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The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash (2019)The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash (2019)

When Johnny Cash's voice started to break as an adolescent boy and his bass voice began to emerge, his mother said that God had his hand on the youngster, and that he should never forget the gift of his voice. His dad said he was wasting his time with his music. "Singing," Cash would later say, "writing for my voice, that was the gift." Indeed it was, as this 90-minute "YouTube Original" documentary shows. One of the great things about this movie is that it was made with the full co-operation of Cash's estate, and includes commentary by two of his children. I especially enjoyed listening to the old, scratchy tape recordings in which Cash narrated his life story. The documentary includes recently discovered archival material, a lot of Cash's music, and the insights of critics and fellow musicians (Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne). The narrative thread that runs throughout the movie, which is returned to again and again, is Cash's 1968 concert and album at Folsom Prison. In the words of Cash's son, it's "a distillation of my dad's life." The record company thought the prison concert was a bad idea, but the record was the top-selling album of the year. Cash's "rustic, raw, and primitive art" was from start to finish a message of sin and salvation, Saturday night followed by Sunday morning. To its credit, the movie never flinches from affirming this central truth in Cash's complicated life and art. NOTE: you can watch this movie for free on YouTube.

Dan Clendenin:

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