We hate to say it, but this is pretty bad from the start. But it’s not Johnny Cash‘s fault. Featuring 36 famous faces from music and film, the new video accompanying the singer’s track, God’s Gonna Cut You Down, sadly backfires from celebrity overload. Intended as a montage of personal tributes to the Man in Black – which, on its own is a touching idea – the film actually comes across as more of an excercise in cool-by-association.
And rather than a heartfelt eulogy from those indebted to Cash’s music (and many artists featured in the film, of course, had an acknowledged debt to, or intimate friendship with the man) the film feels like a furthering of what’s slowly become, particularly since his death, Brand Cash.
“Johnny always wore black because he identified with the poor and the down trodden.” That much, we know. But the relevance of this quote that introduces the proceeding line of celebs – Chris Martin staring heaven-wards, Kanye West looking amazingly pensive, Kate Moss fidgeting in some small pants – is a little lost amid the millions of dollars and pounds embodied in the assembled actors and musicians. And then there’s Bono. With some theological graffiti behind him. Is it so hard not to be annoying on film?
The defense of this disparate band of famous Cash fans (albeit beautifully filmed by director Tony Kaye) is that Jonny and/or his wife June apparently had close links with every person involved. So while Keith Richards, Kris Kristofferson and Brian Wilson’s acknowledgments obviously bear some artistic weight, Kate Moss can boast a role in Anton Corbijn’s video for Cash’s Delia’s Gone while Justin Timberlake once publicly declared his admiration for the country singer at an MTV Video Awards.
The thing is – in isolation, each five second nod to the great man probably seemed sincere, maintaining a kind of personal connection between the fan and the camera. But run together, and one familiar face after another – looking so painfully earnest – transforms the film into something with the pretentiousness of a perfume ad, or the mawkish sentimentality of the Live 8 campaign. Sentimentalism is hardly something Cash himself was an advocate of. Just listen to the lyrics of the song.
In a way, the sheer number of famous people outweighs even the power of Cash’s music and an interesting reversal occurs. This is not a video for a Cash song anymore, it’s a film about people who like to tell us how important he was, with one of his songs playing in the background.
Director: Tony Kaye. Conception: Rick Rubin, Mark Romanek and Justin Timberlake.
Appearances by: Iggy Pop, Kanye West, Chris Martin, Kris Kristofferson, Patti Smith, Terrence Howard, Flea, Q-Tip, Adam Levine (Maroon 5), Chris Rock, Justin Timberlake, Kate Moss, Sir Peter Blake, Sheryl Crow, Dennis Hopper, Woody Harrelson,Amy Lee (Evanescence), Tommy Lee, Dixie Chicks, Mick Jones, Sharon Stone, Bono, Shelby Lynne, Anthony Kiedis, Travis Barker, Lisa Marie Presley, Kid Rock, Jay Z, Keith Richards, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Corinne Bailey Rae, Johnny Depp, Graham Nash, Brian Wilson, Rick Rubin, Owen Wilson.
God’s Gonna Cut You Down is taken from Cash’s album, American V: A Hundred Highways.