RogerBW's Blog

My Darling Vivian (2020) 16 November 2022

2020 documentary, dir. Matt Riddlehoover, Roseanne Cash, Kathy Cash Tittle; IMDb / allmovie. Hello. He's Johnny Cash.

When I watched Walk the Line, I couldn't help feeling that it pushed Vivian very much into a standard role defined by Cash and June Carter: she's the first wife who Doesn't Understand His Music, and she has to be got ouf of the way so that the Great Romance can happen. Thanks to Lieven Marchand for putting me onto this, which is the story of Vivian's life, as told by her four daughters with Cash.

Most interestingly, it doesn't try to make her a saint. The children were still quite young when the divorce happened, and they sometimes have quite different impressions of their mother's married life; so what one ends up with is several separate pictures of Vivian, of what she got right and what she got wrong, of the pressures on her and how she coped with them or sometimes didn't. This was a woman with a strict 1930s Catholic upbringing, married young very much in love, producing children until her body couldn't take it any moreā€¦ in a house in the middle of nowhere with four children and no neighbours in walking distance, terrified of crazy visiting fans, while her man was living the high life on the road. There's no mention here of Cash's infidelities; that isn't part of the children's memories of Vivian. But they can't help but remember how different Cash was when he came home with a full-blown drug habit.

Here also is the story about "Johnny Cash's Negro Wife", the post-court photo that emphasised her slightly dark skin tone, and the total vanishing of bookings in the South until various people (white men, of course) certified on the record that she really was who she was. But the anger here isn't about that (racists gonna racist, after all); it's about the way Vivian was gradually erased in the public eye from Cash's great first love to a minor historical footnote in the Johnny and June Story, definitely not helped by June's repeated public statements that "we have seven daughters" when four of those daughters were living with their mother for fifty weeks of the year. Yes, after the divorce, Vivian felt that she needed to re-marry before Cash did; with the various recollections here, I felt I got a visceral impression of the sort of person she was, that that would matter to her.

Most of the film consists of silent archive footage, with narration taken from interviews with Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara; alas, it's played over tinkly instrumental music (except when there are actual concert recordings), which much reduces any emotional resonance one might find in this otherwise excellent film.

Tags: film reviews

See also:
Walk the Line (2005)

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