Dick Johnson is Dead | Chicago Reader
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Dick Johnson is Dead

In addition to being a filmmaker in her own right, Kirsten Johnson ranks among the most accomplished cinematographers—few else can boast having seen what she has, which she chronicled in her 2016 documentary Cameraperson—but she has little footage of her own mother, who passed away in 2007. That may have been the impetus behind this heartwarming and evocative documentary, another decidedly intimate endeavor that shows Johnson coming into her own as a filmmaker working in a distinctly personal space. Here it’s about her life-loving, psychologist father, Dick Jonhson, who’s suffering from dementia and nearing the end of his life; the director contends with this inevitability by making a film in which he “dies” over and over again (through a series of slapstick-esqe gags executed by an array of stuntmen) and even attends his own funeral. Johnson employs several motifs, from the repeated deaths of her father to sequences of him in heaven, one seemingly designed by Jacques Prévert, to a more generic documentary approach in which both father and daughter recount stories about Dick and their family. Throughout Johnson reveals facets of the moviemaking process, such as the crew working behind the scenes and her recording the intermittent narration on her cell phone, gradually letting viewers in on what might be termed a twist. At times the film’s style is perhaps too cutesy, but Johnson makes it work; its macabre conceit, however, is near Bazinian in how Johnson attempts to preserve the inherent frailty—and beauty—of life in that which will outlive us: cinema.



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