Review: Ten Thousand Points of Light
The rise of Dust-to-Digital has been perhaps the most important catalyst in exposing younger generations to traditional American folk music since Harry Smith’s Anthology. The label has managed to offer this music in a way that makes it accessible to newcomers while at the same time offering something “new” to those of us who are already converts. Yet they have always been more than just a mere record label. The label’s releases are living artifacts of our history and culture reaching far beyond music. Take for instance the disc of sermons that served as the appendix to the Goodbye Babylon box set, the book of vintage baptism photographs they released last year, or the lavish packaging and meticulous eye for details that can be found on every one of the label’s endeavors.
So it was really no surprise when Dust-to-Digital recently began releasing documentaries detailing aspects of American life and culture. The first of these was Let Your Feet Do the Talkin’, director Stewart Copeland’s masterful portrait of buck dancer Thomas Maupin that would easily get my vote for Best Short Subject were I on the Oscar committee. Now, just in time for the holidays, they have reached back in the vaults to issue George King’s Ten Thousand Points of Light, an obscure 1990 documentary that takes a look at what ensues when the tradition of Christmas lights, Elvis fandom, and Southern hospitality are all taken to the absolute extreme.
The film tells the story of the Townsend’s, a family who for over 20 years decorated their suburban Atlanta home with excessive amounts of Christmas lights and Elvis memorabilia and then opened it to the public. While on the surface, this premise seems to only reiterate the worst stereotypes about the South, the film isn’t derogatory whatsoever. Instead the director focuses on the bond the entire family shares in decorating, touring people through the home, and even in making cookies to share with the visitors. While the family’s taste may indeed be in question, their love and passion is not. The documentary harkens back to a time of close-knit communities and caring neighbors; a time when people took care of one another. That attitude is mostly gone these days and was even when the documentary was filmed, which is partly what makes it so compelling. Unfortunately, too many people today would call the Townsend’s “eccentric” or worse rather than seeing them as being among the last holdouts of the true American spirit.
None of which is to say that the film isn’t hysterical. It is. But mostly that is due to the family’s interactions with one another and their own recognition of their excesses. They are very much in on the joke.
This “20th Anniversary Edition” is the first time the film has been released on DVD and as with all Dust-to-Digital releases, it is an experience in and of itself and is clearly the result of a lot of hard work. In addition to the film, we get an interview with the director in the DVD’s liner notes, commentary by the director and members of the Townsend family, extensive interviews with family members, and even a “video Christmas card.”
If you are looking for something off the beaten path to replace the more conventional holiday films this season there is always Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. But if you want something off the beaten path that also packs plenty of heart and soul while entertaining you, look no further. This documentary will remind you of the joy of giving and of a way of life that is all but gone. And as the grandmother in the film says at one point, “It seems that Christmas and Elvis goes together.”