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Good drama & acting, but if you want to know about Johnnie Cash's life, you need to go elsewhere.
on October 23, 2006
This movie is a good work of fiction, based on the life of Johnnie Cash and June Carter. You get drawn in and care about most of the characters, good or bad, because the acting is so excellent. The excellent acting is supported by a very well-crafted screen play with some wonderful lines and scenes. It's a treat if you like good acting. However, if you want the real story of Johnny Cash, you need to go elsewhere.
For example, the film makes the central event in Cash's life the death of his brother Jack. Indeed, the film opens with an adult performing Cash, pausing before he goes on at his historical Folsom prison show, paralyzed by seeing a circular saw like the one that alledgedly killed his brother.
In this film Jack allegedly sawing wood for a dollar about the age of 9 when Johnny is tagging along with him about the age of 6 or 7. Jack tells little Johnnie to go on fishing and he will catch up. Jack has an accident and later dies. Little Johnnie is not there, so his father reproaches him for. Dad heaps a lot of cruelty on this very young child. Guilt and angst over this clouds the rest of Cash's life and poisons Cash's relationship with his father. The pivotal scene in the movie is an adult confrontation between Johnnie and his father over this.
However, this whole business was made up. Cash's brother died in an accident in high school machine shop class!
Johnnie's first wife Vivian is a victim of this film. She's portrayed as a very conventional, Southern white wife, who is continually asking Johnny to forsake music to go and work in her father's business. She's quite at home with the Bible-Belt culture of Cash's attempts at a gospel career but seems just to be a conservative anti-music force. The viewer thinks she wants Johnnie to go back to Arkansas's cotton country.
However, Vivian Dorraine Liberto Cash was a Mexican-American. Cash wooed her while he was stationed in San Antonio in the US Air Force. At the time Vivian was a student at an all-girls Catholic high school. The film provides no information about the kind of culture and racial clash that Cash's having a Catholic, Mexican-American wife must have been in 1950s and early 1960s Arkansas and Tennesse.
Instead, Vivian is potrayed as a conservative, money oriented, music hater in contrast to the wittier, more attractive, and more meaningful June Carter. Vivian is also pictured as a fairly unsophisticated looking house-wife type. In fact, throughout their marriage, Vivian was very glamorous and attractively dressed and made up. She looked more like a movie star than June Carter whose main act until she hooked up with Cash was as a country girl corn pone comedian, a kind of younger version of Minnie Pearl.
The truth is that Johnny Cash quite freely admitted that his marriage to Vivian ended only because of his own drug addiction, abuse, and unfaithfulness. Both Cash and Vivian Dorraine Liberto have said that they would never have parted except for Cash's drug addiction. As Cash said in the 1970s,"I have to take blame for that -- because no woman can live with a man who's strung out on amphetamines
_Walk the Line_ says nothing about Cash's musical and political embrace of the changes in the 1960s as a result of the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war struggle, and the youth radicalization.
For example, in the mid 1960s as Cash recovered from addiction, many Country artists backed the right-wing pro-war "Silent Majority" cultural campaign against the movements for Black liberation, against the Vietnam War, and for native and prisoner's rights. I can remember driving through Florida and Alabama seeing promoting then Nashville Super Stars George Jones and Tammy Wynette's appearances at rallies for George Wallace.
Instead, Cash embraced the music made by the new generation and the political questioning that went on. The film does picture him doing Bob Dylan's "It Ain't me Babe" and listening to Dylan's "Highway 61." However, only a more-than middle aged music buff like me who remembers those songs and the controversy in Country music circles Cash's friendship and performances with Dylan caused can understand what's involved the way _Walk the Line- portrays it.
Nothing is also said about Cash's championing of new-breed Nashville song writers like Kris Kristofferson. Cash's determination to perform Kris's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" with its references to being stoned on drugs despite NBC's attempt to censor the song was big news at the time.
When Cash was first invited to the White House by Richard Nixon, Nixon asked him to sing an anti-welfare recipient song called "Welfare Cadillac" and Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee," a song that had become an anthem for right wing culture war opponents of the changes of the 1960s, even though it was written as a parody of the "silent majority," by a marijuana high Haggard while he band bus tooled through that Oklahoma town. Cash refused because he did not agree with the outlook of those songs.
Cash's decision to dress all in black is pictured in _Walk the Line_ as just his choice one time when nothing else was available back in the 1950s. Yet, his decision to wear black and his identification with it only came in the late 1960s.
Cash always made it clear that he wore Black because he identified with the struggles of society's victims. He wrote a song explaining why he wore black which says: "I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, / Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town, / I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, / But is there because he's a victim of the times."
_Walk the Line_ doesn't tell us about that Johnnie Cash.
This movie's executive producer is John Carter Cash, the child of Johnnie Cash and June Carter Cash. I guess to him the most important thing in Johnny's life was his parents getting together. Otherwise, John Carter Cash wouldn't have been born! Perhaps, this is why the film streamlines Cash's life down to a fictional romance between Johnnie and June. Perhaps, his father's political and musical radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s is not to John Carter Cash's taste.
Yet, John Carter Cash and the people he worked with were able to find some great screen writers and an outstanding cast of actors. They give remarkable performances that make this a worthwhile film, despite its distance from the truth.