It's fascinating to look at the life of Johnny Cash from a new angle, even if this documentary feels somewhat self-indulgent and a bit amateurish. But it has a strong father-son kick to it, as filmmaker Jonathan Holiff looks into the story of his dad Saul, and in the process documents an iconic musician's life from an intriguing perspective.
Jonathan barely knew his father, so after Saul died he takes the chance to go through his files. And he discovers not only some startling details about himself but also the remarkable story of his dad's relationship with Johnny Cash, whom he managed for much of his career. It turns out that it was Saul who encouraged Cash to team up with June Carter. And that Saul took the very young Jonathan on the road when Cash went on tour. But Jonathan's most important discovery is a series of audiotape diaries, in which his father talks about him in ways he never did face-to-face.
Yes, in many ways Cash is almost an accidental part of this story. The film traces his life and career through Saul's eyes, including his descent into drugs and his later adoption of fervent Christianity. But Holiff's real focus here is on his own discovery of the father he never really knew. And this is the point of view through which we see the archive footage, which includes rare scenes of Cash and Carter performing, backstage home movies and private photos.
All of this material is wonderful to see, and it makes up for Holiff's rather awkward narration, in which he tries far too hard to impress upon us how "important" all of this is. But frankly, this quest for his dad is only interesting to him. We are much more intrigued by Saul's life with Cash, which is depicted through a clever use of re-enactions to bring old photos to life and explore foggy memories. The film's also worth seeing as a telling look at the music industry of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when Cash helped country cross over into the mainstream.
Run time: 87 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th September 2013
Distributed by: New Chapter Productions, Inc.
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Jonathan Holiff
Producer: Jonathan Holiff, Tanya Lyn Nazarec, Jennifer Phillips
Screenwriter: Jonathan Holiff
Starring: Johnny Cash as Himself (archive footage), Saul Holiff as Himself (archive footage), June Carter Cash as Herself (archive footage), David Disher as Johnny Cash at 30, Gary Holiff as Saul Holiff at 30, Jonathan Holiff as Himself, Bill Haley as Himself (archive footage)
Also starring: June Carter