Guy Clark, the dean of Texas songwriters, struggles to write poetic songs while balancing a complicated marriage with wife Susanna, and a deep friendship with writer Townes Van Zandt, on whom Susanna forged a passionate dependence.
This 90-minute documentary follows Guy Clark, Susanna Clark, and Townes Van Zandt as they rise from obscurity to reverence: Guy, the Pancho to Van Zandt's Lefty, struggling to establish himself as the Dylan Thomas of American music, while Susanna pens hit songs and paints album covers for top artists, and Townes spirals in self-destruction after writing some of Americana music's most enduring and influential ballads. Based on the diaries of Susanna Clark and Saviano's 2016 book Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark, the film tells the saga from Susanna's point of view, with Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek voicing Susanna's narration. Saviano, a longtime figure on the Americana scene as journalist, publicist, artist manager, and Grammy-winning producer, had the complete cooperation of Clark, who sat for interviews on and off camera. Without Getting Killed or Caught (the title comes from Clark's song, "L.A. Freeway") also offers poignant reflections from ...Written by
Jerry Jeff Walker made the lyrics famous: "If I can just get off of this L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught", but it was Guy Clark who wrote 'em. Co-directors Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield put together a profile of legendary songwriter Clark, but it's also an intimate look at an era, the challenges of the music industry, Clark's enigmatic wife Susanna, and at their friendship with the great Townes Van Zandt.
The film is based on Susanna's diaries and the biography written by co-director Saviano entitled, "Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark". Most documentaries that focus on a musician spend the vast majority of time on the songs, but this is something quite different. Sure, the music is crucial to the story, but this is the saga of struggling artists and poets, and the unconventional and complicated relationships they formed. It's more of a psychological character study than a tribute to the beautiful music.
Background on Guy and Susanna go back to each of their childhoods. We see family photos and videos, and learn Guy was brought up west Texas tough, while Susanna had a large family. Brought together by tragedy, their 40+ year relationship was built on art and a free-wheeling nature not uncommon to the times. Guy became best friends with songwriter Townes Van Zandt, and an unconventional triumvirate was the result when Townes and Susanna became spiritual soul mates.
Vince Gill, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell fill in some details of those early years, and more importantly provide perspective on the commitment to a specific type of songwriting that Guy held precious. There are also clips of interviews with Townes, and we learn just how difficult it was for Guy to achieve success. It came much easier for Susanna, who wrote #1 hit songs AND was an accomplished artist - her painting served as the cover of Willie Nelson's "Stardust" album.
Of course, Guy Clark ultimately achieved both admiration and success with his songs. Jerry Jeff put him on the map, but Grammy awards came later, as did lifetime achievement awards and best-selling albums. The film includes much of Susanna's time with "TR", which is what she called the tape recorder, so we eavesdrop on many conversations - both personal and musical. Clips of Guy's appearances on Austin City Limits in 1977, 1981, and 1989 are a pleasure, but the later years are a bit more difficult. The most challenging part of the story is knowing that Susanna remained bedridden after Townes' death in 1997. Guy passed a few years later: "Texas is callin', callin' me home." With narration from Sissy Spacek (as Susanna), the film is a personal journey that we are privileged to take.
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