The chronicle of a great artist’s life can be risky business for so many reasons; namely because you are taking a real person, their struggles and successes, their families, fame and love, and exposing them based on your own creative interpretation of their story.
Every now and then, it is done with absolute greatness. This dramatic biography is one of my favourite movies made. Not only because it details the rocky life of the “man in black” and one of the greatest musicians to live, but because it was done with grace and nobility – shedding light on all of the important elements that contributed to his legend.
After receiving permission from Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash themselves as well as close friends willing to contribute the biographic details to the film, Fox began production on Walk The Line, which was to be released in 2005. The film details Cash’s early life in Arkansas, which was ridden with family struggles and a feeling of inadequacy – until he moves away to start a family, craft his love of music into a distinct honest country sound, and begin his fight to the top. From his first time in a studio right through to Cash’s international acclaim, the film follows the rise, fall and re-rise of Cash – a story which is populated with finding his soulmate in June Carter Cash, his substance abuse, touring and family life. Thanks to the unbelievable natural and learned talent of lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, this movie is decorated with flawless musical depictions and emotional cinematic brilliance.
This scene in particular always gets a rise out of me. Technically the entire movie is one phenomenal music moment, but this scene and the historical account it tells is powerful. It shows a powerful moment after Johnny Cash finally won the record label battle to record a live album at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, California. Cash already had an interest in the prison while in the U.S. Air Force – something that lead to his single “Folsom Prison Blues” – and after controlling his drug abuse and experiencing a sort of re-birth, he decided his way back to music royalty was through a grassroots performance with some of America’s toughest criminals. One of Cash’s greatest appeals was always his ability to relate to the working class of which he grew up in, and his subsequent arrest and addiction brought him even more on their level – so this recording feat, although discouraged by his label, was unbelievably important to him. And, as this awesome clip shows – the recording inevitably received rave reviews.
Here’s a little clip to honour the man in black, his wit, his famous deep croons and the way Folsom Prison lit up with the first strums of “Cocaine Blues“: