Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

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Austin Film Festival

AUSTIN, Texas -- Unwitting fans may be disappointed to learn that “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” is helpless to expand on the classic live record in one way: Although plenty of great still photos exist, there’s no movie footage to share. Still filmmaker Bestor Cram provides enough color to please followers of the Man in Black. The film’s inclusion in a CD box set celebrating the album suggests no ambitions for a theatrical release, but the doc would be a solid draw on cable and have appeal as a standalone DVD.

The movie finds time for background anecdotes about the way Cash crafted his iconic sound and how Sun Records’ Sam Phillips convinced him to give non-gospel material a try. But Cram is mainly interested in Cash’s connection with prisoners at Folsom and elsewhere -- what motivated Cash to perform in prisons, what those shows meant to the men inside and the limits of Cash’s ability to rescue others the way he himself was saved.

Solid interviews with former bandmates, family members and one ex-con who was there (not Merle Haggard -- he was at Cash’s show in San Quentin) help in this regard, often to poignant effect. In between the history, Cram offers music video-like shorts, some more interesting than others, to accompany the album’s individual tracks.

Production company: Northern Light Productions

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