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The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

Though he may not be that likable a guy, and his voice has a hoarseness to it, Jack Elliott is truly a ramblin' man.  Besides this documentary being well mixed with career clips, home life and road trips, there's a way that director Aiyana Elliott, Jack's daughter, makes one interested in how she wants to be closer to the man who has strayed from her life.

The cowboy background of Jack begins in New York City.  Born in 1931 the son of a respected Jewish physician, his family life was not pleasant.  He found happiness in movies and cowboy tales.  In his early teens his love of busting broncos and riding horses led to running away from Flatbush to join a rodeo.

He opted for folk music over medical school and followed in the footsteps of the debilitating Woody Guthrie.  After his marriage to first wife June Shelley in 1955, they spent much time in Europe where US folk music was enjoying a renaissance.  He extols the Spanish Flamenco but criticizes romantic French tunes and um-pah German sounds.  Eventually, back in the U.S.A., he saw the impact of his association with Guthrie and how post Beat influence affected the rising Bob Dylan.

With Dylan and others gaining prominence, the persona of Ramblin' Jack Elliott explains why he reflects on things with regret.  Droll narration from announcers underline a lack of commitment stemming from excursions and drug use as he broke off from a major record label in the late sixties.

One of the interviews is with country star/actor Kris Kristofferson who says that Jack can spark interest from the oddest things and glibly suggests that his nickname came from his ingratiating conversational ways of storytelling and memorable parodies of music he dislikes.  His daughter ultimately keeps the recordings of the folk legend effectively adapted to 35mm film from the family archives shot on Super 8, 16mm and digital video moving toward a revelation that leans on psychological ambiguity, wistfully rendered and a poignant effect by the director.

Like his voice, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack is authentic as well as a picturesque documentary that earned its artistic prize at this year's Sundance Festival.  But a daughter's insider look makes the nostalgia with its seamless editing come alive as forgotten stars like Seeger, Young, and Guthrie are reunited on the big screen.

 
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The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack
 
 
 
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