Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

12 September

 

 

Johnny Cash dies, 2003

 

On this day in 2003, Johnny Cash died, aged 71. A star from the mid-50s, after discharge from the army, until his death, the baritone Cash was known as a country singer though unlike many a country act he was a Christian who aligned himself with the sinners rather than the saints. Dressing in black rather than the more ostenatious garb favoured by country compadres, he was also unusual for the way he publically acknowledged the breadth of his taste – he made an album with Bob Dylan in the 1960s, his two-season TV show in the late 60s featured the likes of Joe Tex (soul), Neil Diamond (pop), Louis Armstrong (jazz), Joni Mitchell (folk) and the Staples Singers (gospel) alongside the more expected country names such as Tammi Wynette and Merle Haggard. Later he’d team up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, sing with U2, cover Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus. His last hit before he died was a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, the accompanying video a painfully honest acknowledgement of impending death. After the late-career renaissance masterminded by producer Rick Rubin, it made him popular all over again by concentrating on his real asset – his voice.

 

Walk the Line (2005, dir: James Mangold)

Biopics often flop about like a landed fish, gasping for a throughline. Not Walk the Line – it decides early on that it’s going to tell the story of Johnny Cash through the narrative of his romance with June Carter, and sticks to that decision, tucking all the biographical business – and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis – round the edges. It has three other real pluses – Reese Witherspoon as the hyper-optimistic June Carter, Joaquin Phoenix as the man in black, and the input of T Bone Burnett as honcho in charge of music. In many ways similar to the previous year’s Ray, the biopic of Ray Charles, it paints its hero as a troubled individual with a dead brother choking up his conscience and a tendency to reach for drugs to celebrate the good times and to dull the bad. Jamie Foxx is probably a more convincing Ray Charles than Joaquin Phoenix is a Johnny Cash – Phoenix doesn’t have the baritone. What he does have is Cash’s mannerisms, his stance, the same cast of shoulder and his way of swinging the guitar behind his back. And let’s not forget that Phoenix is playing the complex Johnny Cash, a sinner in his own mind, a reprobate in some ways, but from some angles a man of a heroic cast who did what he did and wasn’t swayed by others. He walked the line.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Reese Witherspoon coasting to an Oscar
  • A soundtrack full of little known country, gospel and blues gems
  • Is it Joaquin singing or is it Johnny?

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Walk the Line – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Girl, Interrupted

Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted

 

 

Girl, Interrupted tells the real-life story of Susanna Kaysen, who wrote the original memoir about her enforced stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. She was banged up after a pills overdose for what was termed a “borderline personality disorder” but the suspicion remains that she was being incarcerated at least partly because she was young, rebellious and pissing off her parents.

Director James Mangold’s film version turns the whole experience slightly into One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest redone as a 1960s Mean Girls drama. Instead of shock therapy there’s the withdrawal of TV privileges, straitjackets have largely been replaced by attentive, pleasant carers. And as for debilitating doses of recreational drugs smuggled in by visitors, there are none. Instead this hospital’s internal black market deals almost entirely in laxatives. Girls, huh.

Winona Ryder plays Kaysen as a teenager incarcerated for wanting to do her own thing. So not actually wacko at all. That role goes to Angelina Jolie, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a girl dealing with psychiatric demons (the Academy does love a sociopath). If it sounds awfully fragrant and a touch like a boarding school melodrama, Girl, Interrupted does have its compelling elements too. Instead of going for Jack Nicholson-style shouting and eye-rolling, it focuses on the intimate and, with calmly assured direction, Mangold teases out small but intensely personal dramas, played out by a cast of names (Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeffrey Tambor) and up-and-comers (Jared Leto, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss). But it’s hard to ignore the charge that it is all a bit too girly. There’s even a midnight feast, for God’s sake. As for the book’s author, she hated it. Girls in their mid-teens might think otherwise.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 Girl Interrupted – at Amazon