Iron City Blues (2010) – By Josh Samford

Although not presented as a completely unbiased piece of documentary filmmaking, Scott C. Jackson’s Iron City Blues may be the most interesting film I have watched for Rogue Cinema this entire month. A strange clash of music and cinema, Iron City Blues delves head first into an odd world of strange and slightly disturbed characters, as well a town on the verge of full collapse. While watching you will wonder where the lines between fiction and reality really are, as you are thoroughly escorted out of the safe and normal reality of what we consider America to be. As someone who was born and has been raised in the deep south, I can say that I have seen, and do in fact know personally, some characters who seem as if they would fit right at home in Iron City, but never has there apparently been a city so devout in its rebellious nature. While this is shown as an admirable trait in some regards, it is also something that has drawn in a good number of unwanted characters and unfortunately this city, and the decent inhabitants that still choose to remain there, has had to deal with them. Working both as an hour long promotion for independent blues artist "Big" Mike Griffin, as well as an exploration of one town’s insane notoriety, I can’t help but end up singing Iron City Blues‘ praises.

Somewhere in America, there is a town with no law. There is a town where the law isn’t wanted. There is a town where the reckless and the insane co-mingle in a melting pot of chaos just waiting to explode. That place can be found, and it is Iron City, Tennessee. Our film stars blues musician "Big" Mike Griffin, who has heard the stories of Iron City nearly his entire life. Stories tell that this small town hasn’t had a sheriff since 1989, and being curious "Big" Mike decides to head there for himself in order to write a song about this wild land. As he rides into town, he discovers that in many regards Iron City is just another small southern town, but in some ways it truly is the den of awaiting violence that its reputation has alluded to.

Clocking in at just a little under the one hour length, there is no fat to be found within Iron City Blues. In fact, one has to wonder if there were at least a few more characters that could have been interviewed in order to expand the time limit of the project, because it truly is that engaging. This comes mainly from the interesting characters who are interviewed throughout the project, but also from the fact that our director does not choose to condemn or make light of the situation that these people have been dealt. That kind of fair play is unfortunately uncommon within the documentary realm. There are characters throughout, that if they were in the hands of many directors looking for something outrageous, they would have been treated as a joke or something less than "normal", but director Scott C. Jackson won my respect by treating these people in a regular fashion and actually listened to what they had to say, regardless of odd appearances or incredibly thick accents. While one gets the idea that "Big" Mike and others certainly seem to do their fair share of partying, the lawlessness of Iron City has certainly left the already impoverished citizens having to contend with yet another stressful facet of small town life. We find that the majority of this small town’s citizens are employed by the local casket making factories, and one can’t help but remain in awe at the fact that any factory could survive in such a small out of the way location. Iron City stands up as being defiant by its very nature in that regard.

There are some moments throughout that seem obviously scripted, such as a moment where "Big" Mike and his friend stumble upon a burned down gas station while first entering town and use the quip "looks like some people didn’t like the price of gas around here", which comes across as groan-worthy even if it wasn’t scripted. Despite these moments, the interviews with the locals and "Big" Mike’s general enthusiasm ultimately make the movie for me. It’s short, has a very polished look to it and offers a tremendous look at a small niche corner of American culture; I wholeheartedly recommend Iron City Blues! You can read more about the project via