“Without Getting Killed or Caught” takes a most unusual approach to telling the story of folk singer/songwriter Guy Clark. The documentary, which is currently screening at the SXSW Online festival, is narrated by Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek, using the musings and diaries of Clark’s wife, Susanna.
As fans of Clark know, the title for the film comes from the singer’s “L.A. Freeway,” one of his biggest hits. But it also captures the outside-the-box approach to music that went way beyond the typical Nashville sound. And as Clark led the way to championing folk music, he was joined by such other songwriters as Townes van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Steve Young, Steve Earle and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Although all of these artists are well-known, Susanna stands out, in part because she was the glue that helped hold the musicians together. And Susanna, herself, was a successful songwriter, notably co-writing with Richard Leigh “Come From the Heart.” She also was an artist who painted the covers for Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” and Nanci Griffith’s “Dust Bowl Symphony.”
Throughout her time with Guy, Susanna took many notes and jotted down observations as well as used cassette tapes to record interactions with friends and fellow artists. All of these materials were made available to Tamara Saviano, who was given full access to Susanna’s materials. Saviano is co-director of “Without Getting Caught or Killed,” along with her husband Paul Whitfield. Saviano also wrote the Clark biography of the same name.
Those tapes help explain the unusual relationship that developed among Guy, Susanna and Townes. Although Susanna was Guy’s wife, she was also what she called the “soulmate” of Townes. And the three seemed to be together quite a bit, with Townes moving into the Clark home for a while.
As you might expect, the documentary includes numerous talking-head interviews with associates of Guy and Susanna. And those interviews are compelling. But they’re not as compelling as the memories of Susanna, and the directors rightly focus on her.
The film also includes substantial archival footage, especially of Guy’s growing up in Texas and his early days.
But like Guy Clark’s music, the documentary should be experienced on its own terms, and words won’t do it justice.
In that regard, SXSW registrants can stream the movie through the festival’s online portal through Saturday.
Other people can join a series of ticketed streaming events by visiting the film’s website, withoutgettingkilledorcaught.com.
Also, fans in Austin will get another chance to see the film on May 19, when the Austin Film Society and Contemporary Austin will hold an in-person screening at the Laguna Gloria Art Museum. Tickets aren’t yet available, but list the AFS website, austinfilm.org, for more details.
“Without Getting Killed or Caught” was edited by Whitfield and Sandra Adair, who is a longtime collaborator of Austin director Richard Linklater.