The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

Directed by Aiyana Elliott
Narrated by the director.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (some profanity)

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
September 5, 2000

Delinquent fathers are not unknown in this country, but what is the daughter of Ramblin' Jack Elliott to do? Her father's very persona depends on his tendency to not stay in one place for very long. A good idea was to hit the road and make a documentary.

Aiyana Elliott had never made a film before, but with a video camera, a microphone, and plenty of famous friends and relatives, she pieced together The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack. She found a great deal of old film clips and photographs to tell the story of how her father grew up and became one of the most influential folk singers in the world. Born Elliott Adnopoz in Brooklyn, "Ramblin' Jack" Elliott learned how to play the guitar and started a career on the road which has now lasted over 50 years.

We see how this son of a Jewish doctor became an icon of "cowboy music" -- just as genuine as his mentor, Woody Guthrie. We also see how he helped spark the folk revolution in the early 1960s, bringing Guthrie's style to Greenwich Village, where Bob Dylan soon became a disciple. Of course, Dylan's edgier style won him great fame, and Jack seemed to be a pale derivative to those who didn't understand his place in the evolution of American folk music.

Jack went through four marriages, and the last, brief coupling produced the director. Since then, he has remain unmarried, unbound by family. Aiyana hopes to get to know her father better while she films him on the road, and interviews her mother and other acquaintances of Jack. Does she succeed in her goal? By making the film, she can compile all the facts, legends, and stories surrounding him, but neither she nor the audience can get to the heart of the man.

Essentially, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack is more entertaining and informative than it is insightful. Even more negative aspects of his life, including problems with alcohol and drugs, are glossed over. I don't know if Aiyana Elliott would be able to make a compelling film on any other subject, but in this case she does manage to be competent.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (2000) -- VHS
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (2000) -- DVD
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan