The life of Johnny Cash has been popularized in film and television for decades. Yet the most recent cinematic depiction of the famous musician, Walk the Line, provides a different, more hardening account of the struggles he faced when on and off the stage. This sample short essay reviews the film as well as the life of Cash in great detail.
The Man in Black on the silver screen
Walk the Line takes a look at the life of Johnny Cash through his own point of view. The movie begins in 1968 right before one of Cash’s shows is about to take place, which sends him on an inward journey of his early life and career as a musician. The film focuses mostly on his younger life and especially his romance with June Carter. There is also a focus on his prominent rise to power in the country music scene. The movie shows the hardships, trials, victories, defeats, and much more of this famous musician and it leaves the viewer feeling connected and with a deeper understanding of just how Johnny Cash may have felt before he died.
In Walk the Line, the actor Joaquin Phoenix portrays Johnny Cash. Phoenix’s depiction of Cash is very accurate. As a man who was prominent in the country music scene, Cash appears to have an outlawish demeanor and his upbringing from Arkansas shows. The film shows Cash’s strained relationship with his father after his brother’s death and the lasting effects this had on his life. It also shows what became Cash’s inspiration and introduction into the musical world in his time stationed in West Germany with the army.
Here, Cash begins writing a song, “Folsom Prison Blues” that will eventually be his ticket to getting signed with a record company. The relationship that Cash had with June Carter is also depicted very well. The two had a strained relationship filled with its own ups and downs; being rejected by her led Cash to turn to drugs, which subsequently led to the creation of the famous song “Ring of Fire.” Fortunately, as with most Hollywood productions, the two end up together at the end of the film and live happily ever after (Mangold).
Being that Johnny Cash was a white man from Arkansas, his race did not have a real effect on his writing or performing music; this is especially true considering he wrote country music. His class is what helped shape what he became more so. Coming from a poor, strained family, Johnny Cash had experienced the extreme emotions of life. It is nearly impossible to fake emotion when writing music considering it is an expression of the inner.
For Cash, he could recall past events from his upbringing when he needed to feel extreme emotion, and it showed in his playing technique. Even within the class of musicians, Cash drew inspiration for his work. Being in the environment that allowed him to become addicted to certain drugs is what laid the foundation for the song “Ring of Fire.” Carter wrote the song originally as a way to describe her feelings for Cash and her own pain at watching him descend into drug addiction (Mangold).
Johnny Cash’s musical career is one that spans multiple decades and many different periods of music. Beginning his career in the mid 1950’s, Cash entered the scene when the musical scene was dominated by some of the most famous musicians of all time such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. His own music was a mixture of blues and country. This unique combination of vocals and music helped Cash achieve his own unique style of music that was slightly different than the newly dubbed “Rock n’ Roll” craze that was sweeping the nation.
As his career and life progressed, Cash’s music took shape to fit the events that occurred to him. He adapted the Outlaw persona for his run ins with authorities; most notably for his arrest for possession of drugs that he hid in his guitar case while traveling from Mexico. He also adapted the Man in Black persona for his style of dressing for his concerts. All of these styles, personas, etc. were a way for Cash to keep his image fresh and people interested in what his music was about.
Regardless of his looks, Johnny Cash’s music always shared some common elements. Cash was well known for his deep bass vocals and the tone of his music. Much of his music has a somber, humble tone to it covering such topics as lost love and atonement. He was also famously known for starting all of his concerts by walking out onto stage and saying, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” and then following it up with playing “Folsom Prison Blues,” (Mangold).
Walk the Line took an interesting look at the life and career of one of the most famous country musicians of all time. Johnny Cash battled through much adversity throughout his life and career. From a strained family life to drug addiction to a failed marriage, Cash experienced many hardships during his life, however he also experienced extreme success as a musician and, eventually, he found true love in the form of June Carter.
The bond the two shared on screen was only a glimpse of the relationship that the real Johnny Cash and June Carter must have had. The music that Cash wrote will always be distinct and easily identified by his style, lyrics, and general sound. The movie Walk the Line did a fantastic job of giving the viewers a look into the life of this country music juggernaut.
Like this film review? We reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God as well, check it out.
Mangold , James, dir. Walk the Line. Perf. Joaquin Phoenix, and Reese Witherspoon. Twentieth Century Fox, 2005. Film. 12 Oct 2012.
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