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By Whitney Borup | March 2, 2009

Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison” is one of the most brilliant albums ever released. Putting on a criminal persona, Cash is able to capture the emotions of a chained man without ever having spent serious jail time himself. And to do this amid a crowd of dangerous criminals, catching every cheer and whelp is genius. The album was a hit domestically, reaching number one on the country billboard charts and number fifteen on the national album charts. Johnny Cash became a legend with that original and innovative album.

The film that attempts to capture the recording of that album, however, falls short. If you have never seen a documentary or film about Johnny Cash (which is doubtful considering the attention his career received after his death in 2003) “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” might offer you new and exciting information. But if you know anything about Cash, most of the documentary comes across as stale news. What new information the film does offer us is hiding amongst factoids about Cash’s early life and career, and is sometimes fairly irrelevant.

We are given one new story line that becomes the most compelling aspect of the film, though. The story of Glen Sherley, an inmate in Folsom when Cash sang, is tactfully unfolded. Cash surprised Sherley at the concert by performing a song that Sherley himself had written. After Sherley was released from prison, Cash – who had kept encouraging contact with him – offered him a career in the music industry, bringing the former prisoner with him on major tours and television appearances. Unfortunately, Cash’s efforts were in vain and Sherley met an untimely and tragic end.

If only the documentary could have focused more on these individual tales that we are fairly unfamiliar with instead of trying to make a biography of Cash’s early life. It tries to become a bit more personal with the inclusion of another inmate at Folsom that day, but with only one story like this – that doesn’t seem to have much to do with Cash, actually – it makes the film lopsided. And, frankly, boring.

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