Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues a compact and satisfying PBS produced doco screening at the Sydney Film Festival. Hopefully, SBS or ABC will pick it up. It tells the overarching Hank story using archival footage and a successsion of good old boys and girls who played with and knew him. Biographer Colin Escott adds some bookish Englishness to the proceedings and Hank III mopes around an old caravan listening to scratchy 78s, and puts an end to scuttlebutt about Bocephus' paternity by looking every inch his granddaddy's ghost. The official website rightly notes this film wouldn't be possible in a few years time given the ages of many of Hank's contemporaries and their observations are invaluable, affectionate and protective of his legacy but clear-eyed about his faults. Fascinating too the insight into Hank's truly formidable mother, Lillie, and a glimpse of the magentic live performer he must have been, piercing eyes and proto Elvis knee shake.
Hank had serious back problems from childhood, mostly likely spina bifida occulta, and quack Toby Marshall was always around to hand out blank scripts (an especially sorrowful irony when you consider many of Hank's performances were in "medicine shows" spuriking the very latest in snake oil), and eventually the strain on body and mind was too much.
There are some brilliant moments from the archive here: Hank singing with a coy Anita Carter, a sharp suited Tony Bennett kicking back on a hay bale with Ernest Tubb and what appear to be home movies. These have that fake looking 50s washed out colourised look and the faces are all blurry and indistinct. In the end, this seems a fitting final image, a warning against thinking you can get too close to such a complex character.
Hank Jr's output is wildly varying in quality, and for mine he way overplays the Hank's my daddy card. This is a sneakily catchy novelty number with Hank Snr's pedal steel player Don Helms, who also features in the doco. That's him you hear on Cold, Cold Heart, Why Don't You Love Me and I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You) among many others.
Listen: Hank Jr and Don Helms The Ballad of Hank Williams