(Seen at the Nashville Film Festival)
Directed by documentarian Bestor Cram and written by Johnny Cash biographer Michael Streissguth, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is a fascinating look at Cash’s famous live recording behind the titular bars.
With the lack of actual footage of the event, Cram pulled together a collection of photographs taken at the concert by Jim Marshall, interviews with people involved and affected, and rare footage taken inside Folsom. Where the film could have easily been devoted to one story, I appreciate the narrative balance presented here. Instead of dealing with the ups and downs of Johnny Cash’s life like so many other films, Cram instead focuses on Cash’s life surrounding the Folsom Prison performance and two inmates whose lives were affected by his performance.
While I didn’t particularly care for Millard Dedmon’s story, he seemed to serve as an amalgamation of the Folsom inmates. Glen Sherley, on the other hand, is the driving force of the film. While at Folsom, Sherley wrote a song called “Greystone Chapel”. The night before the performance, his recording ended up in the hands of Johnny Cash, who performed the song the following day. Cash and Sherley became good friends, with Cash helping Sherley out years after he was released from Folsom. It’s a fascinating story that will stick with you; that’s the power of good cinema.
The first documentary to focus exclusively on such an important event, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison succeeds at telling such a captivating story in just 87 minutes. Watch this film if you have the opportunity.