My Father and the Man in Black had its L.A. premiere on Friday, September 6 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, California. Since June of 2012 the new, award-winning documentary has been shown at 30 film festivals, in 15 different countries, the motion picture has won in 8 competitions. After an apropos performance by the popular Johnny Cash Tribute band –The Mighty Cash Cats—and an introduction by filmmaker Jonathan Holiff the lights dimmed and the unique documentary began.
The theatre’s previews of products such as expensive imported beer and expensive luxury cars reminded your humble scribe he wasn’t “in Kansas (or Souderton, PA) anymore.” He was once more out from under his laptop in his paid albeit humble 1800 square-foot home and in the midst of the great, the once great and the hope to be great. The audience included politicians, professional musicians and such celebrities as Shirley Jones, Brenda Vaccaro and Marty Ingels to name a few.
There is a strong, shocking opening to this work. It presents a raw edge to the image of Cash portrayed in much of the film Walk The Line. It is a factual presentation of the legendary performer Johnny Cash as seen through the eyes of his well-known, long-time manager, the late, once enigmatic Saul Holiff.
Fuelled by recently uncovered phone recordings and audio diaries made during Cash’s tumultuous career, this documentary covers the pill-popping 1960s, his controversial prison appearances at Folsom and San Quentin, his marriage to June Carter and (finally) his conversion to a born-again Christian in the 1970s. Holiff witnessed Cash at his best and his worst and walked away from it all in 1973.
This is a collection of eyewitness contemporaneous accounts—minus the talking heads—of what truly occurred within the Cash-Holiff partnership. It clearly demonstrates that this was a relationship between two proud individuals who were both dealing with personal issues such as addiction and substance abuse.
With such a blunt, honest presentation, the lack of studio sugar-coating had your inquisitive author asking Holiff if he had any reaction from any of the surviving Cash family. Holiff responded: “The only way this movie could be made was by not asking permission. He referred to “Fair Use” laws and then “to more directly answer the question” said that the “back channel reaction’ from some of the family members who had previewed the project reacted positively. They haven’t sued me yet” he concluded.
The honest, sugar-free documentary offers a privileged, personal perspective to the lives of both Cash and his once manager Saul Holiff. Unfortunately, the third party, “non-actor” narration by once estranged son and filmmaker Jonathan Holiff that sometimes brings on both criticism and authenticity to the film. Sadly, the controversial choice to include occasional reenactments to the factual presentation could very well hurt the success of the documentary.
Holiff said that “the documentary world has shunned the film” largely because of the reenactments, recreations and lack of “talking heads”. He seemed pleased by the post-presentation audience reactions adding: “We’re not going to make any money off this film so I live for the compliments.” Your rockin’ reviewer could not help but agree with Holiff’s choices (despite the press’ mixed reaction to his narrative).
Why include interviews with aged artists who may or may not recall things correctly when Holiff had a storage area full of first person documentation? What makes the project unique is the personal aspects and the naked truth within the film despite or perhaps because of the lack of Hollywood types and so-called experts who weren’t even really truly involved. My Father and the Man in Black is a cathartic cautionary tale of an oft'times distant father whose suicide eventually creates a strange reconciliation in an unusual manner.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.