Walk The Line
When I was a kid in California it wasn't the cutting edge place it seems to have since become. It was, even where I lived in Manhattan Beach, a pretty sleepy place. And almost everyone we knew was from somewhere else (well, that hasn't changed), mostly from the south or the dust bowl. Many of them were dirt poor. A lot of them had picked all the cotton they ever wanted to (my dad among them). They came to California usually before WWII and afterwards they stuck around.
So I grew up on country western music. When we watched tv when I was a kid we watched country music shows like Cliffie Stone and Spade Cooley and, above all, Town Hall Party. I used to go to my grandparents' house every other weekend and spend Saturday nights there (to give my parents a break, I suppose -- or to give me a break, which is the way I saw it) and every time I was there, we watched Town Hall Party.
If you never got to see it, you missed out on watching a whole generation of country music and early 'rock and roll' stars grow up: Marty Robbins, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline. And Johnny Cash was right there among them.
Some of the shows, in grainy black-and-white made from a film of a television showing the live broadcast, are now available on DVD. I have three of them. And I get goose bumps when I watch them because I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the 'real' Johnny Cash before he became an icon. And I wasn't sure I wanted to see anyone try to portray that man and those years.
But this past weekend I did -- and I was blown away. I couldn't believe how authentic it felt. Couldn't believe that Joaquin Phoenix could hit those low notes. Couldn't imagine he could walk the walk and get the body language so right at times that I had to blink to be sure I was watching a movie instead of seeing the man as I remembered him.
The film did such a good job of recalling those days and those people that I came away with this huge grin on my face. And the next night I watched the commentary. It was wonderful, too. Obviously Walk The Line was a labor of love for director James Mangold. It showed.
As a writer I appreciated a lot of the balance he put in -- the echoes that appeared later which recalled early dialogue and early scenes. I appreciated what he (and his actors) could do with a glance, with a reaction, with an aversion of their eyes.
I am sure Philip Seymour Hoffman did a brilliant job in Capote, but I can't believe Joaquin Phoenix didn't win the Oscar for his portrayal of Johnny Cash. He had to cover such a range of emotions -- such highs and such lows, such angst and such promise, such joy and such bewilderment. Maybe Hoffman did, too. I didn't see the film. But he didn't have to sing.
For that alone Joaquin Phoenix should have got the award.