Matias Bombal’s Hollywood

By Matias Bomal
I Saw the Light
 The MPAA has rated this R
Sony Pictures Classics offers “I Saw the Light” a screen visualization of the life of singer-songwriter Hank Williams, who in his tragically short career, made an indelible mark in country music in the USA with 33 hit song singles, 30 of which were in the Top Ten, including eight number one hits. This is the first of three movies to come out this month about music personalities of the past which coincidentally had substance abuse problems. The other two movies are about jazz legends Chet Baker and Miles Davis. Based on the book “Hank Williams: The Biography” by Colin Escort with George Merritt and William MacEwen, this movie’s screen play was adapted and written by the director, Marc Abraham.

Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams with the Drifting Cowboys - Photo: Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams with the Drifting Cowboys – Photo: Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

Tom Hiddleston stars as Williams, bringing the clearly defined music personality back to life for this movie. His somewhat domineering mother, Jessie Lillybelle Skipper Williams Stone, who was also his early manager, is played by Cherry Jones, who you may remember from the “Horse Whisperer” or “Erin Brockovich”. The movie begins with a faux documentary approach, with men integral to Williams’ career being interviewed about the singer in black and white and in a nice touch, the classic academy ratio of 1.37:1, a rather square screen shape. The production returns to this shape later in the feature for the clever recreations of Kodachrome home movies of Williams’ family, a nice element in a movie in which Tom Hiddleston is completely believable in the part he is playing.
Williams’ life of wandering, drug and alcohol abuse destroyed much around him but he had moments of joy with one of his wives, Audrey, who was the mother of Hank Williams, Jr. Audrey fancied herself a singer and wanted much to be teamed with her husband in records and radio, but lacked the ability to hold a tune. She’s played in the movie by Elizabeth Olsen.
During Williams’ marriage to Audrey, what started as a little pain in his back would eventually be Hank’s undoing. Suffering with Spina bifida occulta, Hank began to self-medicate, combining alcohol, morphine and chloral hydrate, eventually leading to a heart attack which took him at just 29 years of age in 1953, when en route to a performance.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Audrey, Hank Williams' wife. Photo; Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

Elizabeth Olsen plays Audrey, Hank Williams’ wife. Photo; Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

We see the years 1944 to 1953 covered during the course of this movie, and it well establishes the feel of the period, recreating the mood and times from which Williams’ singular voice became an indelible part of the passing parade. Hiddleston’s own voice is used in the picture, rather than the actual Hank Williams recordings, and he does quite well, making you believe he is the genuine article.
Though there are uncomfortable moments to watch, Hiddleston really gives a great performance here and proves yet again what a great talent he is in the worlds of cinema. I hope you see this picture and enjoy his performance as much as I did.  In Sacramento at the Tower Theatre.
Other theaters in Northern California: San Francisco: Landmark Clay, Century 9, AMC Van Ness, Stonetown Twin, Berkeley: Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Pleasant Hill: Century 16, Menlo Park: Landmark Guild, San Jose: CineArts at Santana Row, San Rafael: Regency Cinemas 6, Monterey: Monterey Cinemas 16 and Santa Cruz: Nickelodeon.
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