By Laurie Coker
Texas music has a life of its own. Whether born in the state or transplanted from elsewhere, stars like Townes van Zandt and Guy Clark left their mark on the industry beyond the Lone Star State’s borders. SXSW documentary, Without Getting Killed or Caught, takes a personal and bare look at perhaps one of the greatest Texas songwriters of all time, Guy Clark. Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield craftily weave together archive footage, narration by Sissy Spacek, and contemporary interviews, providing a profound portrayal of their subjects and the times in which they lived.
Clark is considered the best of the best of Texas songwriters, and his work can be heard on his own albums and those of countless others. Early in his career, he struggled to write expressive songs while involved in a volatile and complicated marriage with wife Susanna, who he met and married in an 18-day time span. Her obsessive dependence on Guy’s best friend Townes Van Zandt makes the relationship more edgy and challenging, especially for Susanna, who spiraled down after Townes untimely death. Ultimately, Clark’s work reflects the truth of his personal experiences. Truths to which many can relate.
It was Jerry Jeff Walker, who made Clark’s song L.A. Freeway a hit and its lyrics “if I can just get off of this L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught,” kind of define the life of Guy, Townes and Susanna – a fast, wild, roller-coaster life filled with ups, downs, love, and passion. The story is not so much about Guy, as it is about the trio and the crazy ride that they went on. Saviano and Whitfield not only give us a peek into their lives, they also provide an intimate look at the era, the culture (of the 60s and 70s and the music industry), which make the film more effective and engaging. They cover childhoods, early years and careers, and rather than focus on the songs, they focus on the characters and their successes and trials, which works well.
It would be nice to think that Without Getting Killed or Caught will have a wide audience appeal but it likely will appear mostly in festivals and arthouses. For many, like me, if can provide a catalyst for recall and reminiscing. The film allows us on a private journey with three remarkable people and I am saddened to know that Susanna remained bed ridden for fifteen years after Townes death in 1997, before she too died. I appreciate having had the opportunity to take the journey and am placing an A in my grade book.