Hank Williams Immortalized in “I Saw the Light”
By Skip Sheffield
Hank Williams, Sr. died when I was only five, but he has impacted my life in many ways.
Hank Williams was a country & western music super star. I always thought “I Saw The Light” was a traditional gospel song handed down from generation to generation. No, it was a song written by Hank Williams in 1948. Williams was greatly influenced by gospel music, growing up in rural Alabama.
“I Saw The Light” is a biographical picture starring British actor Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston not only resembles Hank Williams, his approximation of an Alabama accent is most convincing.
The career of Hank Williams was the very definition of “meteoric.” He was taught how to play guitar by a black street performer named Rufus Payne. This detail is omitted in director Marc Abraham’s screenplay, based on Colin Escott’s biography.
Instead we jump in mid-stream and mid-concert, in which someone remarks Hank had been “drinking like a fish,” and he is heckled by hostile audience members.
Hank Williams was an alcoholic who started drinking at about the same time he started playing in public as a young teenager. Williams was in pain almost always, due to the fact he was born with spina bifida, which gave him excruciating backaches. “I Saw the Light” begins in April, 1947, after Williams recorded his first hit record. He would be dead just six years later at age 29 of “heart failure” most likely exacerbated by alcohol and pain pill addiction. Yet in his short lifetime Williams became one of the most renowned American songwriters of the 20th century. From his first hit “Move It On Over” in 1947 (which became a hit cover for George Thorogood more than 50 years later) to such standards as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hey Good Lookin’, Williams justified the nickname “The Hillbilly Shakespeare. His son, Hank Jr., had a hit with “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” released posthumously in 1989.
This movie belongs to Tom Hiddleston, but he gets able support from Elizabeth Olsen as his first wife Audrey, Cherry Jones as his mother-manager Lillie and Bradley Whitford as his industry champion, Fred Rose. I am not particularly a country music fan, but Hank Williams crossed all borders and labels. This movie makes me appreciate him all the more. He did not like the label but he was genius.