"Ray" and "Walk the Line"

I finally saw the movie Ray last night, the biographical movie on the life of Ray Charles Robinson starring Jamie Fox. Billy Crystal made that comment at the Oscars that Walk the Line was the same story with a white guy. It made me want to see and compare. You might find it really silly or trivial to compare the two lives and movies but I’ll do it anyway.

Ray Charles and Johnny Cash both grew up dirt poor in the South.
Ray and Johnny were both tortured by memories of the deaths of their brothers.
Both men were severely addicted to drugs just as their music careers took off.
Both men cheated on their wives on the road.
Both men became music legends for mixing and matching musical styles and reinventing their musical approach repeatedly.
That’s about all I see that’s similar.

Here are the BIG differences:

Ray was blind and black, Johnny was sighted and white.
Johnny was a master story teller, Ray loved story music but focused on musical innovation.
Johnny had both a father and mother who lived to old age.
Ray’s father rambled around leaving his mother to care for two boys. Ray’s mother died while he was a young man. He never saw her again after being sent off to a school for the blind.
Ray had to deal with being used and ripped off financially because of his blindness.
The movie Ray does not present Ray as being very personally effected by a family faith. Ray loves gospel music but we don’t know how religious he is. He is persecuted for setting sensual lyrics to gospel music.
Early on Johnny’s parents were deeply religious. Even as an addict he thought long and hard about faith. He had a radical conversion experience that he often talked about.
Johnny Cash is legendary for embodying the darkness and light in all people. The story telling and presentation made his mythos, his shadow if you will, much larger than the man. As a white male his strength could have been used to embody all the perfections of white America. Instead he focused on the disaffections of the marginalized. Prisoners, killers, drunkards, drug addicts, losers in love, the hypocritically faithful.
Walk the Line is different from Ray in that it bears witness to the birth of the myth Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Ray is more of a biography with a celebration of an innovator. It also testifies to the evils of heroin addiction. Walk the Line is a love story wherein Johnny and June fight hard and beat the odds to win each other.

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1 Comment

Filed under Johnny Cash, movie reviews

One response to “"Ray" and "Walk the Line"

  1. lenf

    While I enjoyed Walk the Line, I found Ray, to be a rather boring mess. The actual Ray was a lot more devoted to developing his own musical style than was portrayed in the movie. I read his autobiography, Brother Ray, many years ago, and he does go into a lot of the bit of his womanizing there, but I also later read an interview where he was about as embarrassed about that as one could imagine. It would have been nice to have about half the bits about Ray’s sexual exploits, which were hardly unique, replaced with exploring him distinguishing himself and his music from the ever present, in his early years, Nat Cole.

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