Monday, August 04, 2008

Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The award-winning PBS documentary series P.O.V., now in its 21st season, will proudly present Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music on Tuesday August 5th. This rarely seen gem by Bob Elfstrom was filmed in 1968-69 while Johnny Cash was at one of the highest points of his career. Bob and his crew, consisting of “My camera, my sound recordist Alan Dater,” were able to capture the Man In Black drug free and in good spirits as he works, relaxes at home and reminisces with old friends. The film blends live performances and scenes of everyday life very well.

Today, Johnny’s overall life and exploits are well known, from his youth in the cotton fields of Dyess, Arkansas to his days at Sun Records, his marriage to June Carter and his reemergence as a musical outlaw legend. Elfstrom’s film covers a bit of Johnny’s past in his own words but is a portrait of the man at that one moment in time and his career when the sky was the limit and the future was as bright as June’s smile. The live At Folsom Prison album was his biggest-selling record and he was riding its wave, one that would see more hit songs and a television show that would run for 58 episodes from 1969-71. But that is in the future and the Johnny of Elfstrom’s film isn’t concerned about that; he’s living well and doing what he loves with the people he loves and that’s what matters.

Johnny seems comfortable with the camera as it follows him from place to place, the tour bus, the stage, and home. We get see him perform at a prison near Christmas time and at a Native American Indian reservation close to the Wounded Knee massacre site. He and June joke and interact with the inmates, composed mostly of young greasy-haired hoods and depression-era men, making them roar with cheer and laughter, and then they tour the Wounded Knee site with a grandson of one of its victims and a tribal elder dressed in traditional ceremonial attire as guides. The viewer is also present as Johnny receives his award for Album of the Year at the Country Music Awards for At Folsom Prison.

Yet the moments that are best are those of Johnny with the folks that he loves best and holds most dear: June, his family, and his friends. Whether its on the tour bus driving to a show and talking youth and cotton picking with rockabilly king Carl Perkins or sitting at home with June picking his guitar and talking about recently written songs and country music, he holds your attention. Johnny has that gift of making people listen when he talks and it’s through those talks that we get glimpse of his life and beliefs and how they shape his music.

Through the camera’s eye we follow Johnny back stage at shows where he talks with fans of all ages and young musicians hoping to make a go at country music. We are there as Johnny and a gum-chewing Bob Dylan record “One Too Many Mornings” as Dylan works on his Nashville Skyline album. We even get to go along as Johnny, June, and his sister Louise visit the Cash family home in Dyess and recall what it was like to live there and how Mom and Daddy (Carrie and Ray) made ends meet.

Throughout the documentary the music of Johnny Cash fills our ears and our heart as he tells the story behind some of his songs (“Big Foot”) and explains the meaning of others (“Great Speckled Bird”) or playing in the background of scenes (“Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station”). Additional songs performed and used in the film include “Ring Of Fire,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “Land Of Israel,” “Jackson” (with June), “Orange Blossom Special,” “Busted,” “Big River,” “The Long Black Veil,” and of course “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Bob Elfstrom has done a magnificent job in preserving and documenting this moment in time and the life of a legend. In subtle ways we get the story of Johnny’s life in his own words as he saw it. We can see, hear, and understand why the world and his family love him as much as they do. You don’t have to be a die-hard Johnny Cash fan to appreciate what Elfstrom has given us by truly bringing to life Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music. It’s easy to see why P.O.V. would choose this film to air on their series. Check your local listing to catch the point of view of Johnny Cash in 1969.


Written by Fumo Verde

This is a documentary about how our government, in this case George W. Bush’s judicial branch, screwed Tommy Chong. Yes, screwed. Director Josh Gilbert takes us on a fascinating tour of this bodily invasion, providing us with unbelievable details about how Bush’s court systems works and how Tommy used his legal woes to his comic advantage. You almost feel bad laughing knowing that he ends up doing time, but his comic genius cannot be suppressed, nor will his spirit be beat down. Stoner nation, this is a must see for us so we can learn the truth about what happened to one of the icons of our culture.

So what happened? In 2003 the U.S. Justice Dept. decided to add a little more to the cost for The War on Drugs with another cool 12 million by coming up with Operation Pipe Dreams. Attorney General John Ashcroft must have thought this sounded like a movie that Tommy would be perfect for, so he brought in U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan to get him to take the lead role. Like a Canadian Mountie, Buchanan always gets her stoner, which isn’t really hard to do, just follow the green haze along with the smell of skunk and the flicking of Bics and boom, there we are.

