There was a screening of the new Hank Williams biopic, I Saw the Light, a few days ago, but I wasn’t too keen on going, as I wasn’t much of a country fan at all, much less know anything about Hank Williams. The extent of what I knew about the movie was that Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen were in it. (And people thought they were dating as a result.)
Then I saw that the screening included a special Q&A with filmmakers. That is a little more interesting, but again, I didn’t really have a keen interest in the film at the time.
And then, I saw that a friend of mine had gone to a New York screening and I realized something then.
Tom Hiddleston was doing the Q&A after the screening.
That’s right, the star of the film, fan-favorite Tom Hiddleston, and the director, Marc Abraham, were touring with their new film.
(Having trouble with the embedding here, so let me know if this video shows up!)
They were in New York and the day before they arrived in DC, Tom made a Colbert appearance. I’ll share some of the insights that Tom and Marc provided throughout my review so here we go!
Like I said, I came into this movie not knowing anything at all about Hank Williams except that he was a country music singer. The movie’s opening lets you know that. Marc told us that they chose to do start the movie with a dramatically-lit Hank because everyone was wondering how Tom would sound trying to sing like this legend.
“The Zeus of country music. His influence can be heard in almost every country song that came after him.” – Marc Abraham
Hank and Tom fans will love hearing him croon away his hit song “Cold, Cold Heart” with a hat and silky golden light illuminating the screen. We definitely start off knowing what kind of Williams-singing we’ll be getting in this movie.
For me, the scenes that were highlights were the scenes when Hank was singing and performing, even though I am not a fan of his music, or even of his genres of music. Tom talked about how one of the things that really helped him connect with portraying Hank was realizing that Hank truly understood the power of a live performance, and that no matter what kind of craziness was going on in his life, the show had to go on. He was an electrifying presence in person, and Tom knows how powerful sharing your craft with your audience in the same room can be from his experiences as a massive movie star.
The relationship between Hank and his first wife, Audrey, was really dynamic. The first time we see Audrey is in the second scene of the movie, when she and Hank are getting married in a gas station. (10 days after filing for divorce, she is.) Then we see immediately that Audrey clashes with Hank’s loving mother, and Hank himself is constantly struggling for power with his relationships with both women in his life.
If you don’t know much about Hank Williams, this movie will let you know something loud and clear: Hank Williams drank and drank and drank. Sex, drugs, and
rock & roll country/blues/gospel/honky-tonk was his way of life. He struggled with alcoholism and the movie shows him entering rehab for it. His drinking wreaked havoc on his marriage and on his career, as it cost him his contract with the Grand Ole Opry, where he had dreamed of performing ever since he was a young boy.
Also, I can’t not mention how ridiculous some of Hank Williams’s outfits were.
To be honest, the pacing of the movie was a little bit too slow for me. What was really interesting about that, however, is something Tom said about practicing talking in Hank’s very distinct accent. Specifically, Tom was talking about delivering his Luke the Drifter poem (Luke the Drifter was a pseudonym Hank used to release more raw albums) and how “Luke” did so as though he was delivering a gospel sermon like the ones Hank grew up listening to. Slow and then fast, slow and then fast, with no particular rhythm but it sweeps you up nonetheless. The movie, similarly, often was very slow, with long, lingering shots of Hank looking pensive and/or drinking. But these would be punctuated with scenes of him really getting a crowd going at a show or recording one of his hits.
Honestly, I care a lot more about Hank Williams now than I did before. I really love that Tom and Marc met Hank’s family. Hank had a son with Audrey, Hank Jr. (who is a singer in his own right), and Hank Jr.’s daughter Holly (also a singer) came on set to talk to Marc and Tom. Most of the research about Hank’s life was done by the biographer who wrote the book that inspired the film, Hank Williams: The Biography. Holly was most struck by this beautiful, tender scene where Hank and Audrey are singing to their days-old baby boy. Although Audrey is mocked throughout the beginning of the film for having a bad singing voice, these two new parents harmonizing softly together with this adorable baby boy between them is such an amazing moment. Holly was able to see her grandfather singing to her father, as she was unable to meet Hank Sr.
The tragedy with Hank Williams was that his demons got to him, even though he provided relief for so many from their own demons. His songs communicated to the darkness that his fans harbored within themselves, and they were able to leave that darkness behind them as they left his shows. But he couldn’t walk away from his darkness when he stepped off stage. His drinking and his medication abuse (for a spinal condition he had) had Hank taking himself to ruin several times.
“Everybody has a little darkness in ’em. Now I’m talking about things like anger, sorrow, shame. I show it to ’em. And they don’t have to take it home.” – Hank Williams, I Saw the Light
After 36 charting hits, a 6-year-career and a brand new marriage, Hank Williams passed away a few weeks after turning 29.
I Saw the Light is in theaters today.