Singer-songwriter Steve Earle is a documentary filmmaker's dream come true. He's not only an articulate raconteur and a strikingly versatile artist whose music has earned him a devoted following among both fans and critics, but thanks to his honest, uncompromising lyrics he's been both hailed as a plain-spoken, latter-day Woody Guthrie and condemned as a dangerously unpatriotic dissident. Throw in a personal bio that reads like something out of a Jim Thompson novel there's drinking, drugging, hard time and five failed marriages and how can you lose? Ask New York-based filmmaker Amos Poe, who badly botches this profile of the artist with a sloppy structure, careless editing and amateurish optical effects that detract from what's actually good about the film: Earle's music. Earle demonstrates his extraordinary range by performing everything from the roots-raunch of "Ashes to Ashes," the country honk of "Hometown Blues," the dirty rock 'n' roll of "Copperhead Road," the somber and beautiful "Jerusalem" and a series of haunting ballads sung from the abject perspective of death-row inmates. Poe touches on Earle's advocacy work on their behalf in both his art songs like "Billy Austin" and "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)," movingly performed here over a slide show of condemned Texans and his life: Earle is a tireless death-penalty abolitionist. But Poe's cinematic conversation with Earle is superficial at best; he even gives short shrift to the recent controversy over Earle's 2002 "John Walker Blues," which attempts to understand what led "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh to take up arms in Afghanistan by assuming his voice. Tantalizing scenes lifted directly from MTV's 1996 documentary Steve Earle: To Hell and Back and Earle's own passing remarks about his serious drug addiction, his arrests and a prison sentence only leave you wanting to know more much more. Poe first surfaced in 1976 with the CBGB's rockumentary BLANK GENERATION, whose ratty style was in fortuitous harmony with the DIY aesthetic of the music it captured. But Poe seems to have learned little in the 27-year interim; Earle and his fans deserve better.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: Singer-songwriter Steve Earle is a documentary filmmaker's dream come true. He's not only an articulate raconteur and a strikingly versatile artist whose music has earned him a devoted following among both fans and critics, but thanks to his honest, uncomp… (more)