Call them water pipes if you must, but we all know a bong when we see one. There are a few states which won’t let you ship bongs into their state, such as Pennsylvania, so if you make bongs and someone calls you from there, and you ship the bongs to that person it is illegal. Chong Glass knew the laws and if you watch you will hear them telling the customer on numerous recorded phone conversations, “Sorry sir, it is a federal offense to ship to your state, so we cannot do this.” The customer, a DEA agent or maybe an agent form the Federal Bureau of Intimidation, was persistent and even offered to pick up his product. The transaction went through and the product was ready for pick up, but the Pennsylvania customer never showed. This bogged down the production line so Chong Glass was forced to ship them. This trap, along with Operation Headhunter cost the tax payers around $12 million and caught 55 glass dealers, yet only one was sentenced to prison. Can you guess who it was?

Tommy’s case never went to trial due to the threat of incarceration to Shelby and Paris Chong, his wife and son. He copped a plea but was promised there would be no jail time yet served nine months. He chided on a radio show one day, “The only weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration ever found were my bongs.”

Gilbert turns this sad and blatant use of the law into a comical but scary documentary showing us that our government, no matter who is in charge, will take you down if they want to. Archival footage of Chong with Cheech on stage and in radio interviews from back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s gives the film a backdrop adding color and body to the story. From pre-jail Tommy to post-jail and a little bit beyond, Gilbert takes us through the whole spectrum of events. All of this is pieced together with bits of Tommy doing some stand-up, and why not since he has some new material now. If a person had never heard of Cheech and Chong and saw this film, they would understand what was going on; you can’t get lost on this, even after a massive rip of a five-footer. As for the extras on this DVD, there’s a “night before” home video of the Chong family and a special something of which I really don’t want to give.

a/k/a Tommy Chong is funny and you will laugh but at the same time one must think our government, especially this administration, was way out of line here, but then again they acquaint pot smoking with terrorism. “If you smoke pot, you are aiding the terrorists” was the mantra after 9/11 but Stoner Nation isn’t as stupid as this administration. What happened to Tommy was bullshit just as are the raids on the medical distributor shops out here in California. The war on drugs is a lost cause and trying to scare us by locking up Tommy didn’t help.

If anything it has motivated Stoner Nation to get off the couch and help fight the war on weed, somewhat. This film is a voice to that cause and Tommy is one of the flag bearers. This film is a wake up call to Stoner Nation and a watch your ass call to Woody Haralson, either way if you hear strange knock at the door, lock it and yell back “Dave’s not here!”

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: Best of Ricky and Dave

Written by Hombre Divertido

Sometimes when someone does something so well, and makes it look simple, the accomplishment is not given its due.

Ozzie Nelson was a brilliant man who took a successful radio show and brought it to television where it became one of the longest-running series in the history of the medium. Ozzie produced and directed the show and also contributed to the scripts while the mode of communication was in its infancy. He was not only one of the forefathers of the family sit-com, but of reality television as well.

Yes this was a television show, but one that chronicled the lives of the Nelson family as well. Ozzie bought his entire family to television, allowed them to play themselves, in stories based on actual family events, told on a set that was fashioned after their own home. The family chemistry was real, the stories were simple, and are as enjoyable to watch today as they were when they ran on ABC from 1952 to 1966.

Shout Factory has released a four-disk set which includes twenty-four episodes of the groundbreaking series. Entitled Best of Ricky and Dave, these episodes focus on the two sons of Ozzie and Harriet, who grew up over the fourteen-year run of the show for all America to see. The stories posses a charisma, the laughs are solid, and the production value was far ahead of its time. The fact that these shows still stand-up today are a testament to the brilliance of the senior Nelson.

It continues to be amazing as to how Ozzie was able to allow the show to develop as his family did. When the boys married the real life wives were added to the cast, and proved to be talented actresses. Along with the performances of the talented cast, there are plenty of guest stars to look for including Tuesday Weld, Stanley and Barry Livingston in pre-My Three Sons performances, and Richard Correll who would later to go on to appear on Leave it to Beaver, to name a few.

Why the series is not being released in the customary season-by-season format is a legitimate question, but does not take away from the quality of this set. The bonus material is both entertaining and educational. Not only are there a dozen singing performances by Ricky Nelson, but also classic episodes form the radio show. The trivia game is overly simplistic, but having a bonus radio episode as the prize for a perfect score is a novel idea.

Though more episodes with the boys from the first two seasons where Ricky displays comic timing beyond his years would have made this set more enjoyable, and the dropping of such episodes as “The Tangled Web” which only featured a brief appearance by Dave and Rick certainly would have allowed for more title-appropriate material to be included in the set, there is certainly enough quality material to make this set worth owning.

The storylines in these shows may have a familiarity to them, as they served as the basis for many similar plot lines in family comedies for years to come.

Recommendation: This is classic television as its best, and makes for good family entertainment today. This is a talented family that deserves far more recognition when the innovators of the industry are discussed. An entertaining and educational set that should be included in all classic television collections.