My Father and the Man in Black
PRODS Jonathan Holiff, Tanya Lyn Nazarec, Jennifer Phillips
SCR Jonathan Holiff
CAM Rene Ohashi
EDS Rob Ruzic, Nick Harauz
PROD DES Adam Weir
MUS Michael Timmins
PROD CO New Chapter Productions Inc.
The Man in Black was, of course, Johnny Cash. Saul Holiff was his long-time agent, a dedicated, remote, often cruel man who died of suicide and left his son with a lot of unanswered questions. Jonathan Holiff’s documentary is an investigation of his father’s life and that of the celebrity who dominated it for years. The Canadian-born Saul was a self-made man, an ambitious hustler with a love of music that brought him together with one of the great figures of 20th-century pop culture. Both Cash and his agent were strong men with serious weaknesses; we learn of their triumphs and failures, their mutual resentment and envy, their troubled relationships with their families. The film is respectful but never hagiographic—it shows the good and the bad, the public and the painfully private.
What sets the story off is Jonathan’s discovery of his father’s diaries and audio recordings. These are revelatory, for the filmmaker and for us: a behind-the-scenes look at the business of pop music, the pitfalls of success and the tensions of a friendship that would eventually dissolve. Mixing found footage, creative re-enactments and poignant voice-over narration, the documentary tells a riveting story with creative means. It’s an act of catharsis for its maker, and a fine piece of journalism to boot.