45365 is the area code of Sidney, Ohio, population 20,211, about 40 miles north of Dayton on the Miami River. The seat of Shelby County, its turn-of-the-last-century boomtown ambition (evidenced in its grand courthouse) long since mellowed, Sidney was the hometown of Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, who came back to shoot it in 2007. The result is a poetic documentary of quiet American surfaces and intimately eavesdropped people, a modern city symphony performed in the Midwestern sounds of classic rock FM, church choirs, porch guitar noodling, and Southern Ohio twang.
The Ross brothers have arranged their unlabeled fragments within a chronological framework, beginning with fireworks and the county fair, tracking suburban streets on Halloween, following the Sidney Yellow Jackets football season to homecoming, and ending in a snowfall coda. There’s also the re-election campaign of Judge Donald Luce, illustrating the palpable personal stakes of local-level democracy. (One constituent vents on Luce’s opponent: “She’s not prosecuting the lady that . . . hit my father-in-law and done him in.”)
That the filmmakers grew up among their subjects shows in the informal access they get—nobody seems surprised when the Ross boys show up with a camera. It also explains their decency toward their subjects. For those who only accept depictions confirming flyover life as a Bosch painting populated with 300-pounders and Waffle Houses, which some vacationing scumbag will always be happy to provide, 45365 will seem sentimental. In fact, the Rosses just refrain from cheap shots, whether dealing with WASPs or the faded prison-tattoo set. Woven through 45365 is the story of the Dwyers, whose black-sheep reputation is family tradition—mother is seen going after son for stealing Xanax from her purse. Their run-ins with the law show a melancholy workaday familiarity between cop and criminal, culminating in a scene of conviction and incarceration whose wry fatalism is unforgettable.
CSX trains, Friday-night chaos under the bleachers, demolition derbies—adding up these images, the Rosses put across the airy, nostalgic quality of the old Midwestern city, where ritual supports the collective dream that is “small-town life.” Each year is a variation on the year we see, set largely to the same playlist—Cheap Trick cover bands, slow-dance Air Supply, the caller to HITS 105.5 revealing that the Who’s “Squeezebox” is about a dildo. That provincial life is slow and repetitive is no revelation. What makes 45365 special is its eye for the infinite diversity within a superficially monotonous pattern.