Tuesday 16 June 2020

On Warner Archive DVD - HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (Jerry Schatzberg, USA, 1980)

Faye Dunaway, Jerry Schatzberg
Cannes, 2011

Watching the full sixteen hours of Ken Burns Country Music (reviewed by Barrie Pattison on Film Alert, click here) you can’t but help start thinking of bits and pieces from way, way back – early Kris Kristofferson albums played so often that the words still remain fixed in the memory, Johnny Cash and Dylan and that duet of ‘The Girl from the North Country’ on Nashville Skyline which it turns out was sung pretty much unrehearsed on Cash’s TV show, which might explain why it sounded dreadful, Gene Autry and the amazing The Phantom Empire, pillaged decades later by comedian and schlock buff  Des Mangan for the first of his live revoicings of rubbishy movies…


…and the memory of Willie Nelson in Honeysuckle Rose first seen back in 1980 by accident in a Tokyo cinema on a weekend afternoon while waiting for a Monday morning appointment with the legendary Mme Kashiko Kawakita who, through her private philanthropical Japan Film Library Council, supplied prints of films old and new to international festivals for decades.


Burns doco series caused me to hunt down a copy of Honeysuckle Rose and watch it all over again. It was made by Jerry Schatzberg, a director with whom I spent several very convivial evenings over a couple of decades in Paris in the company of our mutual friend Pierre Rissient.  It was on one of those evenings that I got a shock to discover that Jerry had taken the photo that adorned Dylan's Blonde on Blonde  album cover (above).

In 1980, Schatzberg really only had a modest reputation notwithstanding having won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1973 for Scarecrow.  From a recent interview in New York, which you can find here on YouTube,   it appeared he was wheeled in to direct Honeysuckle Rose  when producer Sydney Pollack had too much on his hands to do the job himself. 


So, a road movie with lots of concert footage of Willie Nelson was the job on offer and Schatzberg took it and made a great little movie that, especially after Burns’s series, warrants some fresh attention. Nelson plays Buck Bonham, singer and bandleader of a country band that’s doing OK but only because they drive their own bus and stay in cheap motels, eat in cheap diners and leave their families behind for long stretches. Which is where the drama starts. His long time guitarist Rayland wants to give the game away and when a replacement cant start for three weeks, Rayland’s 22 y o daughter Lily (Amy Irving) gets to play with the band and whoops Buck and Lily quickly tumble into the cot and start singing romantic dewy eyed duets on stage as well. 


Buck’s wife Viv, the scrumptious Dyan Cannon, won’t put up with it and trouble ensues. You can imagine how it all ends…  Before it does Willie does a dozen or more songs including a great version of Kristofferson’s “Loving Her was Easier’, six of which he wrote especially for the movie and a couple of which have become standards for him. At a recent screening of the film in New York which the 90 year old Schatzberg attended, he mentioned how Nelson was contracted to write those six new songs, something which he appeared unaware of well into production but which he still delivered.


It’s a crowd pleaser and is available on DVD via Amazon in the Warner Archive Collection It doesn’t seem to be on sale at JB Hi-fi or anywhere else down here. Ripe for revival along with greater attention to Schatzberg's career which also included Puzzle of a Downfall Child, The Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow, Sweet Revenge, The Seduction of Joe Tynan and Reunion plus maybe a half dozen others that regettably I haven't seen yet.

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