King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin

"Very Good"

King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin Review


Editor's Note: Jimmy Martin died of cancer on May 14, 2005. He was 77.

Jimmy Martin isn't dead yet, but his tombstone - a large one - is already in place in eastern Tennessee. It's inscribed with a lengthy and somewhat boastful list of accomplishments in the world of bluegrass music, where he's nearly as famous as the Stanley Brothers or Bill Monroe, who gave Martin his first break in the late 1940s. But the appeal of King of Bluegrass, George Goehl's documentary on Martin, ought to extend well beyond the realm of hardcore bluegrass fans. Any man who's so eager to get the last word in about his life that he's built a tombstone with his life story on it is going to have his quirks, and Martin has more than a few.

Goehl has captured Martin in his mid-'70s, though Martin's energy level is much higher than his age would suggest. A deeply intelligent and skilled musician, he's captured browbeating his backup musicians, some of them looking half his age. His intensity garnered him a handful of country hits in the early '60s and a lead role on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1971 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, but his life has been more down than up. As the movie goes forward, the stories of divorce and heartbreak and how much they affected him slowly grows. His long-time girlfriend points out that he spent the late '60s and most of the '70s and '80s in depression and decline. Which means that King isn't capturing an old musician in decline; it's covering him as he scrambles to climb his way back up.

Plenty of musicians weigh in on Martin's pivotal role in country music, including Ralph Stanley, Tom T. Hall, and Marty Stuart. But for his own part, Martin seems split between enjoying his esteem and new lease on life - we see him having a good ol' time going raccoon hunting - or bemoaning his fate, cynically chortling at the paltry royalty checks that come his way. He seems to live with a perpetual heartsickness that comes with almost - but not quite - hitting the big time. Nearly every other sentence he utters expresses contempt towards the Grand Ole Opry for not hiring him as a regular performer in the '50s and '60s. Stubbornly, but compellingly, Martin refuses to let go of past injustices.

Goehl was clearly working on the cheap, capturing the acerbic Martin whenever he could, be it in his home or at bluegrass festivals in places like Bean Blossom, Indiana. A broader swath of interviews certainly would have given a clearer picture of Martin's personality - and some word one way or another from an Opry historian would help put Martin's bellyaching about it into some sort of context. But getting the story from Martin alone does tell us something, in the way it reveals what drives his personality; a man who's driven by a decades-old perceived slight isn't necessarily a likeable person, but he's an appealing documentary subject. Goehl's film is solid proof that your favorite musician needn't be - and perhaps shouldn't be - your favorite person.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Advertisement
Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.