November 7, 2011
Johnny and Ray
One wouldn’t think that the lives of Johnny Cash and Ray Charles have anything in common. However, after viewing the movies Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and Ray, starring Jamie Foxx portraying Ray Charles, their similarities are as striking as their differences. Both of these films are biopics chronicling the rags to riches lives of two of the most influential musicians whose careers began in the 1950s. Walk the Line is a love story depicting the courtship intertwined with the careers of Johnny Cash and June Carter. Ray is a docudrama centered around the career of Ray Charles. Cash and Charles enjoyed illustrious music careers, despite personal tragedies, illicit drug use, and the changing social landscape of civil rights.
Tragically, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles both lost a brother growing up. This is the most profound similarity between the two artists. At age twelve, Cash was fishing when he lost his brother Jack in a sawmill accident. Ray Charles was only five years old when he witnessed the drowning of his little brother George in his mother’s wash tub. The directors James Mangold of Walk the line and Taylor Hachford of Ray used flashbacks to incorporate these deaths into the story line. Johnny Cash lived his life believing that ‘the Lord’ had taken the wrong brother. The extent of Johnny’s guilt and his father’s blame for Jack’s accident is brought to light years later at a Thanksgiving dinner when his father dismisses Johnny’s achievements. Despite losing his sight to glaucoma when he was seven years old, Ray Charles appears to suffer from hallucinations. Hackford does a good job of integrating how Charles deals with his blindness on a daily basis. Charles insisted on being paid in ‘single’ dollar bills and wore hard sole shoes so he could detect subtle changes in surfaces as he walked. Charles frequently “sees” and feels his brother in water....
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