Ballad Of Ramblin' Jack

2000, Movie, NR, 105 mins


This music-filled biography of folk troubadour Ramblin' Jack Elliott is a rare treat for anyone interested in the American folk revival of early 1960s. But the film's emotional weight is the result of what it isn't — a means by which filmmaker Aiyana Elliott, Jack's daughter, can come to terms with her footloose subject. Aiyana and Jack drive to a cowboy-poet's convention in Nevada, where it's obvious that some of Jack's long-time colleagues had no idea he even had a daughter. Then it's back in the RV for a road trip to California, and, Aiyana clearly hopes, a reconciliation. Meanwhile, she tells her father's fascinating story: Ramblin' Jack, legendary sidekick to Woody Guthrie, was once Elliott Adnopoz, a restless Jewish kid from Brooklyn who loved the Grand Old Opry and, at age 15, ran away from home and joined a traveling rodeo. He lived for a year with the ailing Guthrie, absorbing all he could, then lit out for the mythic byways of the American West, collecting stories that became his famous stage patter and music became his repertory. In California Jack began a fruitful collaboration with banjo player Derroll Adams and made the first of a series of marriages (Aiyana's mom was number four); he then undertook a European tour from which he returned a folk music legend, the link between Guthrie and the young Bob Dylan. The story ends with father and daughter in the RV, Aiyana still trying — and failing — to get Jack to discuss the missed birthdays and long absences that blighted her childhood. Like BABY DRIVER, Jan Kerouac's memoir of her own ramblin' father, Aiyana's film is a revealing look at how the same qualities Americans celebrate in folk heroes — rootlessness, restlessness and a compulsion to continually rediscover America — are condemned in fathers. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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