Loading...

My Father and the Man in Black: A Fascinating Documentary From the Son of Johnny Cash's Manager 

Thursday, Sep 5 2013
Comments
9109614.t.jpg

It's a weird miracle that Johnny Cash and his primitive twosome banged out music that still feels so full and vital today. And it's a weird miracle that My Father and the Man in Black is itself full and vital, despite throwing off all sorts of vanity-project warning signs: It's directed by a first-timer with a personal stake in the story. It tells much of that story through green-screen re-enactments in which actors play the father of that director and no one less a personage than Cash himself, that hopped-up oak of a man. It even opens with a reel-to-reel playing back a conversation between the director, age 7, and his father.

But, as Cash might say, it has the heart, and it has the blood, and by the time childhood chatter is played back again, feeling is soaked through it like the sweat in Cash's guitar strap.

Here's the deal: Writer-director Jonathan Holiff is the not-quite-estranged son of Saul Holiff, Cash's manager during what could be called the interesting years: the pill-fueled '60s, the triumphs at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, the wedding to June Carter, and the conversion, in the early '70s, to the fundamentalism that wrecked Cash's career even as it saved him.

click to enlarge Saul Holiff (right) with his client, the Man in Black.
  • Saul Holiff (right) with his client, the Man in Black.

Related Stories

After Holiff the elder's suicide in 2005, Holiff the younger discovered a storage locker crammed with Cash arcana, including the gold record for "A Boy Named Sue," revelatory recordings of 40-plus-year-old phone conversations between Cash and Saul, and Saul's own audio diaries.

We get the highs and lows straight from Saul, with some visual aid from those re-enactments, which — shot by Rene Ohashi — turn out to be brisk and exciting.

First comes the thrill of turning Cash into a bigger and better act in the early '60s: It's Saul who pairs June and Johnny and urges his star to rise out of civic centers and risk Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Then comes the dark period fetishized in Walk the Line, all no-shows and arrests and poor Saul hustling to make good to outraged promoters.

Once Cash kicks his addictions, and he and June catch that old-time religion, the happy ending never quite arrives. Cash goes all in for Jesus, losing his TV show and becoming alienated from fans of his best-selling prison records — and Saul, a Canadian Jew who is unwilling to say to his client, "I accept the divinity of Jesus Christ." One long phone call concerning Cash's ill-fated Jesus movie is almost painful.

The great man, you'll hear, could also be pushy and insecure, and he wasn't entirely free of the suspicions common to other white folks born in Arkansas in 1932. That's story enough for a movie — and much more than Walk the Line bothered to deliver — but My Father and the Man in Black is as much about family as it is about showbiz craziness. The story of Saul and Cash is thrilling, and the story of Saul and the son he never really knew richens it at every turn.

MY FATHER AND THE MAN IN BLACK | Written and directed by Jonathan Holiff | Ballpark Film Distributors | Music Hall

Reach the writer at ascherstuhl@villagevoice.com

Related Content

My Father and the Man in Black
Rated NR · 90 minutes · 2013
Official Site: www.facebook.com/MyFather.and.TheManInBlack
Director: Jonathan Holiff
Writer: Jonathan Holiff
Producer: Jonathan Holiff
Cast: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, Jonathan Holiff, Joshua Robinson, Dan Champagne, Norman Singer, Robert Skanes, Trevor Juras, Stephanie Crosby and Dawn Sadler

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for My Father and the Man in Black

Now Showing

  1. Wed 23
  2. Thu 24
  3. Fri 25
  4. Sat 26
  5. Sun 27
  6. Mon 28
  7. Tue 29

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.
  • Are Westerns For The Weak? Not According to "Sensei" Martin Kove
    Decades ago, the western film was king, with nearly 100 produced every year at their peak in the 1940s, and their popularity extending years beyond. But today, other than rare successes like Django Unchained or True Grit, the genre is not in great shape. Films such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Lone Ranger failed to spark new interests in the western. It's a tough nut to crack, but veteran movie bad guy Martin Kove -- most well known for his role as Sensei John Kreese in The Karate Kid -- is passionate about the classic American film genre and is trying to revive it. We spent an afternoon at his home talking about westerns and how to make the genre interesting again. All photos by Jared Cowan.

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending