Run Time: 110 minutes (although the box says 88)
Director: Will Zens
Cast: Marty Robbins, Doodles Weaver, Connie Smith, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings
By this point in time, concert documentaries are pretty standard and accepted. For the most part, they only appeal to fans of the artists in question, but every once in awhile, a concert movie will play in theaters nation wide (anyone remember Dave Chappelle's Block Party?). Road to Nashville was clearly made before this became a trend. Following a very loose narrative, it tells the story of goofy Colonel Feitelbaum (Doodles Weaver), who is an employee of a Hollywood movie studio. His boss tells him to go to Nashville to make a movie about country stars, particularly Marty Robbins. Feitelbaum (who is a cross between Mr. Bean and George W. Bush) gets right on task and heads down to Nashville. This is where the fun and music begins. The film features 38 songs, some by artists who were most likely flash in the pan, and others by artists who are legends, such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, and Connie Smith. There are a few surprises along the way, and a few hijinks from Doodles, but mostly this is a straight up concert video. Many of the performances are very samey, featuring a lot of medium close ups of the main singer, with the back-up singers coming into frame when they do their part. While this isn't to say that the performances aren't good, in my opinion the fashion takes center stage in this movie. It really shows you how country music has changed. While today's country stars tend to be more understated, and don't differ much in appearance from bubble gum pop stars, here it is all about loud, shiny, big, and patterned. In a genre that these days is associated with old-fashioned masculinity, it is startling to see men in matching lightning bolt and star patterned suits, with neatly manicured hair. The women (with the exception of Norma Jean) have bouffants and beehives that rest well above the tops of their heads. Some of these styles are ill advised, but for the most part they leave me wondering if there's any possibility of pulling them off today.
There are some really wonderful music moments. A group I'd never heard of before watching the film, called the Stoneman family, play a set early in the show that is really ahead of its time. Donna Stoneman, and her magical ukelele own this sequence. The speed and gusto with which she plays in this instrumental number is pretty otherworldly, and very reminiscent of a lot of today's folk music. A later performance by the same group is more of a crossbreeding between country and the pop music of that time. The stage presence of the group is very weird here. Donna Stoneman looks as happy as she can be, while the other female band member (playing banjo) looks like she wants to kill someone. The father figure in the middle is pretty cheerful, but has a sort of nervous energy to him. It seems like at any minute the whole thing is going to explode.
The Johnny Cash/Carter Family combination is certainly a powerhouse. I'm slightly biased, because I bought the movie to see Johnny Cash in the first place, but its still pretty notable. The Carter family rendition of "Walk the Line" is pretty well, done, and has more of an air of romanticism than the original one. The highlight of the sequence is when Mr. Cash performs a song (which I don't know the name of) about a band that fails because of the different political affiliations of its members. The song seems rather tongue in cheek because of Mr. Cash's generally radical persona.
It seems like Rhino (the distribution company) is really trying to sell this to Johnny Cash fans. The cover of the box features a large drawing of a 1980s feather haired Johnny Cash, and then smaller drawings of Marty Robbins and Connie Smith, that both look strikingly 80s.
In addition to Mr. Cash, there are many other notable performances, such as that of Lefty Frizzell and of Connie Smith. Also, seeing Waylon Jennings looking all tailored and smooth faced is pretty remarkable.
The loose narrative isn't necessary, but it still entertains. The fact that they felt the need to attach a narrative to this is pretty hilarious, although Doodles Weaver is an entertaining and refreshing screen presence. In fact, it is good to have him around to add some comic relief to a medly of country songs, many of which are about heart break.
I recommend this movie to lovers of music, and lovers of 1960s fashion and style. If you are a fan of movies like Robert Altman's Nashville, this will give you more insight into the insular world portrayed in that film.
There is not too much in terms of images or information about this movie available online. However, here is some vintage Johnny Cash to satisfy your hunger.