So today, I got the chance to start reading a book again, during a very rare chance of getting a quiet bath (as opposed to a 2 and a half minute shower where children are yelling in the next room). I started reading Cash: the Autobiography. Now, we liked Johnny Cash before he was cool again, but we didn’t really know much about his life until that movie Walk the Line which comes from this book even though he had previously already written an autobiography (which I have not read).
Now, I’ve completed the first section in the book which is the first four chapters. Included in that section, is the death of Johnny’s older brother Jack, an event that affected him until he died in 2003. Surprise, surprise, the movie portrayed it differently… and unfairly, I believe, to Cash’s father.
In the movie, his father is shown from the start as almost explosive and maybe even hints at abusive. In the book so far, Johnny talks about his father as a hard working man providing for his large family during the Depression, he’s not alluded to a hint of an overly rough man. Now, if that comes up later, I don’t know about it yet. In the movie, Johnny and Jack head down the road, both with fishing poles, while Jack imitates Bugs Bunny. Johnny is then waiting while Jack saws up some wood with a large table saw. The wood gets stuck, the saw starts jumping around and Johnny runs over and turns off the saw, saving Jack’s fingers and maybe his life. Jack then sends Johnny ahead to go fishing, saying he’s got to finish up. Johnny is then seen fishing but gets up and starts walking down the road. A car driven by an unidentified person comes up and his father, in the passenger side is clearly upset and asks him, “where you been?” several times, then tells him to throw down the pole and get in the car, and drags him in. Johnny is taken to the hospital where he sees bloody clothing in a basin, he is shoved in to Jack’s room ahead of his father and you see Jack laying there dying. There’s some dialog and it’s clear that he’s been sliced along the middle. The young Johnny is yelling, “do something” while everyone else is quiet, and Jack dies. In the next scene, the family is home, it looks as if it’s funeral day, Johnny is listening to the radio and his father calls him “nothing” and yells at his wife that the wrong son died, he even raises his hand to his wife as if he will strike her should she come closer. After that scene, it appears as if his father doesn’t care if the now-older Johnny heads off to the Army or not.
Now, of course, the book is different. It’s true that Jack died from wounds received in a table saw accident. However, he states that that day, Jack had a bad feeling that something was going to happen and he and their mother encouraged him to stay home from work or to go fishing instead with Johnny. Jack said while he felt that something was going to happen, the family needed the money and he went anyway. He and Johnny walked to the intersection of the roads where they would split. Johnny states that Jack was indeed imitating Bugs Bunny, but that it was very much out of character for him to do that and that he just kept doing it even after they parted ways, as he went down the road, just “What’s up Doc?” over and over. Johnny sat to fish for a while but couldn’t really bring himself to, he got up and started home. His father told him to toss down the pole and that they had to go home, he asked what was the matter and his father said, “Jack’s been hurt really bad.” They went home and he took Johnny into the smoke house and laid out Jack’s bloody clothes to show him how he had been cut. He said that he was afraid they were going to lose Jack, and then he cried. When he recovered, he told Johnny that he’d come to find him and that they needed to go to the hospital.
Johnny then proceeds to tell how Jack was in the hospital for four days before he died. The doctor didn’t hold much hope for recovery, saying that he’d had to remove too much of his insides during the surgery. But the family still had time to gather everyone together and be with Jack before he died and that there was even a time where they really hoped he’d be fine because Jack was very animated and talking and laughing happily. But when the day came, Jacked talked crazy for a little bit, but then was lucid again, and then finally talked of seeing heaven before passing away.
Never once during the account has Johnny talked of his father being violent towards him or any other family member, blaming him for Jack’s death, or wishing that Johnny had died instead of Jack. In fact, he talks about returning to the fields very soon thereafter and his mother breaking down for a few minutes and that “my poor daddy came up to her and took her arm…”
Those beginning scenes really set the tone of the whole movie and instill an intense dislike, if not hatred, for Johnny’s father in the average viewer. So I have to ask, are we all so much about entertainment that movies about real people and events have to be dramatized so much as to ruin the reputation of an innocent person who’s no longer around to defend himself? Ah, all in the name of entertainment. There are plenty of ways that those scenes could have been shortened for time and dramatized without changing the story or insulting someone. Of course, everyone perceives things differently, but even so, the movie is supposed to be based on that one book…
Of course, there’s also the parts to concern his first wife Vivian. I heard that her family and daughters were not happy with how she was portrayed in the movie and it really does portray her as very impatient, uncaring, and selfish, amongst other things. I’m curious to get to the parts concerning her in the book.
It just always really bothers me when movies don’t follow books and the changes are nonsensical. Not just in non-fiction, but novels, too. I read that Dean Koontz book Intensity, which was really good, and later happened to catch the movie. I remember there was one change they would have had to make due to censorship issues with a made-for-tv movie, so that was ok (it was very minor), but they even went so far as to create characters that were just completely unnecessary and change the ending quite a bit as wellas other changes that made no sense whatsoever and really took what could have been a very good movie and flushed it down the toilet.