The Carter Family has been a big name in country music since the ‘20s, but little is known about them. Now, thanks to The Winding Stream, you can learn everything about the Carters. From their origins to their start in the music business to familial scandals to the next generation of musical Carters—including June Carter Cash, better known for being the love of Johnny Cash’s life—The Winding Stream gives us an intricate timeline of the Carter Family history.
For fans of classic country music—particularly those who truly appreciate the musical careers of the Carter Family—there is no better encyclopaedia of the First Family of country music. For everyone else, The Winding Stream is not going to entertain.
Sure there is mention of Johnny Cash and the creation of the Carter Cash family, which is a musical legend in its own right, but for once, Cash isn’t the star of the show. With movies like Walk the Line that have made a point to retell Cash’s (quite interesting) story, there has been little to nothing done for the Carters. Perhaps this is because there isn’t really anything too interesting about the Carters except that generation after generation they have managed to produce great musicians and their ongoing influence on the country music scene is something to marvel at. But if country music isn’t your jam or even if you just casually tolerate most of it, The Winding Stream isn’t likely to hold your interest.
Featuring the regular tropes of documentary movies, including talking heads and old family photos, this film does attempt to spice up its presentation with the interesting but strange use of old photos of the Carters as paper puppets to illustrate anecdotes. These scenes caught my attention for their bizarreness and their (likely unintentional) resemblance to a silly and creative cartoon I used to watch as a kid called Angela Anaconda. However, this use of imagery is more odd than anything else, though I totally understand the need to perk up otherwise dull parts of a story.
Fans of the Carter Family’s music will be treated to modern and original renditions of famous song, with the movie closing out with June Carter’s niece singing a version of June’s favourite, “The Winding Stream.” Those who casually enjoy the Carters or even Johnny Cash may be disappointed with this barrage of mundane information (like how the Carter family patriarch collected local folk songs and rewrote them or how the Carter matriarch fell in love with her husband’s cousin).