Monday, January 2, 2017

Barkley Marathons Documentary on Netflix

We celebrated Frances Reedy's New Year's Eve birthday on Saturday, December 31, 2016 by finally watching the documentary, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. We've previously written about the film and our correspondence with the filmmakers who decided to include a cover of Frances' song "I Feel Jesus" in the closing credits. 

Screenshot (1:29:10 min.) from the closing credits of The Barkley Marathons documentary
We were excited to see that the documentary is now featured on Netflix, so anyone else with an account can watch it too, which we highly recommend. The film is a fascinating, humorous, and heart-wrenching chronicle of the 2012 Barkley Marathons, its eccentric founder, and some of the people who undertake what is one of the most difficult trail races in the world. This brief trailer doesn't include Frances' song, but it offers enough intriguing detail to entice folks to watch the complete film.


Overall, The Barkley Marathons is a well-made and entertaining documentary about an unusual annual event that takes place in Appalachian Tennessee. People from all over the world apply for one of 40 spots to compete in the 60-hour, 100-mile wilderness trek competition. The individual stories of the marathon founder and the people who undertake the grueling challenge are powerful and compelling examples of how much the human spirit and body can aspire to, endure, and sometimes miraculously achieve.

Our main critique was that the film focuses primarily on male voices, and the couple of women who participate barely have any speaking role at all. This is a significant omission in light of the film's focus on the way the race comprises layer upon layer of difficulty, all of which are consciously implemented to confound and compound the complexity of participation from beginning (i.e., finding out how to apply) to end (e.g., the 3-lap "Fun Run," the full 5-lap course, or worse... not finishing at all). So to ignore gender as such an obvious additional layer of difficulty for female participants diminishes the richness of the primary narrative. 

Gender was also an important factor in the record-breaking success of a two-time finisher and the winner of the 2012 race, whose family camped out at the park where the race takes place. Both his mother and wife were diligent and reliable caregivers who constantly fed, nursed, and encouraged him during his brief pit-stops between laps. That said, we were particularly inspired by the story of the graduate student who finished the entire course his first time participating. He achieved his own record-breaking distinction by finishing the closest to the 60-hour time limit for the race. In contrast to the winner, he didn't have a family support network pampering him between laps, but it was amazing to see many of the people who had already dropped out of the race providing him with crucial aid before he began his fifth and final lap.

We really enjoyed The Barkley Marathons and hope other folks will take time to watch it. We thought that Frances' song "I Feel Jesus" was a fitting song to end this unique film about a one-of-a-kind ritual in the Appalachian region. Happy birthday, Frances Reedy, we miss you!

p.s. We also discovered that the version of the song that was included on the soundtrack (recorded by Anna and Elizabeth as "Ooh My My") is finally available online. Happy New Year to all!