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Noise Pop Film: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

Don't get your hopes up. There's no recently unearthed footage of the legendary live album in Bestor Cram's documentary, At Folsom Prison, but there's a decent montage of photographer Jim Marshall's stills from this career-defining performance of The Man in Black. Additional video includes interviews with his children, Roseanne Cash and John Carter Cash, former inmate Millford Derdon who was there for the show, and the two children of Folsom inmate Glen Sherley whose song, "Greystone Chapel," was learned the night before the show by Cash and his band and performed that day. Artsy animated interpretations of songs from the album and archival film of the era round out the visuals.

The film focuses on the various factors that came together to make that particular performance so poignant. While Cash himself never did time, he took interest in prison life after seeing the film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in the U.S. Air Force Security Service and subsequently wrote the song, "Folsom Prison Blues." After several years of substance abuse, Cash cleaned up and basically felt that it was simple luck that he hadn't ended up in prison himself, a la "There before the grace of God go I." His empathy for the downtrodden was real, as he sang in "Man in Black", "I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime / But is there because he's a victim of the times." Cash developed a friendship with Sherley after the show and helped him eventually get released and go on to a brief career in country music.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison
Photo by Jim Marshall

At Folsom Prison was released in October 2008 as part of a box set of the complete recordings from both shows that were performed at Folsom for the album (two performances were scheduled in case material from the first wasn't good enough), but the story is timeless and a satisfying 90 minutes for those who care to delve deeper into the details of this important piece of American musical history.

The showing at the Roxie, as part of Noise Pop 2009 on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7pm, includes a Q&A with photographer Jim Marshall and Jim Brown, Folsom Prison Museum Director