A Documentary Journey: Searching for a Father in the "Shadow of a Legend"

To cope with Saul's death, Jonathan Holiff moved from Los Angeles to Nanaimo and tried to learn as much as he could about the father he never really knew.

The film Walk the Line was released several months after Saul's death in 2005. Although Saul is not a character in the movie, Jonathan and Barbara fielded inquiries from multiple reporters who were curious about his history with Cash. Amid the media attention, Barbara directed Jonathan to a storage locker that contained the items that now reside in the archives at the University of Victoria.

With this wealth of previously unseen material, Jonathan wrote and directed the documentary My Father and the Man in Black (2013), a probing look at his father's life during the years as Cash's manager, which earned him the Golden Reel Orson Welles Award and the Audience Award, Valley Docfest Film Festival.

The years-long process of making the film was one of discovery for Jonathan, who referred to it as finding his father "in the shadow of a legend."

Watch the trailer for My Father and the Man in Black:

Behind the Scenes

The story of Johnny Cash's struggle with addiction is well known, and its impact on his family and close friends has received due attention in multiple biographies, documentaries, and memoirs, including Cash's own.

The works that mention Saul, however, sometimes suggest that he was less affected by the ongoing crisis of Cash's addiction than others in Cash's circle. In some of these accounts, Saul comes across as removed and indifferent, interested in Cash merely from a business perspective. 

But although he did accompany Cash on fewer tours once he moved back to London, and he was unquestionably interested in the luxuries available to him as Cash's success grew, Saul was also personally invested in Cash's career and deeply affected by his volatile behaviour. Jonathan's documentary offers insight on some of the specific incidents that hit Saul the hardest.

Jonathan unearthed new details of Saul and Cash's relationship while researching the documentary, including the story of a show that Cash nearly missed in Ottawa just a few weeks after his overdose in Toronto in 1966. In the reenactment of this incident from My Father and the Man in Black below, Saul and Canadian promoter Harvey Glatt search for Cash when he fails to appear on stage at the Capitol Theatre. Glatt, who does the voice-over for the reenactment, describes how he and Saul had to support Cash all the way to the microphone so that he could perform. It is a brief but poignant scene that suggests the kinds of incidents that Saul had to cope with for years.

Watch scene from My Father and the Man in Black:

The audio file below is a lengthy clip of Glatt recording the voice-over for the scene. He says only a few lines, but he repeats them multiple times with varying levels of emotion and emphasis to get the right effect, an example of the amount of work that went into producing the documentary.

Listen to Harvey Glatt recording his voice-over for the above scene in My Father and the Man in Black:

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