Vivian Liberto was Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters, Roseanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara.
Chances are you wouldn’t know that, unless you caught Ginnifer Goodwin’s brief portrayal of her in the movie Walk the Line (2005).
If you did see it, you probably didn’t walk away with a very positive impression of Vivian who seemed to be holding Johnny Cash back from stardom and his freedom to be with his apparent soul mate, June Carter.
When June became June Carter Cash the couple became country music royalty, beloved by their adoring fans.
Vivian Cash seemed to be destined to become an obscure footnote in the saga of country music.
Matt Riddlehoover is on a mission to set the record straight. He is the producer, director and editor of the new documentary My Darling Vivian.
The title is taken from one of Johnny Cash’s many romantic love letters sent to Vivian over the years.
She kept them all in a suitcase, in chronological order, until the end of her life.
She also kept the roller skates she wore on their first date when she was just 17 years old, a small, slender, strikingly beautiful young woman with dark exotic features.
She became Johnny’s wife and the mother of his four daughters and, like many women married to celebrity husbands, she endured the loneliness of raising a family while he was traveling and performing.
It’s a story of pain and suffering mixed with moments of joy and happiness, all told in interviews with Vivian’s daughters.
It’s an emotional journey for each of them, who, at times, remember the events differently.
They occasionally contradict each other about the details of the events that shaped their lives and Riddlehoover leaves these inconsistencies in the film.
That, in itself, is a statement. It begs the question about all biographies and, for that matter, all of history in general.
While we’d like to think that there is something line objective truth in this world, it becomes apparent that reality becomes filtered through the eyes of those who witness it or experience it.
That point has been made in movies before, including a couple of classics.
Citizen Kane (1941) is a search for the meaning of a man’s dying word (“Rosebud”) as well as an attempt to understand his life.
The newspater reporter soon discovers that the story of Kane’s life changes depending who you are talking to. They don’t agree, even when recalling the same events in Kane’s life.
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1951) is another classic example. The details surrounding a rape and murder vary depending on who is telling the story.
Both movies raise the question of whether there is anything approaching objective truth.
And so it is with My Darling Vivian, a search for the real story about Johnny Cash’s first wife.
As you would expect, the movie is largely the memories of the Vivian’s four daughters, supported by photographs, snapshots, home movies, movie clips and tender love letters.
There is no doubt that Johnny passionately loved Vivian. The movie traces how the story went from that to their divorce a little over a decade later.
The movie is well researched. It’s a wealth of images from the past, a walk through a famous family scrapbook that is intimate and absorbing.
Riddlehoover adds some interesting little touches like making the cigarette smoke come to life in photos showing someone smoking a cigarette.
He adds the sounds of a bowling alley to a shot of Vivian rolling the ball.
Perhaps no movie can tell the story of someone’s life in the span of an hour and a half. But this one does a respectable job of telling Vivian’s side of it.
It does set the record straight and offer insight into a story that might have been forgotten if it weren’t for this documentary and Vivian’s book, I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny written in 2007.
I’m guessing that more people will see this movie. It’s well worth the time.
Click here for all Virtual Cinema bookings for My Darling Vivian, starting June 19.