Thursday, February 09, 2006

Johnny Cash

I have this horrid feeling of being in a minority of one. Many have seen it, and many have applauded it – if not swooned (see Normblog) over it, but I was left feeling distinctly unmoved by the experience. I refer to my reaction to watching the much lauded biopic ‘Walk the Line’. First things first – no question that it was brilliantly acted, stunningly shot, and dramatically scripted (I will pass on the quality of the music – have you really heard Cash singing ‘I Walk the Line’ for goodness sake?). And those features are necessary conditions for a great movie. But taken alone, they are not sufficient. I went along wondering what it was that the film was trying to achieve. And I left the cinema quite unclear. As a biopic, much of the movie made me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. Peering into the darker recesses of a complex person through the lens of a scriptwriter. Undeniably factual in its structure, nonetheless I felt I was being asked to take sides – uncritically so. Take sides for June against Vivian; take sides for redemption against eternal purgatory’; take sides for hope against disappointment; take sides for the Folsom prisoner against the Folsom prisoners’ victims; take sides for unspoken and myriad social injustices which this Johnny embodied, just because this Johnny embodied them. I like to think I am on Johnny’s side, but hey – its way more complicated than this! But what really suffered in this movie was the music – or rather Johnny Cash’s contribution to the music. Where was the music? If I had gone to the cinema knowing nothing about Cash’s contribution to 20th century music, I very much doubt that I’d be any the wiser on this score coming out. Sure, we have scenes of fable-like quality where an almost mystical Cash pens the classic ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Walk the Line’. And we have the Sun Studio scene involving a young Cash convincing a sceptical Sam Phillips of his musical merits. But, for me at least, the rest of the music in the film disappointingly is little more than a backdrop (a score for heavens sake) to a factually-rooted love story involving June and Johnny. Maybe that is my greatest disappointment – the music was left out in preference for the standard star-crossed love story which Hollywood does so well, or not. Sorry, but I didn’t come out of this thinking ‘Coal Miners Daughter’ but rather ‘Titanic’ or ‘Gangs of New York’. This just didn't do it like Clint Eastwood’s ‘Bird’ – a film which did so much better in weaving the story of the complex and profoundly compromised man and his music than did ‘Walk the Line’. Nor was it ‘Ray’, a movie which wonderfully depicted Ray Charles’ contribution to the music, albeit against the backdrop of a similarly troubled person. This film did the opposite, and that, for me at least, is its weakness. Doing a passably good impression of Johnny Cash does not make a movie…


Blogger michael the tubthumper said...

i sortof want to see it but amnot sure i can buy the guy they have got as johnny cash.

Thursday, February 09, 2006  

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