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Image Entertainment presents
Johnny Cash: The Anthology (2001)

"Love is a burnin' thing, and it makes a fiery ring."
- Johnny Cash, in Ring of Fire

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 08, 2002

Stars: Johnny Cash
Other Stars: Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Glen Campbell, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Jessi Colter, Porter Wagoner, Judy Collins
Director: Al Greenfield

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (drug use)
Run Time: 00h:53m:59s
Release Date: February 26, 2002
UPC: 014381126327
Genre: country

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There are a few voices that are utterly distinctive. One of them belongs to country and western legend Johnny Cash, who not only is at home at the Grand Ole Opry but also when he's covering Bob Dylan and Soundgarden. This disc from Image provides some biographical material interspersed amongst fourteen vintage live performances by Cash of many of his biggest hits.

Those hardy souls who have ventured into the nether regions of dOc where the reviewer biographies are hidden will know that prior to becoming a DVD reviewer I was in a tongue-in-cheek cowboy band with the improbable name of Wacko Bob and the Skillet-Lickers. Our repertoire, in addition to singing cowboy standards, relied heavily on Cash's songs, and they're deceptively complex despite the three basic chords that seem to make up the whole catalog. In any event, they have a clear, heartfelt voice of the people, whether focused on trains, or prisons, or hangings, or the inevitability of love gone sour. The songs manage to survive our manglings with flying colors, but of course there is no substitute for the Man in Black himself.

The program covers performances from the 1950s up through 1994. There's a classic gravelly rendition of Big River and a raucous version of Ring of Fire with that amazing mariachi trumpet chorus. I found very interesting Cash's performance of Orange Blossom Special with the harmonica solo subbing for the usual fiddle (so that's how he did that!). Particularly illuminating is a 1967 prison rendition of Jackson with June Carter. That song (with the immortal first line, "We got married in a fever/hot as pepper sprout") can be read as a bitter and hateful diatribe about a failed marriage or good-natured ribbing between a comfortable couple that tends to talk big. The gleeful rendition here makes it clear that at least at that moment the latter interpretation was the correct one. The program also gives due credit to Luther Perkins, whose boom-chicka guitar was largely responsible for the distinctive Johnny Cash sound; sadly Perkins died in a fire some 30 years ago and isn't generally recognized, so I'm quite pleased to see him noted here.

The interviewees are all respectful and mostly gushing. There is some substance, however, such as Rodney Crowell's appreciation of the novelty of the modulations in I Walk the Line, among others. Poor Glen Campbell must wish that there were an opportunity for retakes; he gets completely balled up in what he's trying to say and ultimately comes off as completely incomprehensible. He does manage a nifty little Luther Perkins anecdote in the documentary, though, so all is forgiven.

The only reason that this substance grade isn't an A is the brevity of the program; the songs are nearly every one of them classics. The running time is actually less than an hour; the 140 minutes claimed on the keepcase includes the documentary (discussed in the Extras Review below). The songs also have the chart performance noted, which is a handy little extra.

The songs on the disc:
Folsom Prison Blues
Big River
Five Feet High and Risin'
Cry, Cry, Cry
I Walk the Line
Orange Blossom Special
Ring of Fire
The Man in Black
A Boy Named Sue
Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
If I Were a Carpenter
Daddy Sang Bass
Bird on a Wire

Now, where's my gee-tar....

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The modern interviews look bright and sharp. The vintage performances are, naturally, of varying quality but they're all more than adequate. Black levels are good, with nice fine detail. Some of the color videotape from the 1970s looks a bit dated, but that really can't be helped.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio (which really is mono for the most part) generally sounds quite good. There's decent bass extension on the music, and the Voice comes through just fine. There's some minor noise and hiss, but nothing that isn't expected in a vintage live recording such as are featured here. The sound is generally solid and has weight, without a tinny or unnatural character.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: EastPack
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Discography
Extras Review: The principal extra is a documentary, Half Mile a Day that is more intensely biographical than the main program. Most of the same cast of interviewees are here, clearly culled from the same interview sessions. The content is generally excellent and forthright, though Cash himself isn't interviewed except in tiny vintage snippets. The down side is that the performances from the main program are repeated here, leading to a feeling of padding. The grade would be much higher if different musical performances had been available. One notable addition is The Ballad of Ira Hayes, performed for a Native American audience; alas, the voiceovers step on the chorus.

The other extra is a fairly complete discography, which astonishingly runs 19 full pages of small text! Johnny has been a very busy man....

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

An all-too-brief selection of some of the best of Johnny Cash's live performances over 40 years, given a nice transfer. The documentary is unfortunately repetitive, but a must for classic country music fans nonetheless.


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