Vivian and Johnny, the legend of Nashville

Johnny Cash's Other Love Story - Sable

On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the disappearance, on September 12, 2003, of the country star Johnny Cash, released on VOD the moving documentary of Matt Riddlehoover : Vivian et Johnny, the legend of Nashville

Several months after the death of Johnny Cash, a tribute concert was organized, summoning beautiful people: Tim Robbins, Willie Nelson. The late star’s first wife Vivian Free was in the room. Without a word, she listened to the speeches about the one she had never ceased to love and which only spoke of the singer June Carter, his second wife, who died before him. It evoked their fusional love, June’s support for the man in black in the dark hours, her artistic bond with him and the couple’s seven children: one boy, six girls. Omitting to say that four of these girls already had a mother, Vivian, who had raised them, often on her own, and that to dispossess her of her children in this way was unfair and inappropriate! In front of the camera of Matt Riddlehoover, Rosanna, Kathy, Tara and Cindy, long after the disappearance of their parents, against the negative image peddled on Vivian by those of Nashville and by the biopic of James Mangold (I walk the line served by the brilliant Joachim Phoenix), will tell another story: the legend of Johnny and Vivian. A Nashville legend to spruce up!

A reverse shot of Mangold’s film, Riddelhoover’s documentary makes their musical voices heard, vibrant with emotion, and resuscitates, through photos and private correspondence, family videos, television archives and intimate memories (sometimes precise, sometimes hesitant, sometimes contradictory, sometimes convergent) a crazy love story. The meeting on skates, in San Antonio in 1951, of Johnny, 18, an Air Force soldier, and Vivian, a beautiful, well-behaved 17-year-old girl raised by a strict Catholic family. Love at first sight, Johnny’s departure for Germany, a thousand love letters (which Vivian will always keep), recorded tapes, promises, then the return, marriage and pregnancies in quick succession. The devil by the tail, the moves, the chain of luck, fame, money, California, intrusive media, touring, absence, estrangement, adultery, drugs, and after 13 years of marriage, divorce. Then, all the life that goes on, without Johnny… The four daughters of Cash, without hiding the excesses of this wounded woman, without concealing their children’s suffering in the face of the chaos of their parents’ couple, look at her as adults and understand it a posteriori. They pity his solitude in the house built by their father, isolated from everything, in the midst of rattlesnakes. They recall her terror in the face of threats from the KKK, when the press in search of scoop, relying on her Latin beauty inherited from Sicilian ancestors, denounces her as negress in an America where interracial marriages were outlawed! They are astonished at her strength of character, wonder how she managed to endure so much humiliation, pressure, grief. The answer lies in part in her Memoirs where she reaffirms her love for her daughters and for Johnny Cash, intact, until his death. Walk the line, the title given to Mangold’s film, which hardly spares Vivian, which was released very fortunately after the latter’s death, is that of a song of “devotion” that Cash as a young married man wrote for her in 1956: because I’m with you I’m going straightI prevent these links that bind us from being broken… From this commitment, Vivian never waved.

ELISE PADOVANI

September 2021

Available on :
UniversCiné | Orange | VOD channel | Arte VOD | Digital media library | CineMutins

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