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by Erik Sean McGiven on Jul 22, 2009
Personal demons and backstage battles are the essence of
this heartfelt documentary about the dreams of stardom on the strip-mall stages
of Branson, MO. Set in the entertainment
capital of Middle America, "Branson" documents the lives of several
performers pursuing their childhood dreams to entertain while facing the harsh
realities of getting older and a struggling economy. For this engaging and often heartbreaking
film, director Brent Meeski followed the performers of three acts playing at a
Branson strip mall, two in actual theaters and one in a food court, through
their ups and downs of three seasons.
Offstage, they wait tables, sell gadgets at mall kiosks, perform for
tips or meals and sell CDs at gas stations--all to make ends meet.
The film came about by accident when the cast of a reality
TV pilot abandoned the director in Branson.
Brent decided to utilize his crew for the remainder of the trip by
shooting some behind the scenes material of the show "#1 Hits of the
But the real find in this documentary is the incredibly
talented Johnny Cash impersonator Jackson Cash.
In the film he remarks that when he has a cold he sounds more like
Johnny Cash than the legend himself. The
two have similar journeys to stardom.
Both had to deal with personal demons: drugs and drinking. And such struggles likely led to the honesty
and clarity of their performances; being able to talk about them and use them
as inspiration for their music.
"Branson" is a look inside the world of
entertainment and likely a look back at what vaudeville might have been
like. To almost all the performers
featured, there is a love of being on stage, receiving laughs and applause. It's not so much a job, but more a
calling. Yet tragically, it can't go on
forever and it's those crossroads the film so poignantly addresses. One act throws in the towel and returns to
regular jobs in New York. Yet the couple
still perform part-time, one-man plays, birthdays, weddings. The sixties show struggled on for another
year. Jackson Cash makes up the major
portion of dramatic material in this film.
He walked away as the star.
At the screening I attended, Jackson Cash serve up a
remarkable live performance after the film.
He received a standing ovation, in part for his music, but more so for
opening up about his life for all to see, both the good and the bad. People walked out of that theatre with
admiration and respect for the man.
That's remarkable for any documentary.
FEATURES: Jackson Cash, Amber Campbell, Geoffrey Hastings
Haberer, Peggy Lee Brennan-Haberer, Terry Wayne, Nita Tate, Eric Eichenberger,
Patrick Schuster, Angela Walker, Blake Walker, Jim Mock, Jr. Directed by Brent Meeske; Producer: Brent
Meeske, Jack Blac, Ben Cooley, Justin Moore-Lewy, Charlie Mason; Screenwriter:
Brent Meeske; Cinematographer: Brian Zarin; Editor: Brent Meeske; Music: John
Gold. Running Time: 94 Minutes.
July 10, 2020