Monthly Archives: March 2016

Film Review: I Saw The Light

Film Review: I Saw The Light

No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and try to find one’s way to the heart of the man…

Opening to Richard Attenbourgh’s Gandhi (1982)

These words echo through my mind as I think back on Marc Abraham’s new biopic of Hank Williams, I Saw The Light. Williams is not Gandhi, to be sure, but the standard remains the same. Let me be clear, Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen do terrific work here. Unfortunately, director’s choices for telling Williams’ story make it difficult to engage with Hiddleston’s character.I Saw The Light Hank & Audrey In Love

Abraham wrote the script, an adaptation of Colin Escott’s well-regarded Hank Williams: The Biography. He uses a linear narrative, in contrast to recent entertainment biopics like Love and Mercy. I Saw The Light covers the period between his marriage to Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) in December 1944 and Williams’ death on New Year’s Day 1953 (at age 29).

This approach makes it easy to follow the events of Williams’ last few years, but also imposes limitations on the film. The audience first sees Williams (Tom Hiddleston) as a young man who is already making a steady if not stellar living as a musician. There are not many clues as to how he got started.I Saw The Light Hank W:Group

I’m baffled by the failure to reference Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne, who taught guitar to the teen-aged Williams in exchange for money or food. The adult Williams called Payne “my only teacher”.

Williams went out of his way to give Payne credit, at a time when it was not popular to acknowledge the influence of a black musician. Returning to Payne’s hometown as a famous man, Williams tried to look him up and learned he had died some years before.

Details like these might have enabled us to connect the Hank Williams portrayed by Tom Hiddleston to the Hank Williams who wrote songs like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and the title tune. As it is, Abraham gives us more melodrama than inspiration.I Saw The Light 2nd Mrs. Williams

Multiple marriages, womanizing, substance abuse, career swings-we have seen all this in entertainment biopics before. What we need is something to set this version of them apart.

One aspect of Williams’ life offers potential in that department. He was born with spinal bifida occulta, a spinal column disorder that causes severe back pain. At least part of his substance abuse problems stemmed from his attempts to manage chronic pain.

You have to wonder if Williams’ experiences with pain contributed to his writing lyrics like the ones in Dear Brother:

She left this world with a smile on her face

Whispering the Saviour’s name

Dear Brother, Mama left us this morning

For the city where there is no pain

Scenes of Williams composing (which are rare in this film) might have gone a long way toward distinguishing I Saw The Light from other show biz biopics. So would more footage of Hiddleston performing. He is magnetic, and those songs speak for themselves.I Saw The Light Hank & Audrey Singing

Hiddleston and Olsen also project genuine chemistry in their scenes together. Since she enters his life as an adult, Olsen’s character doesn’t suffer as much from the lack of backstory as Hiddleston’s does.

Audrey is a deliciously complicated woman, stronger on will than singing talent, and determined to wrest control of Hank’s career from his equally tough mother Lillie (Cherry Jones). Hank is attracted to her intensity but also feels oppressed by it at times. It would have been nice to see this relationship fleshed out beyond the clichés.I Saw The Light Hank & Audrey Less Happy

Even so, there is enough in the two lead performances to make I Saw The Light worth seeing. I would recommend reading Escott’s book besides- or listening to some of Williams’ recordings.

Somehow, I suspect Hank would prefer the latter.

Theme: Living With Pain

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: Bird  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-bird/

Living With Pain: List For Week Ending March 27, 2016  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/living-with-pain-list-for-week-ending-march-27-2016/

 

Film Appreciation: Bird

Film Appreciation: Bird

Charlie Parker led a large life, and he had a huge impact on jazz music. Bird, Clint Eastwood’s 1988 film about his life, is exactly the kind of film you would expect to be made about Parker. It’s almost three hours long, with ample performance time by Parker, literally (see below). Much of the dramaContinue Reading

Film Review: Marguerite

Film Review: Marguerite

Even Tougher On The Heart Than The Ears Near the beginning of Xavier Giannoli’s film Marguerite, the title character hosts a benefit for children orphaned by World War I. Giannoli introduces most of the atmosphere via the viewpoint of Hazel (Christa Theret), a young music student hired to sing a duet. It’s France at theContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: The Entertainer

Film Appreciation: The Entertainer

The Entertainer is not the easiest film to see today. None of the online streaming services (Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Vimeo) carry it. It is not easy to get on Netflix. TCM airs it from time to time, and that is probably the best bet on seeing it. I recommend making the effort to catchContinue Reading

Film Review: Eye In The Sky

Film Review: Eye In The Sky

Eye In The Sky is a film that raises touchy questions about war and how it is being waged in today’s world. Traditionally, bombers knew only that they dropped bombs and carnage resulted. Our technology did not enable us to link the actions of an individual bomber to specific deaths or acts of destruction. AsContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Fail Safe

Film Appreciation: Fail Safe

Contains Spoilers of Fail Safe Plot I honestly think the essence of Sidney Lumet’s film Fail Safe comes during an early exchange between General Bogan, Congressman Raskob, and Mr. Knapp, who works for an electronics company. The two are being given a tour of Strategic Air Command. Knapp: It’s in the nature of technology, machinesContinue Reading

High-Stakes Snafu: List For Week Ending March 13, 2016

High-Stakes Snafu: List For Week Ending March 13, 2016

The films this week all feature minor mistakes with major consequences. In Fail Safe, a technical malfunction sets off a nuclear holocaust. A couple of teenagers playing computer games are surprised to find how seriously the machine takes things in War Games. And then there’s Doctor Strangelove…. This is not intended as an all-inclusive list.Continue Reading

Film Review: Remember

Film Review: Remember

The title of Atom Egoyan’s new film, Remember, has a double meaning. It is another way of phrasing the Holocaust survivor’s vow, “Never forget”. The film also uses it as an exhortation to ninety-year-old Zev (Christopher Plummer), whose memories of concentration camp atrocities-and nearly everything else-have become unreliable. I have major concerns about the narrative,Continue Reading