' ' Cinema Romantico: R.I.P. Besedka Johnson

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

R.I.P. Besedka Johnson

"When Jane (Dree Hemingway) first meets Sadie (Besedka Johnson), the old woman is outside her house, obscured by overgrown foliage and the world’s indifference. She’s as forgotten as the junk she’s trying to sell and blissfully, stirringly, unaware that she is about to be discovered." - Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

My friend Matt likes to say that there comes a time when you have to stop practicing your autograph. It's a solid truth, to be sure, but then every truth has an antidote. In this case the antidote is Ms. Besedka Johnson.

In "Starlet", the 2nd best film of 2012 per Cinema Romantico, released today on DVD & Blu Ray, its makers needed someone to inhabit the central role of Sadie, an elderly recluse who makes an unconventional friend to Hemingway's much younger Jane. Johnson, as The New York Times recalls, was literally plucked from a YMCA pool in Hollywood and quickly landed the part. She was 85 years old. It was her first movie role. Ever.

Sadly, however, "Starlet" was also her last movie role. Ms. Johnson passed away on April 4th at the age of 87 from complications of a bacterial infection.

When I learned of her passing the film that immediately leapt to mind, oddly perhaps, was not "Starlet" but "Crazy Heart." There is that moment after Jeff Bridges' Bad Blake has had a particularly awful evening after some particularly awful life events. Eventually his pal, Wayne (Robert Duvall), turns up, rescues him, takes him out for some fishing and r&r on a picturesque lake.

Bad explains he called his son, his son he has never seen. His son wanted nothing to do with him. Bad admits his son was probably right, it was probably too late to make such an attempt at re-connection. Wayne disagrees. He says: "It's never too late, son. It's never too late."

Shortly after saying this he sings a bit of Billy Joe Shaver's classic "Live Forever" to Bad. You can read that song any way you want, of course, and while it does potentially evoke thoughts of crossing over to the promised land at life's end, I think it also evokes the need not necessarily to, as they say, live life to the fullest but live life to the end. Live Till You Die. Live forever in this life. Because it's never too late, son. It's never too late.

At SXSW 2012 Besedka Johnson earned "Special Jury Recognition For Performance." It's never too late to practice your autograph. You never know when you might need it.


Daryl said...

Every so often, Nick, you write something that makes me embarrassed to think I live in a society where you are not writing with nation-wide syndication.

Nick Prigge said...

Too kind, sir. If only I was mildly competent at marketing myself.