spirits that speak


Johnny Cash, we hardly knew ye

i saw "walk the line" a few days ago. now, i am a big johnny cash fan (not as big as a friend of mine). so the movie was of a particular interest to me. i anticipated it for quite some time.

what i was anticipating was a movie where apparently the main actors sang all their own songs and were very good at emulating the people they were supposed to be. i was told, by media sources, to expect authenticity and any clips i saw of the movie left me very hopeful.

what i got was a movie where the main actors sang all their own songs and were very good at emulating the people they were supposed to be. i got authenticity and the hope i had during my anticipation of the movie was not disappointed.

the movie does leave one wanting for a portrayal of the rest of cash's life, but there was a section of his life that, from what i've read from cash's own words, was very well represented in this movie. i say "represented" not "exactly copied", because i'm sure there are some things that were embellished or concocted (at least a little).

what i left the movie with was the overwhelming sense that we need people in our lives who are on our side in order to bring balance and reason to us when we can't find those things ourselves. i also left the movie with the sense that we need to be ourselves and do things that we're good at in such a way that makes the most sense and is the way that is most natural for us. we can't force ourselves to do things in a way other than that, even if people tell us that other people aren't going to like it.

it's rare and valuable to find something that you're passionate about and be able to do it in the way that you feel it's best to do. but johnny cash did just that. when people told him that he shouldn't be singing what he does, he did it anyway. when people told him that dressing all in black is too depressing, he did it anyway. when people told him that he shouldn't play concerts for maximum security prisoners because, somehow, the crimes they committed earlier in life disqualified them from being part of general humanity and that they didn't deserve to be shown compassion and empathy, he did all of that. for that, he is and was a legend and has things to say that are, in some ways, more valuable than other musicians...christian or not.

but, perhaps more importantly, johnny cash was a historical icon who wasn't trying to be a historical icon. he was simply just trying to be himself and use the gifts that God gave him to make a positive and real contribution to society in general.

i wouldn't write this if it wasn't a recommendation to see "walk the line" (and a strong recommendation at that), but it's more of a recommendation to listen to the songs johnny cash recorded and read about his life and who he was, especially "cash" by johnny cash. it's worth every second.

joaquin phoenix for best actor, reese witherspoon for best actress.


  • now I want to see the movie. But I don't have time. Wah. Maybe next year - I think I have a day free in August.

    By Blogger Shiny Beamer, at 21:22  

  • well, if you call blockbuster, i'm sure you can reserve a copy for rental...i'm sure it'll be out on dvd by then ;-)

    By Blogger johnny m, at 09:01  

  • Well I finally got a chance to see it. I have not had much chance to reflect on it but here are some initial thoughts. I was caught off guard by the ending. I too wanted to 'see' more of Cash's life. Once I got over that I understood that it was a very good place to end it.
    Phoenix did an excellent job. Not quite the depth of voice, but I mean come on, its a pretty tough act to follow.
    Anyone who knows anything about JC understands that he never wanted to be viewed as a saint. However, I tended to view him as a saint for just such a reason. This movie helped to balance that out. You could be genuinely bothered by him at some points (perhaps even in ways the film-makers didn't intend).
    Sorry I actually realized I have to run. More to come. . .

    By Anonymous DaveD, at 12:56  

  • wait, i need closure on that anecdote!

    you're right about one thing, phoenix's voice doesn't quite match cash's depth. at first i thought it sounded more like cash than it does, but i've since been listening to the soundtrack and cash's songs side by side. i consider it a reasonable facsimile. probably a better job than anyone (but cash) could have done.

    looking forward to hearing the rest of your comments.

    By Blogger johnny m, at 22:22  

  • Um... I just saw Ryan Reynolds in 'Just Friends', and with all due respect to your guy Joaquin, my boy Ryan will be getting the statuette this year.

    By Blogger blade, at 10:51  

  • well, it'll be a battle to the mat then. but, yes, you may be right. ryan reynolds is increasingly compelling as an actor....and by compelling i mean really not compelling but extremely hilarious.

    By Blogger johnny m, at 17:25  

  • sorry for the break in the action.

    I'll keep it short again. Time is precious. Best and Worst.
    The best part of the movie was that you indeed got the sense that JC struggled. Not so much in the cliche sections of the film (i.e. the drug recovery section) rather it was in the basic anguish of being in the midst of relationships. Being at point when all you want to do is rage (and he did at times) but realizing that to relieve the crucible to early would not yield something productive. Staying in that crucible and not trivalizing it, being honest to it, produced a simple but deeply textured craft.

    The worst was Sam Philips telling JC that believing in God didn't matter (well I could buy him at that point) but that . . . (oh you could just here it coming) believing in yourself was what mattered. Oh, man. That just made me cringe. It reminded me of the intrusion of liberal rhetoric in LOTR. Anyway, gotta run again.

    By Anonymous DaveD, at 11:46  

  • wait, i'm not sure if i'm understanding you.

    it sounds like you buy that that's what sam phillips might have said (or something like it), but that it made you cringe anyway? not sure if that's what you were saying, but i think you may actually have been so wrapped up in what you thought you were hearing that you missed what the phillips character was actually saying.

    what i think he was actually saying was that, at that time anyway, most of the auditioning musicians were singing about "religion" in such a way that just wasn't believable because they didn't sound like they had any passion for what they were singing. they viewed religion in such a way that they really didn't sing with much confidence in what was coming out of their mouths since it was more of a discipline than anything else. like singing about math. at least, that's what i picked up.

    perhaps you only glazed over it because you have heard a more credible story of how cash's audition for phillips went (?). either way, as per usual, i'm taking the side of the coin that's opposite you.

    By Blogger johnny m, at 09:09  

  • I am not saying this from more reliable sources, only that the scene was clearly framed to make that point. I thought this was the worst sort of agenda to intrude into this movie. I felt that a line like this, which is soooooo cliche and bent on good 'ol western inspiration, no matter how you frame it only took away from complexity of his life and work. Which, I might add, was better reflected in other parts of the movie.

    By Anonymous DaveD, at 22:20  

  • once again, i will emphasize that i think you misunderstood this scene. i will have to rewatch the movie to be sure, but i think you're reading something into it that just isn't there.

    By Blogger johnny m, at 19:09  

  • I'm still waiting to see this movie, but I have heard really great things about it from a number of people now .... so looking forward to it! Jill

    By Blogger agapetos, at 09:19  

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