Johnny & Winona (Die With Me)


by Masha Tupitsyn

I remember when I was a pre-teen and they moved into a loft across the street from me in Tribeca, where I lived. And an older neighbor friend told me they were living in her building, on the top floor. I saw him at my corner deli, and on the street smoking, but never her. At night, I sometimes looked up at their windows and saw their lights on. He was not very impressive in person. Cute, but no big deal. The story is she didn’t want to live in Tribeca pre-gentrification because it was too isolated and therefore scary to her, so they moved out after only a few months. This is of course ridiculous. Who could be afraid of Tribeca in the early ‘90s unless they were supremely bougie? She was supposed to be this down to earth hippie.

Anyway, I loved her then. I couldn’t believe that a girl like her was on screen when she showed up in Beetlejuice and Heathers. Her creaky voice, that dark hair, which she chose over her natural blonde. Her black eyes. I even forgave her bad acting in period films for years (like John Cusack, another black haired/pale skinned 80s/90s idol, Winona was never timeless, she was of the time, most especially that brief time in her life. Not now, not since. I wonder if that’s why they dyed Jake Gyllenhaal’s light hair black for the retroactive — ‘80s — Donnie Darko, and Christian Slater’s for Heathers. Something about dark hair showing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s as some form of revenge on an aesthetically fascistic and representationally narrow decade. These are people who were not kissed by the sun, or, as the German writer Heinrich Laube puts it, “These pale youths are uncanny, concocting God knows what mischief”) because of how much she meant to me. Her look, her clothes, her movies. Her boyish, impish taxi driver in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, before I even knew who Gena Rowlands was.

As for what they’re both quoted saying about each other, even though it didn’t last, and they didn’t die (or who knows, maybe they did. She certainly died in many ways, and he did, too, in his ways), I was just writing about this kind of dying talk — lovers talking this way; these kinds of intense statements and proclamations (for the record, I still think the most romantic thing anyone can ever tell you, and I’ve been told this, is “I can’t live without you.” In my experience, love is always healthiest when this feeling dominates. It’s the taking for granted and neglect that corrode a relationship) — recently, in an essay about some silly movie where a character says the same thing about the woman he loves, and I thought, “No one talks like that anymore. Certainly not in real life.”

No one says they’re going to die unless they’re “crazy.” But here they are, saying this about each other in print. Two Hollywood stars. Today PR would have nuked a statement like that. Today no one ever takes words like “die” and “forever” seriously. No one would even think to publically say that about someone else, someone they love, let alone in print. Today, PR would tell them not to talk like that in public, that it’s too morose and alienating for fans, especially when the lovers in question are both young and famous, both sex symbols. Can you imagine two actors saying something like this now, branding (or in the case of Hollywood, de-branding) themselves with words like this, when most celebrity couples won’t even discuss their love lives, let alone admit to dying over a breakup?

When faces, as well as words, are strictly poised for the camera, and therefore can only be photogenic and commercial. For a while Gwyneth Paltrow, who was once good friends with Winona, talked about her first big love, Brad Pitt, that way. But after they broke up, she stopped talking like that, as many of us do; stopped talking about love period, which means that maybe a part of her stopped being able to feel that way.

Of course, he ruins it by stating that he loved her “almost more” than he loves himself. That’s lame. He’s telling us he’s his own dream. But it’s also a red flag because it lets us know that he had some sort of get-away plan or lifeboat in the back of his mind despite his “Winona Forever” tattoo, which he later edited to “Wino Forever.” As Avital Ronell and Derrida have shown us, inscription and encryption — addiction and dependency — are close relatives. In the end, this isn’t a 19th Century novel, it’s late 20th Century Hollywood, and he is (or was) a modern bad-boy and an expensive commodity, which means some people can’t afford to die. They just pretend to.

About the Author:

Masha Tupitsyn is a writer, cultural critic, and multi-media artist. She is the author of Love Dog (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (ZerO Books, 2011), Beauty Talk & Monsters, a collection of film-based stories (Semiotext(e) Press, 2007), and co-editor of the anthology Life As We Show It: Writing on Film (City Lights, 2009). Her fiction and criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies Women in Clothes (Penguin, 2014), The Force of What’s Possible (Nightboat Books, 2014), The American Tetralogy (Blackjack Editions, 2013), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology (2012), The Encyclopedia Project Volume 2 (F-K) (2010) and Volume 3 (L-Z) (2014), and Wreckage of Reason: XXperimental Women Writers Writing in the 21st Century (Spuyten Duyvil, 2008), with additional works published by The White Review, The New Inquiry, Fence, Bookforum, The Rumpus, Boing Boing, Indiewire’s Press Play, Animal Shelter, the Shepparton Art Museum, and Ryberg Curated Video.