The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

"Very Good"

The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack Review


One of the biggest surprises at the Sundance Film Festival was debut filmmaker Aiyana Elliott's documentary portrait of her cantankerous folk singer dad, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack. It was curious to see how well the audience responded to this deeply personal, lyrical film of lonesome highways and tough talking cowboys.

Aiyana Elliott previously made an impression on the festival circuit with her ferocious short, Tough, which offered a strong visual sensibility influenced by the washed out look of the golden era of '70s filmmaking. She knew how to truthfully portray a modern dysfunctional family, with naturalistic performances and startlingly honest dialogue, a unit whose means of communication is handled through shouting. It's not surprising to see that these themes continue in her current feature.

If Ms. Elliott's documentary fares less well, it's perhaps because her instincts are stronger as a narrative filmmaker with control over the subject matter and, perhaps, autobiographical implications. The fact is, her dad doesn't really like to talk about himself. He flagrantly shows his lack of connection and wary affection. At nearly two hours, the film is too long, and Jack Elliott rambles and evades questions to the point where we genuinely "get it" after an hour or so. From then on, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack seems redundant.

Aiyana Elliott makes herself a character in the film, along for the ride during a Midwest tour and chronicling her daddy's life on the way. Ramblin' Jack was a big folk singer I'd never heard of. Bob Dylan was his pupil, and he was apparently a huge influence on the Rolling Stones, Dylan and other rock/folk performers. Kris Kristofferson and Arlo Guthrie are among the celebrities waxing philosophical about Ramblin' jack, usually saying that they never saw someone speak so well about absolutely worthless horseshit.

There's a personal history unfolding, breaking through the '50s into the beatnik era and the swinging '60s, to the trippy '70s style which influences the entire movie. Aiyana Elliott tries to get sun flare in almost every shot which tracks down the desolate patches of road and field in the heartland of America.

The interviews have a range from the honest to the superficial, which you'll find in many documentaries. When people try to get into the depth of Jack's persona or personality, it feels pretty thin and rote. Still, Aiyana Elliott is able to capture the gravity of silences, when people aren't sure what to say. There's a brilliant sequence where she asks her mom how good of a husband and father he was, and she can't answer for a good minute, trying to control her fits of laughter.

There's a wonderful, definitive moment where Aiyana and her dad are driving around trying to find the first house she lived in. It's important for her, a touch of personal nostalgia, and he can't find it. He finally gives up after having promised her to track it down. He's a pill, even a bit of a prick. Boy, does he annoy Aiyana onscreen, but the moment plays out sad and funny.

That's the tone of The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, which earns the moment where Jack sings a lonely tune for his daughter at the last concert. He's too mean to be sentimental, but the heartstrings get tugged nonetheless.



The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

Facts and Figures

Run time: 112 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 26th January 2000

Distributed by: Lot 47 Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Paul S. Mezey,

Starring: as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, Odetta as Herself, D.A. Pennebaker as Himself, Dave Van Ronk as Himself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.