Before I forget, made it out to see Walk the Line last weekend. After reading both of Johnny’s autobiographies (Cash: The Autobiography and The Essential Johnny Cash), I was very interested to see Johnny’s life on the big screen. Walk the Line doesn’t disappoint.
The movie begins backstage at the famous Folsom Prison, and immediately flashes back to his childhood. The first story is that of his older brother who died in an accident with a circular saw. Compared to the books, the protrayl seems a little simplified, but none-the-less conveys the shadow that the event casts over Johnny’s life.
Brief forrays into his stint in the military and his first marriage give way to the start of music career. I was impressed with the way they showed his first audition. The wisely chosen the clip of the music producer asking Johnny to play the one song that people would remember him by that show on the trailer (rather than the gospel standards that they intended to sing originally), is very well done. Johnny then starts Folsom Prison Blues very timidly (and much to the surprise of his band mates who appear to make up their parts as they go along); he slowly builds into the traditionally powerful Cash sound. Amazing.
Things then progress into the whirl wind of quick stardom, constant touring, and its perils. Some of my favorite scenes where in the movie were when they were driving between shows (first in a caravan of personal cars and later in tour bus.) Today, it seems that’s super stars in music seem to skip the day to day struggle of building a career. Also absent in today’s music is the family of performers (ok, maybe there are a few exceptions). By family, I mean extended touring family, like Johnny Cash, the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers, etc; not necessarily blood relations.
The movie does a good job with the star crossed lovers aspect of Johnny and June without making it melodramatic. From their comical first meeting to her eventual acceptance of his many marriage proposals (the culmination of the movie), you get the feeling that they were made for each other, but not necessarily ready to be together. They obviously care deeply for each other, but needed sort of the details of their lives before they could be together.
Besides the fact that both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon share amazing resemblences to Johnny and June, they also sound spot on. Both sang and played themselves. This lends a lot of crediblity to the story and lets you concentrate on the story instead of watching, waiting for a lip synch slip up. Hearing Joaquin say “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” after walking up to the mic to open a show is totally believable; something I thought they’d have real trouble pulling off.
My only complaint about the movie is minor. After reading both of the autobiographies on which the movie is based, you realize that the movie focuses on the years where Johnny struggled the most; both in the artist building a career, personal growth, and addiction senses. Sure, that’s where some of the most movie compatible events happened, but I felt kind of let down. There’s the optimism of knowing that his marriage to June helped him clean up his act, but it might have been nice to show a couple of more years of the good times to balance things out. But, a movie can only be so long, so I’ll let it slide.
As a person who doesn’t go out to the movies often, I have to really plug movies that are worth the trip. I give Walk the Line 4 stars and definitely recommend making the trip out battling the holiday crowds (and Harry Potter fans, ick) to see it. You won’t regret it!
Incidentally, NPR has had a slew of good Johnny Cash related interviews recently.
- June Carter Cash: A Pioneer, A Partner
- Johnny Cash: In His Own Words
- Roseanne Cash Remembers Her Father, Johnny
- Producer Rick Rubin on the Man in Black’s Legacy
Worth a listen!