Friday, June 19, 2020

Want the real story on Johnny Cash? Try Matt Riddlehoover's new doc, MY DARLING VIVIAN

A wonderful, much-needed corrective to the overblown, over-rated, cliche-ridden 2005 bio-pic Walk the Line (that very nearly suggested sainthood for June Carter Cash, the second and hugely hungry-for-media-attention wife of country-western singer Johnny Cash), the new documentary MY DARLING VIVIAN, making its virtual theater debut this week, is a must-see for anyone who cares about something approaching the "real story."

Yes, Reese Witherspoon won a Best Actress Oscar for her work in the earlier film, and that movie had the usual Hollywood bio-pic gloss, but it is this little documentary that grabs you from its first frames, as one of Mr. Cash's four daughters by his first wife, Vivian Liberto, explains that, in a way, each daughter had a "different" mother, due to all the events/trauma going on as these girls grew up.

And while Ginnifer Goodwin, who took the role of Vivian in the bio-pic, is certainly attractive and talented, her beauty is no match for that of the real Vivian (shown on poster, top, and below), who more realistically might have been played by the likes of Angelina Jolie. Director Matt Riddlehoover, shown above, has brought together a wealth of archival materials -- photos and film -- of the early days of Johnny, Vivian and their girls, and what we see, coupled with what we hear from each of the daughters (now grown to adulthood), combines to make the documentary as full of pertinent information as it is riveting and moving.

While it is clear that the daughters certainly cared about and for their father (shown above, right), it is their mom and her mistreatment by Mr. Cash and his second wife, that is called to attention here. (You may be tempted to refer to this guy as Johnny Trash.) As we learn of Vivian's own family history and how this played into her fears and foibles, along with how her husband consistently put his own desires ahead of what might be best for the family, a not terribly untypical tale of mid-20th-Century male entitlement -- celebrity version -- unfurls.

To go into much detail will spoil the many surprises in store, so TrustMovies will just say that each of the four daughters proves a different yet equally interesting guide into the family history, with eldest daughter Roseanne Cash, herself a noted singer and musician, giving us the most time and information.

And yet it is all the fascinating specifics of this marriage (along with Vivian's second one) that make this movie so peculiar and so sadly believable. How June Carter Cash used every media opportunity to make it seem as though she had raised and mothered the four girls; how that Walk the Line movie distorted fact with easy fiction, and most disgustingly what happened to a song dedicated to Vivian at the special tribute to Johnny Cash and its TV broadcast. How the record of an entire life can be eradicated via those in power has rarely been so effectively demonstrated.

Although the film gives us all this, it never raises its voice or appears to demonize any of its subjects. In fact, Vivian herself is shown to be a very problemed person, greatly loved though she was by her family.

And if Johnny Cash seems pretty awful for much of the movie's length, by its finale, he has at least partially redeemed himself. How fortunate it is that Vivian was the kind of woman who saved so much of the memorabilia concerning the fellow she very much loved. And that her daughters were willing to speak so genuinely and tellingly about their rather special family.

From The Film Collaborative and running a perfect-length 90 minutes, My Darling Vivian opens today, Friday, June 19, in New York City at Film Forum and elsewhere around the country. Click here for more information about Film Forum's virtual cinema, and here for more info on how, wherever you live, you can watch the film at home.

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