I tried really hard to imagine myself, but I couldn’t totally do it. We kept sort of readjusting for the needs, but someone said to me that I was activating resisting, sidelining him. ☞ See also Watching the watchers: how Cameraperson enriches the act of filming. I saw Harold and Maude as a kid with my dad. We don't know when we are going to touch them next. I was bifurcated into all these pieces. It's just like, wow. It made me feel like cinema can do even more than I thought it could. My brother is the head of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and works incredibly hard, but when the Museum shut down he was able to stay with my dad. To what extent did the nature of the film change as you were making it? You began shooting the film in 2017 – when did you finish? Many people called and said, “How can you do this?” or, “What is this?” I gave everyone the option, obviously, to not come. 141, This story has been shared 138 times. He has been watching the movie with the other people at the care facility? So I was trying to figure it out and I was working with the wonderful stunt person named Kemp Curley, and we would say to my dad, ‘Just bob your head a little bit and move this way a little,’ and then he would start to fall and Kemp would have to grab him. Can we do something nice for a change? Johnson: Thank you. Afterward, that person said, “I’m so glad to have gotten to experience this.” Because they all knew my dad had dementia. There's very little footage in Cameraperson that I shot knowing that Cameraperson would exist, so it's un-self-conscious. Kirsten Johnson’s superbly inventive movie confronts the trauma of her father’s imminent death with multiple advance stagings of it. The resulting piece of art is unlike anything you've ever seen; it's as funny as it is sad. She’s the one who engineered that “air conditioner” — a styrofoam prop — to come plummeting down on his noggin. The vulnerability of that… not just to see my father in such an extreme situation, but his understanding of the situation, really humbled me. She never danced before, but she can sure dance now." Had you mapped all the deaths out beforehand? Cinephilia, writes Paul Willemen, means “relating to something that is dead, past, but alive in memory”; Thomas Elsaesser evokes cinephiles “forever gathering to revive a fantasm or a trauma”. I was seeing it from afar. Johnson spoke to Decider about all that and more. That’s how you throw a funeral! Dad’s really going down. I think maybe we didn’t want to. That’s what I was asking of cinema. So my dad and my brother were home together from March until July, which gave me an incredible respite from the dementia. articles In its use of bad taste to confront taboo, Johnson’s project recalls both the lurid staged suicides deployed by Harold in Harold and Maude (1971) to rupture his mother’s bourgeois complacency, and Andrew Kötting’s In the Wake of a Deaddad (2006), which saw the filmmaker examine his late father’s legacy whilst carting a four-metre inflatable effigy of him to 60 resonant locations. Johnson’s depiction of the parent-child bond is more positive, however: rather than the re-enactments highlighting issues in her relationship with her father, they are presented as an ironic counterpoint to how very much she loves him. They had all already been to my mother’s funeral in that same place. When my dad was covered in blood, freezing, saying, “This is the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life,” you’re like, “Oh, god.” And, also: He’s fine! That was not a good day. I sent them a link to Cameraperson. Finally, Johnson orchestrates an entire fake funeral, complete with coffin and tearful speeches, which Dick watches from the sidelines. The notion that death has been glossed over or insufficiently analysed sits oddly with any degree of immersion in literature or cinema, which can seem to speak of little else; and yet, time and again, the cultured and bereaved find the former condition no balm for the latter. He accepted their state and also indicated if help was possible, he was going to be there. 160, This story has been shared 151 times. Tags: I am definitely trying to break into new dimensions because I do feel like cinema is time itself and can function in all the very strange quantum physics levels of ways that time is not completely understandable to us as humans. She has been diagnosed with Lupus, she's … It was what I called my John-Travolta-from-Pulp-Fiction moment, when he stick the hypodermic needle in Uma Thurman’s chest: “She’s alive!” [Laughs] I had a similar thing happened when I had filmed this old grandmother in Sarajevo, and the family was there when we’d showed the movie…and after, they came up to me and were sobbing and hugging me, saying, “We had no pictures of her, nothing — and you brought her back to us!” There was this sense of, I need to capture this while I still can. Still, there are some moments when you are on screen. I mean, it was just dangerous having him out on the streets of New York, filming the regular stuff — he’s a man with dementia. Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson repeatedly offs her father in this darkly funny and profound meditation on life and loss. Ironically, meanwhile, Johnson’s glowing depiction of the filial relationship feels as subversive in its way as any of the gruesome fixes that she puts her father in. A prerequisite for Johnson’s processing of the real through the pretend is a firm grasp on which is which; we see her exhort her crew to refer only to fake blood and not blood. Dick Johnson Is Dead is on one level a love letter from a daughter to her dad – but it’s also a wonderful demonstration of the power of movies, how they allow us to explore and in turn experience the meaning of life, death and whatever comes after. I didn't know that. He got to go and stay with my brother during the pandemic, which was … The thing with dementia is it makes you feel like you’re grasping at something that’s disappearing in front of you. Who is Leva Bonaparte's Husband on 'Southern Charm'? There was some part of my mind that remembered what we went through with my mom and was thinking, “Here we go again.”. Theorists have even framed the love of movies as a species of necrophilia. I’m definitely feeling what a lot of people are feeling in this time which is the impossibility of being with the people we love most. And then he’d try to fall himself, and it’s like, No, Dad, that’s the stunt man’s job. Like, I'm really using the movie to Frankenstein him back together. Then he drove through a construction site at high speed, and five miles home on four flat tires. Not only would she take care of him, but she’d make him the star of her next feature film. He gets all of those ideas. But every time Johnson “kills” her father through these staged deaths, she always brings him back to life. And this man suddenly sits up in the casket and says, “I’m D*** Johnson and I’m not dead yet.” [Pause] I’m not kidding, it was only within like the last few days, as I’ve been talking about the movie, that I realized that the guy in the casket was really my dad with dementia. He wanted all his friends and people he knew to be there. Where you cut from the box with her ashes in it to her walking around outside? There was a moment when a terrifying man came in and said, "The US government asked me to kill people and I did. And they won’t be here forever, just like you won’t. You just need to make an appointment and I'll be here for you.'" We really wanted the funeral to be the loss of him and be the end of him, as well as all the other things that it is. It will be a performance, but it also might feel real. It was just the dementia; the way a two-year-old might run out into the street. Yeah. How did you think about incorporating that?