SXSW Interview: Without Getting Killed or Caught

Tamara Saviano on the bonds between Guy, Susanna, and Townes

SXSW 2021 selection Without Getting Killed or Caught

In one of her last audio diaries before Townes Van Zandt died on New Year's Day 1997, Susanna Clark pleads to the songwriter in her grief for the inevitability she recognized to come. That voice the world hasn't heard before serves as the foundation of Tamara Saviano's new documentary, Without Getting Killed or Caught, premiering at SXSW.

The relationship between Susanna, her husband Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt remains one of country music's great and tragic love stories. Grief, addiction, creativity, and love forged a complicated bond among three extraordinary artists. Saviano, who penned 2016's Guy Clark biography of the same title, focused on a different angle for her film after exploring Susanna's unheard tapes.

"I feel like she's been overlooked," says Saviano. "[After] Townes died, in the last 15 years of Susanna's life, she stayed in bed the whole time. She already had this deep grief over her sister's suicide that she carried with her. When Townes died, she just gave up."

Although a hit songwriter in her own right ("Easy From Now On," "Come From the Heart"), Susanna remains overshadowed by the two best friends. As Van Zandt's posthumous legacy became revered and Guy's reputation grew in the new century, Susanna faded into heartbreak.

Saviano's film not only exhumes a vital, unique artist, but reshapes one of the most formative periods in country music: the Seventies rise of Americana that catalyzed around the Clarks' house in Nashville. The film draws on intimate interviews with songwriter contemporaries (Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill) as buttressed by the director's extensive interviews with Guy. Sissy Spacek provides narration in voicing Susanna's written journals and interviews.

"I want people to know she was an artist," says the onetime local. "She was the hit songwriter out of the three of them, and she was an incredible muse for all these songwriters. Every songwriter in Nashville of that era I talked to was in love with Susanna."

Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark

2020 Spotlight

World Premiere
Available from 8pm, Thu. March 18

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

South By Southwest Has a New Investor
South By Southwest Has a New Investor
With 50% ownership in SXSW LLC, P-MRC provides “lifeline”

Kevin Curtin, April 18, 2021

SXSW Film Review: <i>When Claude Got Shot</i>
SXSW Film Review: When Claude Got Shot
Documentary goes beyond the headlines of Black-on-Black crime

Shane Pfender, April 7, 2021

More by Doug Freeman
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Jess Williamson, Ondara, Cherubs, Blushing, and more recommended shows

June 9, 2023

Listen to This: The Push & Shove Takes a Big Rock Swig With “These Times”
Listen to This: The Push & Shove Takes a Big Rock Swig With “These Times”
Venue and beverage scene vets unite for debut LP The Rookie

June 2, 2023


SXSW 2021, SXSW Film 2021, Without Getting Killed or Caught, Townes van Zant, Guy Clark, Susanna Clark, Tamara Saviano

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle