Hank Williams

Honky Tonk Blues [DVD]

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In a terrific example of a documentary done right, director Morgan Neville teamed up with Hank Williams biographer Colin Escott to write and produce this film, prepared as an episode of PBS' American Masters series. The TV version was edited to fit into a one-hour time slot, but the version on the video runs 82:34, and the DVD then adds another 17 minutes of interview material that didn't fit into the film proper. Neville and Escott managed to interview not only Williams' son Hank Williams, Jr., grandson Hank Williams III, daughter Jett Williams, and second wife Billie Jean Horton, but also other relatives, numerous surviving members of Williams' backup band the Drifting Cowboys, and some other key people. They traveled from Montgomery, AL, to Shreveport, LA, and on to Nashville, TN, with several stops in between. Perhaps of greatest interest to Williams fans already familiar with his life story will be the unearthed footage of Williams himself. For a long time, it was thought that there was only one extant film of Williams performing on a TV show, but several other instances are shown here, along with some silent film and many photographs. Of course, Williams' music is heard throughout, as well as his own voice and that of his first wife, Audrey Williams. Neville and Escott tell the singer/songwriter's life fairly, not leaving out any of the bad behavior displayed by a man who died at only 29, but placing it in the context of his physical condition, the circumstances of his life and career, and the times. For the most part, they use the people who actually knew Williams to tell the story, although Escott himself steps in here and there to fill things in. One of the interviewees says that the way to know Hank Williams is to listen to his music, and while that is certainly true, watching this film will give a good idea of what his life was like.

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