Saturday, April 29, 2006

Walking the line

Johnny Cash began singing sometime during the 1950s, may be early 40s. I don't know. He was pre-Dylan, though. After quitting the Air Force after a brief stint, Cash, in his twenties and newly married, began selling home appliances.
In the movie Walk the Line, which was recently released in Chennai, Joaquin Phoenix plays Cash.
Joaquin is a good actor. His performance in The Gladiator was meticulously conceived and executed. Even in trash like Ladder 41 (was that the name of the movie? Lauda 41, my friend called it then) he shines, and almost manages to rescue what is otherwise a rather pedestrian and predictable film.
But by playing the legendary Cash, Joaquin, I think landed the role - perhaps the first - of his lifetime. The movie is not too great, utterly failing in one thing that it really should have spared no effort to unravel. The creative genius behind such songs as 'I walk the Line' and 'Folsom Prison Blues' is hardly explored.
Another movie made a couple of years back, Ray too failed in this aspect.
Both Ray and Walk the Line follow a similar plot trajectory - the first big break and the racy, intoxicating life and career of the artists, the love of their lives, one childhood memory that haunts them, their addiction to drugs, a descent into near obscurity, and ultimately their redemption and second coming.
John loses his older brother in an accident at a carpentry shop. His sorrow and guilt at not being there to help his brother when he most needs him is doubled when his dad, weak with drink, blames John and then God. In a early pivotal scene, Cash Sr blames God for taking away "the wrong son".
John and his complicated relationship with his dad is a recurring theme throughout the movie, and in a proportion that can match any Russian novel. Years later, John is struggling with his drug addiction when Dad points out that John has nothing in his life. His wife and children have fled. His life is empty just like his big wooden house. Cruel blow it does seem, but it is also the starting point of John's redemption.
The title Walk the Line itself has a famous story behind it. Please be patient and read on.

Early in his musical career, Johnny, 23, then opening for The King (the Elvis Presley), 20, meets June Carter. In the movie, this is presented in a dramatic fashion. Reese Witherspoon plays the effervescent and bouyant June, bringing with her in the early scenes a radiant charm and, then later on, superbly subtle acting.
Joaquin is hardly Jude Law - meaning, he is hardly romantic. At least in my eyes. I suppose millions of his female fans would disagree, but to me it was Ms. Witherspoon who saved the romantic scenes of the movie.
One of the first songs the two sing together has something to do with arms and lips and about using them. :)
Johnny, by now, is into drugs as much he is into June. And on a morning when Johnny's band and June are to perform together, he gets stoned and drunk. After bombarding the entire band with whiskey bottles, she screams "You guys can't walk the line"
Thus, remarkably enough, is the born one of the most famous songs on fidelity. I reproduce the lyrics here and I think you should read them and if possible listen to the song too before continuing.

I Walk the Line
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I am too tired now. It's like the hour that God eases the Lucifer out of me and pushes me to bed. I promise to continue on Walk the Line sometime soon. Good night folks, and happy reading.

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