Walk The Line

Now that the Academy have had the decency to tell me which films are worth seeing* I thought I’d better get my skates on and catch up.

The rock biopic (when did people start pronouncing that like ‘myopic’) is a strange creature. With rock ‘n’ roll being all about flashness, anecdotal tales of crazed individuals, and LOUD, LOUD brilliant music, you’d think that it would lend itself perfectly to movies. However, largely they are completely crap, buying into the folklore without acknowledging that most rock stars are pretentious ego-maniacs (cf. The Doors) and as tedious as that would suggest. In fact, most of the best ‘rock’ movies are either those that feature the band (therefore affording instant cult success from the legions of fans – no matter how crap/kitsch) or the occasional fictional foray into the murky mythology (for example Almost Famous, Still Crazy and, even Spinal Tap). But with the honourable exception of Great Balls Of Fire (as cartoon fifties as Grease, but with much, much better music – and, Peter Cook), the rock biopic has given us the most successful TV-movie of all time (surely not something you want to crow about) and the sight of everyone’s favourite psycho Gary Busey in over-sized specs.

And, TBH, Johnny Cash must be pretty far down the list of those due their day on the silver screen. Even moreso using his two autobiographies as the source material. Don’t get me wrong, the man was a god. For the first time I wept when someone famous died. But, amiable and enjoyable enough as they are, his books are hardly Hammer Of The Gods. His story goes that he was a self-centred git messed up on pills (for a bit) and that June Carter (Cash) was an absolute angel. And, that kinda sums up the movie. It is quite nice to see one of these things where you’re not supposed to keep thinking how cool the subject is, in fact he really is pretty cringeworthy at several points throughout it.

When Will Smith was up for awards for his performance in Ali, the general consensus (or criticism, if you’d rather) was that he wouldn’t get them as it was more of an impersonation than a performance. (Actually, pretty unfair. He was really good in an otherwise completely faffed movie. How could you not make it cool? And, ffs, boxing is one thing that film makers can make exciting standing on their heads. Not Michael Mann, apparently. Not enough pastel suits in the ring, then.) Joaquin Phoenix isn’t too like him. He more just suggests him thought a few well observed points. He’s got the flat tone that underpinned his vocals, the stance and (maybe one too many of) the facial tics. He’s never less than completely convincing, and often astoundingly charismatic (when performing – more of which anon).

And, so to Oscar Winner® Reese Witherspoon as his muse June. She does a darn’t sparky sassy turn that does bear a resemblance to old footage. The not-on-stage stuff, you just have to assume is pretty accurate. She’s nowhere nearly so perky all the time and it flows well. Not the greatest performance I’ve ever seen, but she does sorta hold the movie together. Well done all round, say I.

Possibly one of the strangest credits on this is “Music by T Bone Burnett“. Because, surely it’s all about johnny’s music (man)? Of course, if you want to recreate just about any period of american music in the 20th century T-Bone’s the man you go to. The authenticity of the stuff here is great. And, the performances from the leads are superb (although when the genuine article turns up at the end does kinda stand out). Which is as it should be. Even the really naff “we only got one more song…” scene that turns into them singing Folsom Prison Blues to Sam Phillips is rather rousing.

Special note about the opening scene (we like a good opener) at Folsom. Stomping! Keep an eye out for several pages on just how under-rated a (rhythm) guitarist Elvis was reduced to one brief double take.

*There is no parallel universe imagined by the most depraved individual in which the Wererabbit is a better film than Howl’s Moving Castle.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

07 March 2006 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Film

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