Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
My Father and the Man in Black: Johnny Cash and His Manager
ought to start making Manager’s Day cards.
The dealings between big name entertainers and their managers are often complex. Saul Holiff was a difficult father, but he
managed Johnny Cash’s career with fierce dedication, until the day he tendered
his resignation. Discovering his
father’s archive, Jonathan Holiff would gain tremendous insight into his
father’s relationships with his legendary client as well as himself. Holiff draws upon that trove of primary
sources for his documentary, My Father
and the Man in Black (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
a father, Saul Holiff was often dismissive and demeaning. As a result, his son’s response to his
suicide was rather confused. Sometime
later, his father’s storage locker came to light. There the younger Holiff would hear his
father tell his story, in his own words, left for posterity on his reel-to-reel
diary. A born salesman, Saul Holiff fell
into promoting concerts in his native Canada.
That was how he met the young and relatively unknown Johnny Cash.
was there, trying his best to cover Cash’s back during the worst of his years
of drug-fueled chaos. He was also the
one who brought Cash together with June Carter when Holiff recruited a female
vocalist for a package tour. However,
Cash’s embrace of Evangelical Christianity in the 1970’s clearly chafed Holiff
on some level. Still, he did his duty,
even appearing as Pontius Pilate in Cash’s Gospel
Road, sort of a precursor to Gibson’s The
Passion of the Christ. (This could
be a moving experience for those who watch it start to finish, but the clips
Holiff includes suggest it ought to be playing at midnight screenings for
Holiff the filmmaking son obviously did not set out to burnish Cash’s image,
his intimate examination of the Cash-Holiff dynamic might still interest the
singer’s fans. To an extent, the doc functions
as the revisionist alternative to Walk
the Line, but in terms of filmmaking, it is a wildly mixed bag, featuring
dubious dramatic re-enactments and far too much of Holiff fils.
despite the stylistic and editorial missteps, there is an awful lot to engage
with throughout My Father. Holiff addresses big picture themes, like
paternal legacy, the significance of Judaism for secular Jews such as his
father, and the nature of show business, with considerable time and insight.
Eventually, Holiff the filmmaker comes to
general terms with Holiff the father. While
it is not exactly a rosebud moment, it ends the film in a forgiving
spirit. In fact, the film’s messy
humanistic vibe is unexpectedly potent.
As a film more for documentary watchers than music fans, it might have
trouble finding a natural audience, but it has a bit of staying power. Recommended more for those concerned with its
issues of family and identity than backstage revelations, My Father and the Man in Black opens this Friday (9/6) in New York
at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Documentary, Johnny Cash