Vol. 3, Issue #8 April 18th - March 1st, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Walking Harder

Since Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow‘s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” was released four months ago, John C. Reilly’s portrayal of the lead character has been a stinging reminder not only of how over bloated the rock biopic has become, but also of how much crap a legend is put through in such films. “Walk Hard’ was just released on DVD and Blu-Ray last week, along with the director’s cut, and it shows how Hollywood has been throwing the baby out with the bathwater. When I saw the film in the theater I was let down, I thought with so much talent it could have been a lot better and I was right; the director’s cut is a masterpiece. For some reason, the studio seemed to think cutting half an hour of jokes out of the theatrical release was a good idea. It’s no wonder the film tanked at the box office.

In deconstructing the rock gods, the rock biopics are always more interested in the myth rather than reality. After seeing Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” for the first time I was convinced that Jim Morrison couldn’t possibly have stayed that messed up while producing his famous string of hit singles. The same holds true for Johnny Cash, who according to “Walk The Line,” was jacked up on pills while creating his unprecedented run of top country singles.

Dewey Cox goes through the same trials and tribulations as his nonfiction counterparts. He comes from a small town in the south where he accidentally cut his brother in half while the two of them were playing with machetes (a reference to “Ray” Charles’ brother almost getting cut in half by a saw). The eight-year-old Dewey sees two old black men playing the blues, they loan him the guitar, and within seconds he’s playing like a journeyman musician (an Elvis reference). During is first live performance (at the age of 14 - a hilariously hard age for Reilly to play) he sings about holding a girl’s hand. The show ends in a riot of girls ripping their clothing open, fistfights, villagers with fire and protest signs about the Devil’s music, and pot use. My favorite motif is calling every celebrity by their full names just to keep the audience informed as to their identity - few of the actors even come close to looking like the characters they play, aside from Jack White playing a sped-up, hungry, babbling, and karate-chopping Elvis.

Dewey goes through a Dylan period, where he writes incomprehensible songs, a Morrison period where he keeps passing out onstage - the same stage over and over. He drops acid with The Beatles, and turns into Brian Wilson during the “Smile” period, where all the money, musicians, and studio time in the world could not produce a comprehensible album. Dewey then takes a Sonny & Cher/Glen Campbell turn where he makes an embarrassingly bad TV variety show, complete with backup dancers and sketches that come as close to drag as the straight world ever gets. The coda comes at the end of his life when rapper Ghostface Killah revives interest in Dewey’s career by sampling “Walk Hard” on a rap record. At a life achievement award the rapper is join by Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, and Jewel, three people who have nothing to do with Dewey’s music, for a tribute. Jewel yodels in the song just to show how screwed up one can make a classic.

“Walk Hard” leaves us with the question “Do we really need more rock biopics?” Do we need Wood Harris’ crybaby portrayal of Jimi Hendrix? Or Elvis portrayed as a jerk? Or more Americans convinced they could pull off a Liverpool accent?

Probably not, but our superstars of yesterday have become the product of today. Just like we have to have familiar music on the radio or no one will listen, or cinematic remakes of old television shows, otherwise people become confused; a familiar face on a biopic is worth its weight in gold. I’m sure a major problem with the marketing of “Walk Hard” in the theaters was due to people thinking Dewey Cox was a real person they didn’t know about - don’t laugh; I have met Goth kids who think Spinal Tap is a real band!

The layers of irony in “Walk Hard,” such as filming a comedy filled with dick jokes to look like an Academy Award contender, becomes multilayered in the marketing, but most of that was probably lost. Most of the dimwitted twenty-somethings I’ve talked to seem to think rock’n’roll started with Metallica’s release of “Master of Puppets.” The asides to the lives of Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Johnny Cash are like referencing ancient Chinese literature to them. The recent South Park, “Major Boobage,” is a good example where I heard people talking about it who had no idea that the images were based on the film “Heavy Metal,” or even that there was such a film.

I’m reminded of a few years back when “Almost Famous” and “Josie & The Pussycats” came out at the same time; “Almost Famous” was the “serious,” romanticized view of rock journalism, while the highly underrated “Josie…” was dismissed by most people without ever seeing it. In fact “Josie…” was a dark, if not outright bleak, comedy that held more truth about rock journalism than “Almost Famous” ever thought about adding. Personally, I’ve never had a rock star seek me out and tell me I was right, but I have met many managers who would have killed their prodigy in seconds if they thought it would increase record sales. “Walk Hard” comes out of the “Josie…” side of filmmaking.

So in summation, yes the best rock’n’roll biography is only available on DVD; “American Cox: The Unbearably Long, Self-Indulgent Director’s Cut” of “Walk Hard.” You can proudly sit it next to your copies of “The is Spinal Tap” and “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash.”

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