The Distancer: Monday, August 3, 2020

DAY 144: Walk the Line

Welp, another Monday in the books 🙃

Another week in quarantine?

I’ll start off with something a little sweet because we probably all need it: CNN rounded up some medical studies showing the benefits of dark chocolate for your brain and heart! So, you know, treat yourself.

For something a little more bitter, yet very necessary, I’d recommend taking the time to read through this deeply reported and searingly human piece from The Washington Post about people whose lives are being upended by the broken unemployment system. We cannot look away.

If you feel compelled to help, an organization mentioned as providing assistance to some of the most vulnerable in the article is the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. They’re assisting D.C. residents as they attempt to navigate the byzantine unemployment system.

Help Legal Aid Society of D.C.

Now, what you came for…

DAY 144: Walk the Line (available on HBO Max)

It seems to me that the lasting impact of Walk the Line is probably the fact that it’s the direct inspiration for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a razor-sharp parody of musician biopics. For a long time, my love of the former kept me from watching the latter. When I finally did give in, I didn’t feel my appreciation for Walk the Line diminish a bit. Sure, it’s very much the standard-bearer for a certain type of dutiful cradle-to-grave biography. But I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most polished, rousing and toe-tapping one of the bunch.

The story of Johnny Cash’s rise from the farmlands of Arkansas to chart-topping country artist might strike a familiar chord, but there’s not a sour note in the film. That’s largely because director James Mangold is less focused on running through the Wikipedia page or the greatest hits album and gives himself the time and space to create a powerful character drama and romance. It certainly helps that Walk the Line boasts electric, charismatic performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Cash and June Carter, who would later become June Carter Cash. (At the time, it was their career-best work … and I still think it ranks high in each actor’s pantheon.)

Though Phoenix and Witherspoon did not sing live on set, they did all their own recordings for the film — and it really does make a difference. The music in Walk the Line becomes all the more connected to the characters each builds, not mere mimicry of the people they are portraying. In the songs, we can feel their frustration, confusion and passion. They are not performing to track so much as they are granting us access to something they cannot express through mere words. I’m impressed by the commitment and the level of technique employed in the film, but I’m always more moved by the overall effect of everything harmonizing together.

(Oh, and if you’re the type who also adores this movie like I do, you may be pleased to learn that HBO has an extended version available as an “extra” for Walk the Line! I found that the extra 15 minutes or so did not add all that much, and the theatrical cut’s tightness is ultimately the better version of the film. But if you want more, there’s more!)

Be good to yourselves and to each other,

See past recommendations