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Review: Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross)

Many mini marvels combine for Hale County This Morning, This Evening, former photographer RaMell Ross' lulling, incisive ethnographic documentary. Ross' expanded compositions are yet uncommonly brief for this medium, their individual import augmented in montage, the portrait as a whole carrying the weight of these' souls personal and collective hopes, dreams, ambitions, successes and failures. Without fanfare, Hale County simply states itself as a legitimate work of art, its legitimacy arising from its existence alone; this snapshot of Black America making no complex case for such legitimacy, rather it quietly confirms it in the style of similar impressionistic ethnographic works. These people truly exist, their lives truly exist, and they deserve to be depicted on screen. It's enough for Ross, and Ross makes it more than enough for us.

That is to comment upon Hale County's radical lack of radical tendencies, its persuasive, gentle insistence on capturing reality and on displaying it as reality, though without the affectations of 'slow cinema' (whose affectations, admittedly, I tend to find bewitching and illuminating). Ross' imagery is often intensely beautiful, his editing expressive in odd, inventive ways, the processes by which he forms his footage into an artistic statement indicative of a remarkable filmmaking talent, yet it is the statement-less demeanour of this movie that most impresses. There's no shortage of evidence of effort here, but Hale County presents itself as almost effortless, and its casual segues between artistic innovation and unfussy social realism prove the deftness of Ross' technique.

The experience of consuming art like this is never easy to descibe, for experiences are best communicated through sharing, not recounting; Hale County is designed as an experience, and functions as one that seems to defy all attempts at definition through recounting. It bears hallmarks of other styles of cinema, though doesn't commit to any of them in particular. It feels fresh as it achieves nothing new. It is a major work as it is a minor work. It's curious, limitlessly fascinating, full of detail that's seemingly as profound as it is trivial. It's rather like life itself, then, in its blend of grand consequence and pithy inconsequence. Quite the experience, that, and Ross shares it in exquisite style.

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