There was a way in which *Johnny Cash *carried himself that accompanied his all-black dress code curiously well; world-weary, beaten, guitar slung across his back clinging like a shell to a snail it was a demeanour that became an enduring part of his character and legacy. His deep, resonant baritone and blunt, weathered guitar plucks, of course, were what defined him, but it was events in his childhood and personal life, and his subsequent mental state, which leant his music such emotional weight, connecting with the listener in a very real and personal way.
Coinciding with the Hollywood Biopic Walk The Line, this low-budget E!TV-style documentary attempts to chart the life and times of Mr Cash, shining a torch on his shadowed past from his roots in Arkansas and the deeply affecting loss of his brother, through to his time as a US Air Force Radio Intercept Officer in Germany (interestingly enough, it was Cash who intercepted the first message from Russia of Stalin’s death!) and then to his move to Memphis where he established the band which would land him a deal with the legendary Sun Records *in 1955. While his ascension to fame and popularity from this point on was seemingly unstoppable, scoring numerous hit singles throughout the late '50s, it was his rigorous touring schedule however, of well over 300 shows a year with the likes of *Elvis, which was to instigate his fall from grace in the mid '60s.
And it’s this period upon which this documentary appears to focus, more specifically his increasing dependence on amphetamines and whisky, correlating his drug intake with yo-yoing records sales and an increasingly violent and erratic behaviour. Indeed, with TVs flying out of windows and hotel rooms getting trashed on a nightly basis, it may not have been such a coincidence that his emergence came around the birth of rock ‘n’ roll itself. These experiences were to leave an indelible imprint on his music, but as this film rightly points out it was ultimately his faith in God which guided him and kept him strong, speaking to him during an (admittedly pathetic) suicide attempt in the late ‘60s and urging him to pick himself up. Cash returned the favour through a series of Gospel recordings.
But while this portrayal of Cash is accurate enough, the actual production of this DVD leaves a lot to be desired. The ongoing narration - something along the lines of sheriff John Bunnel from World’s Wildest Police Chases _crossed with Kent Brockman – is enough to see off any prospective feature on Newsnight Review_. Together with some overly-used footage, a few badly-filmed reconstructions of his drug-taking and hotel-smashing, and all of two (count ‘em) interviews with his brother Jack and his old drummer W.S. Holland, you sense this didn’t perhaps have the most flexible of deadlines. Even the special ‘unseen’ live footage of his set at the White House lasts approximately four seconds!
For Cash obsessives this does seem a little one-sided and patronising in its coverage, showering all manner of praise and hyperbole over this “larger than life, one-of-a-kind guy” _without really discovering what made him tick. But for those still unacquainted with his talents, this offers a fairly comprehensive background to the 'skim-the-surface' approach of _Walk the Line, which, of course, you’re all going to see if you haven’t already. It's just a shame there was no footage from his appearance in_ Columbo_...
5Mat Hocking's Score