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I Saw the Light (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 123 minutes.

OK for children.

In 1988 I saw Lost Highway: the Music and Legend of Hank Williams at the Mark Taper forum in Los Angeles. While it told the story of Williams, the thing that was so captivating about it was the terrific, toe-tapping music. It was a concert within a play. It was so good I went back to see it again later in the week, because it was a short run and I didnít know if Iíd ever get a chance to see it again. Iím glad I went back because I never have seen it play again in Los Angeles.

So I was eagerly anticipating this film. Unfortunately (for me, at least) the music is minimized. This is only a biopic of Hank Williams the man and forgets the music which, in the end, defined the man. And while Tom Hiddleston looks like a dead ringer for the real Hank, writer-director Marc Abraham made a huge mistake in allowing Hiddleston to sing the songs himself instead of dubbing in Williamsí voice. Williams is one of those singers whose twang was instantly recognizable and whose voice would have added immensely to the movie.

Thatís the same mistake the makers of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005) made (who in their right mind would rather hear Joaquin Phoenix than Johnny Cash?) and the makers of The Jolson Story (1946) didnít, dubbing in Jolieís voice to Larry Parks excellent lip syncing. Not that Hiddleston canít sing, itís just that he is not Hank Williams. Hiddlestonís non-Williams voice gnawed on me with every song.

But even Hiddleston didnít try ďLovesick Blues,Ē which was Williamsí signature song, the one he sang to introduce himself at The Grand Ole Opry, although he did not write it. Written by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills in 1925, it was voiced in the movie by Emmett Miller, maybe because Hiddleston had trouble with the yodeling. If they were going to dub someoneís voice, though, why not Hankís? This is, after all, a movie about Hank Williams. Using Millerís voice to sing Hankís signature song makes no sense. How stupid can you get?

Hiddleston gives a good performance as the troubled Williams, but he is almost upstaged by Elizabeth Olsen who plays his wife, Audrey. The film covers how her ambition to sing with him caused constant friction that, combined with Williamsí alcoholism, the marriage couldnít last. One thing the film did not show, however, is that Audrey herself had problems with drugs and alcohol. The film pretty much whitewashes her, and thatís contrary to the record.

Another complaint I have about the film is that it does not explain how he wrote his songs or what inspired him to write them. I would have liked to have seen more about his writing some of his greatest hits like Hey, Good Lookiní, Cold, Cold Heart, I Canít Help it if Iím Still in Love With You, Iím So Lonesome I Could Cry, Jambalaya, and Why Donít You Love Me? The latter is typical of his brilliant lyric. It starts,

Why donít you love me like you used to do?

How come you treat me like a worn out shoe?

My hairís still curly and my eyes are still blue.

Why donít you love me like you used to do?

I love these lyrics.

Although his career only lasted six years before he died on New Yearís Day in 1953, he had 33 hit country singles, of which 30 reached the top 10 and eight made number one. After his death, seven of his songs reached the top 10 and three made number one.

Troubled as he was, he was a great talent, but his own worst enemy. This is a film that captures all of the negatives, without hardly a passing nod to the positives mentioned above.

Maybe someday some filmmaker with more appreciation for music will make  Lost Highway into a film and load it with music while still telling the story.