons and that his two grown sons love him and perform with him and that his favorite band members are also like extended members of his family. And then there are the songs, not a hit among them, that tell miniature Jack London stories–raw and mystical and forgiving–about marginal characters who, like Allen, exist in a world of their own design, content to wrestle with the vagaries of living outside the need for ambition or fame or even recognition.

Everything For All Reasons is the first film directed by Scott Ballew, a young fellow musician, and he could care less about seeking out soundbites from famous stars like Springsteen or Nelson or Kristofferson who might say one or two generic things about Allen’s music in order for the film to gain entry into the big film festivals or to snag that high-end distribution deal. Instead, Ballew sticks to interviews with the band members and Allen’s family. Since Allen owns his music, the songs aren’t clipped after 30 seconds to avoid paying the big royalty companies their exorbitant fees, a kind of mafia vig that prevents the use of so much great music in independent films. And then there is Allen himself, a generally nice guy without a lot of chaotic drama or conflict in his backstory, no heavy drug use or alcoholism, which means Ballew can avoid the usual manufactured buildup to an overdetermined redemptive climax, another ho-hum feature of the genre.

The movie is a portrait of an artist we don’t already know everything about, which separates it in another way from the traditional  music docs: Everything For All Reasons is not a marketing device, a hagiography designed to sell a back catalogues or a boxed set.

The movie is one long gentle surprise, with great tunes and a cool back-up band. Worth hanging out with for 69 minutes.