THE BALLAD OF RAMBLIN' JACK Image

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott couldn’t find his old house. This unheralded protege of Woody Guthrie, major influence on a young Bob Dylan, and relatively unknown performer who many regard as “the folk singer’s folk singer,” was driving vainly up and down the street, unable to find the house where he’d intermittently spent five years with his fourth wife Martha and his daughter, director Aiyana Elliott. It’s precisely the type of tragi-comic moment that perfectly encapsulates the life of this self-taught American cowboy, singer and songwriter who began life as Elliott Adnopoz, the son of a Jewish doctor and his wife in Brooklyn, New York. The man wasn’t called “Ramblin’ Jack” for nothing, criss-crossing America, becoming a folk star throughout Europe and a legend in absentia here in the U.S. when the folk boom struck Greenwich Village in the 1960s. The house hunting episode also sums up the stunted relationship Elliott has had with her often missing father; a relationship she bravely attempts to deepen by traveling across the country with him on his latest tour. She intercuts these wonderful performance clips — Jack’s stories and the music is exceptional throughout this film — and candid road photography with old home movie footage, extraordinary archival footage, and interviews with family members and such famous associates as Arlo Guthrie and Kris Kristofferson, all in an attempt to tell the folk icon’s life story and, not incidentally, understand the restless and evasive father she barely knows. What she winds up with is equal parts invaluable musical history lesson for the viewer, a daughter’s admiration for her under-appreciated father’s professional accomplishments, and a sort of on-screen therapy session whereby the director struggles to come to terms with a basic fact: If the man born as Elliott Adnopoz had been a better father and family man, if he’d stayed in one place long enough to remember how to find it years later, he wouldn’t have been Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

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