out of Five
Running time: 89
This truly personal and heartfelt first-person documentary from Johnny Cash’s former manager’s son, who always came second after Cash in his father’s life, is incredibly eye-opening and extraordinary thanks to endearingly personal accounts and strong archival footage.
What’s it all about?
Written, directed and produced by and starring Jonathan Holiff, the son of the late Saul Holiff, (the renowned former manager of Johnny Cash during the 1960s and 1970s), My Father and the Man in Black is a Johnny Cash documentary, which focuses on Saul’s perspective. Rooting through diaries, audio tapes and archival film footage, Jonathan Holiff tries to investigate and understand the father that he never really got to know, analysing how Cash always came first in Saul’s life and how the pressure of his intense job led him to problems with drink and drugs and held him back from being the loving family man that Jonathan and his brother so wanted him to be.
As a character, Saul Holiff is incredibly fascinating and fans of Johnny Cash will already be aware of the strong presence the troubled manager had in Cash’s life both personally and professionally. Jonathan gives newcomers an in-depth and revealing account of his father’s history as a former Hollywood publicist, but also reveals some truly personal and harrowing insights into the character of Saul, which will astonish even the most hardcore know-it-alls (to relay some would be spoiling it). Stylishly shot and edited, My Father and the Man in Black also features some incredible archival footage of the late legend and as expected, a sublime soundtrack that plays a big part in the documentary’s strong pacing and tone.
My Father and the Man in Black’s reliance on heavily stylised recreations to explain certain events is all fine, but the acting is so corny and exaggerated that it’s occasionally hard to sit comfortably and neither of the two Johnny Cash lookalikes bear any resemblance to the real Man in Black, which is thoroughly frustrating.
Finally, fans of Johnny Cash wanting to learn more about the Country legend will be disappointed that My Father and the Man in Black doesn’t reveal many facts or insights that aren’t already well-known among Cash fans. Director Jonathan Holiff has stressed how My Father and the Man in Black is more of a character study of his father and his relationship with Cash, rather than an exposing account of the singer’s antics, so it’s crucial not to expect Cash exclusives or any rare footage.
Brilliantly edited, incredibly insightful and excruciatingly personal, My Father and the Man in Black is a fascinating account of one man’s flawed relationship with a father who always put Johnny Cash first. Recommended.
My Father And The Man In Black (15)