Belfast Film Festival 2016

Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited.

Bitter tears pic 1.

In 1964 Johnny Cash was just coming off the back of his first number one hit album ‘I Walk the Line’… He next decided to record the concept album ‘Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian’.

This album was largely shunned by mainstream outlets. It was neglected by non-political radio; the record label denied it promotion due to its “unappealing” nature and in general Cash faced much resistance – some of it simply the result of apathy, others feeling he should just stick to country music – for speaking out about the treatment of Native Americans.

Johnny Cash was breaking away from his usual genre to try introducing a contentious issue into the mainstream American cultural consciousness with this album. To some extent it worked, though we’re still talking about it today more due to his own name value than its overall intended impact.

Needless to say it wasn’t received well; something Cash took personal offence to. He found it hard to accept that people just didn’t seem to care very much… Bitter Tears Revisited chronicles his feelings at the time and reflects on the record as he would have intended.

Fans of the legendary singer-songwriter will lap up this slickly made documentary – I’ve never really got into his music in a big way but I can understand his status. It ended up appealing to me mainly for a different reason; namely that I can understand Cash’s feelings on the rejection that greeted his new record.

It’s one thing not to like something or disagree with an opinion, but to disregard it completely? To not even give it your attention because it doesn’t fall in line with your own way of thinking? That’s something I see all the time in this era, in which it’s tough to find anyone with an attention span longer than two minutes, and that’s pertaining to stuff they actually like.

Therefore, I can empathise with his attitude. This was something close to his heart, and naturally with any artist who believes they have something to say that is worth listening to, it becomes a point of great contention when others simply shrug their shoulders and don’t seem to care. Racism, colonisation, broken treaties and revisionist history – this album, and by extension this documentary, tackled them all. Folksinger Peter La Farge also has a role, having written numerous songs featured on the album, and his contribution is given fair recognition.

Bitter Tears Revisited is an informative gem; 54 minutes of essential Cash-inspired tidbits and raw emotion. Indeed my main criticism would be exactly that; it comes in at less than an hour in length, when it could easily have held our attention for twice as long. For you though, this length may be perfect.

8 / 10

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