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Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies
You know who Cowboy Jack Clement is, even if you've never heard of him. Odds are pretty good that if you're at all interested in music, country music in particular, you own an album or recording of some sort that he's had a hand in. You might not realize this now, but you certainly will after you've watched Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's fantastic documentary, Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan - Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies. Who knew the bard was into country crooners? And who knew Clement could wail on the ukulele like that? Or that he could dance with a glass of booze balanced on his head?
"If I had Johnny's cash and Charley's pride I wouldn't have a Buck owen on my card." - Jack Clement.
The list of people that Clement has worked with is a veritable whose who of fifties and sixties country and rock elite. Elvis, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charley Pride, Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Ray Stevens, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, U2, Townes Van Zandt and even Tom Jones. This is the man who recorded 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' in one take. He told Jerry that country wasn't selling at the time and convinced him to do rock and roll. The rest is history. The guy has done it all. On top of that, Clement was at one time a dance instructor and a Marine.
So who is Jack Clement? He's a bit of a Nashville renascence man. He's done it all, from producing and touring with some of the greats to financing a bad seventies horror movie (John Farris's 1972 epic, Dear, Dead Delilah starring Agnes Moorehead!). He was in the Sun Studio when Elvis Presley cut his first few tracks and he convinced Jerry Lee Lewis to give up country and to play rock and roll instead. He brought Charley Pride, one of the first black country artists to reach any success, to prominence in a very white-centric industry and he produced a trio of tracks for U2's Rattle And Hum album and tour film. This documentary, by way of a bunch of archival clips from the many home movies Clement has shot over the years and some fascinating interviews with Clement and the people who have known him, paints a charming, eclectic and enthusiastic portrait of the man and his life's work.
So along with biographical details on Clement's life and work courtesy of the man himself and those who admire him, as mentioned we're treated to a bunch of clips from his home movies. It seems that Clement has been a rabid home movie buff since the beginning and as such, he's sitting on mountains of amazing footage. Johnny Cash, who was a close personal friend of the man (Clement films him having a smoke with A. P. Carter!), shows up in a lot of them (June at his side fairly often) and gives us a very personal look at his more jovial and relaxed side. Clement worked closely with Cash while he was signed to Sun, having written 'Ballad Of A Teenage Queen' (Cash's first number one hit) as well as 'Guess Things Happen That Way' - he also came up with the horns section on 'Ring Of Fire.' Bono shows up briefly and impersonates Marlon Brando, while Waylon Jennings and John Prine show up and goof off at Clement's home and recording studio.
The mix of footage and interviews does a great job of opening up Clement's memory book for us and along the way it demonstrates the man's undeniable lust for life. He's certainly an eccentric man, there's no doubt about that, but he makes it clear that he's going to have as much fun as he can in his lifetime and more power to him. He's refreshingly unpretentious and very down to Earth in his own oddball way, and throughout the hour long documentary he comes across as a very honest, sincere and yes, quirky, character. The only flaw in the film is that it's just too short. This could have easily been stretched to the two-hour market and been just as interesting as it is here at the sixty-minute mark. Aside from that, the film is engrossing, charming and it makes you genuinely care about the man that resides in its center.The DVD
The newly shot material in the documentary looks fine but as you can probably imagine, some of the home movies (many of which are decades old) are a little rough around the edges. That said, everything is perfectly watchable and the nicks and scratches on some of the archival clips somehow add to the film's rustic charm. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement and whatever visible flaws there are on the disc are pretty much completely related to the source material. The whole thing shows up in 1.33.1 fullframe, but it works. Compositions look good and there's little to whine about here.Sound:
The English language 2.0 Stereo track isn't anything to write home about and the quality goes up and down here as it does with the video presentation based on the quality of the source material used at any given time, but for the most part it's fine. Dialogue stays pretty clear and the music used throughout the documentary is nice and lively sounding.Extras:
Aside from the keen menus and chapter stops that are included on the disc, there are two real supplements, the first of which is a collection of twenty-three minutes worth of deleted scenes. There are ten scenes in total and they feature all sorts of interesting clips, from Jack serenading radio listeners at his ranch, to Bono goofing off with Jack on the acoustic, from a TV shoot with Waylon to Jack messing with his guitar on his own. All in all, there's some seriously cool stuff in here - check it out if you're at all interested in the feature.
From there, Shout! Factory has included an audio commentary with Cowboy Jack Clement, moderated by Alamo Jones, which is as interesting as the feature itself. Clement dominates the track and it seems that for ever story he tells in the film, he's got a related story that he touches upon in the commentary. Again, he comes across as very down to Earth and sincere but not without his own odd outlook on things. He's got a great sense of humor and is never at a loss for words as he elaborates on and expands upon much of what is touched on in the documentary.Final Thoughts:
Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of popular music or country music should check this film out. There's a fantastic selection of clips, anecdotes and stories in here that make the movie as much a personality piece as anything else but it all just works. Shout! Factory's disc looks and sounds fairly decent and the extras are interesting and round out the package nicely. Consider Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.