SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE is a crisp, dark, stylized short about mental illness, combining cinema verite and film noir influences. The film's length and format mean you probably won't find it at your local theater, but it's well worth checking out on video. Karl (Billy Bob Thornton) has spent the last 25 years in a mental institution for, as a 13-year-old...read more
SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE is a crisp, dark, stylized short about mental illness, combining cinema verite and film noir influences. The film's length and format mean you probably won't find it at your local theater, but it's well worth checking out on video.
Karl (Billy Bob Thornton) has spent the last 25 years in a mental institution for, as a 13-year-old boy, he brutally murdered his mother and her lover. Now he is scheduled for release. Teresa (Molly Ringwald) is a young, nervous, newspaper reporter sent to interview Karl for a feature on his release. She convinces administrator Jerry Woolrich (Jefferson Mays), a bureaucratic sycophant, to permit the interview, despite his numerous objections. Karl supposedly won't talk to women or permit photos, but will "tell his story" (no questions) in a darkened room, with only Teresa and Woolrich present. Terrified and minus her photographer, Frances (Suzanne Cryer), Teresa heads for the interview, expecting the worst.
Karl is obviously disturbed, but not violent. He speaks in a halting Texas drawl, telling Teresa how his parents (who believed Karl's ugliness was their punishment for having sex) made him sleep in a hole under a shed and fed him "pretty regular." He explains that he found his mother having extramarital sex and dispatched first her lover, then her, with a "kaiser blade" ("Some folks call it a sling blade...," he explains), a scythe-like agricultural implement. Teresa asks if he would do it again in the same circumstances. He says yes. Will he kill again? He says he has no reason to.
At a later time, Karl prepares to enter the world outside. As he exits, Karl tells an attendant, "I reckon I'm gonna have to get used to looking at pretty people. I reckon I'm gonna have to get used to them looking at me too." The attendant silently removes a tag from Karl's new shirt. His "free" future is as bleak as his past.
As the film progresses, our sympathy shifts from Teresa to Karl (this is subtly aided by the fact that no flashbacks are included to illustrated his story). Shot in black and white, its frequent slow tracking shots and claustrophobic framing create a mood of antiseptic menace, reminiscent of Frederick Wiseman's mental-illness documentary, TITICUT FOLLIES (1967). Amplified ambient sound (footsteps, etc.) intensifies this mood. In the first minutes of SOME FOLKS, we watch through safety-glass windows as a psychotic (J.T. Walsh) moves across the dayroom and delivers a twisted monologue to Karl. Only later do we discover that Walsh is not the main character.
Billy Bob Thornton wrote the part of Karl for himself and invited George Hickenlooper to direct his screenplay. They work well together and both claimed in the "Making of..." featurette included on the video release of SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE" that their goal was to collaborate on feature films. But Thornton directed SLING BLADE, the feature-length elaboration on the short, himself; the film was surprisingly successful and earned Thornton a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. (Adult situations, profanity.)
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