Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
Following Kurt Weill and David Bowie, this was the final peg in a music-themed trilogy. Where Bowie and Weill merged a European sensibility with American idioms, Johnny Cash was distinctly homegrown: his outlaw-prophet persona invoked the very essence of the heartland. He sang about Jesus, he sang about injustice and hard times, he sang about shooting a man in Reno "just to watch him die." His late-career revival, beginning with American Recordings (1994)—and in particular the MTV-rotated video for "Delia's Gone"—marked him as a figure unwilling to frame his legacy on a catalog of beloved classics.
The idea of a retrospective that began with scratchy black-and-white kinescopes and culminated with music clips directed by the likes of Anton Corbijin and Mark Romanek held a strong appeal. With a go-ahead from Cash's manager, I began acquiring every piece of film and video I could find, including several rarely seen programs from the Country Music Hall of Fame and, courtesy of Sony, the entire run of The Johnny Cash Show. The exhibition was scheduled nearly a year in advance; through an unfortunate coincidence, it opened only a few days after Cash's passing.
One program I was determined to include was Johnny Cash: The Man His World His Music, a vérité documentary profile produced for PBS in the 1960s. The program itself, as aired, no longer existed, but in working with a rough cut and other elements provided by the director, Bob Elfstrom, I restored the film as it would have been seen in 1969. It was subsequently broadcast on POV in 2008 and released on DVD, gaining a new generation of admirers.
The series is a must-see, a riveting journey that follows the singer through his days of grinning teen-idol appeal to his eventual stature as a titanic American icon. ... By the time the series climaxes with Mark Romanek's bravely unflinching video for "Hurt," you feel that you have walked to the end of the line with a consummate artist, a man who lived an extraordinary life and made some of the most unforgettable music of our time. ✦ Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone