My Father and the Man in Black is the beautifully moving documentary by Jonathan Holiff about his father Saul Holiff. Saul was not just Jonathan’s father, but also Johnny Cash’s manager and friend for many years. Jonathan grew up with the idea that Saul had not wanted to be a father and that he had chosen Cash over him, his brother Joshua, and his mother Barbara. In Jonathan’s later life, he followed in his father’s show-business footsteps by becoming a talent agent to some of Hollywood’s most well-known names. For most of his adult life and up until Saul’s death, Jonathan remained estranged from his father. As far as Jonathan was concerned, Saul did not want anything to do with him, so what would he have to do with his father.
However, after Saul’s suicide in 2004, Jonathan moved home to Vancouver Island to be with his mother. He thought it would be easy to wrap up his father’s affairs and move on with life. Due to many calls from reporters and avid Johnny Cash fans, his mother Barbara gave Jonathan the keys to his father’s storage lockers. These keys would not only unlock the doors Saul’s personal effects, but they would also unlock the doors on a man who Jonathan never knew existed. He would have no choice but learn about his estranged father and how Cash had shaped more of his life than Jonathan ever knew.
This documentary has the advantage of being made by a man that knows about film and what a good documentary should look like. Outside of a small bit of obvious green screen, this film not only looks good but sounds good as well. Jonathan went to great lengths to get actors that not only looked like Johnny Cash but his father Saul as well. The beautiful cinematography is combined with amazing archival footage and photographs from Saul’s personal artifacts to really fill out the details of this story.
Whether you are a Johnny Cash fan or someone who just appreciates good documentary, My Father and the Man in Black has a lot to offer. As a fan myself, it was very interesting to see a grittier side not prettied up by Hollywood in order to protect Cash’s legacy. That is not to say however that Jonathan was disparaging; the revelations that he shares about Cash seem much more about truth than about defamation of character.