Monday, March 29, 2010

Watching Movies With My Mother


(The scene: The Siren's living room, kids and Mr. C in bed. We just finished watching There's Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956)--we both loved it, of course.)

Me: I've seen Vinnie before. (William Reynolds, who plays Fred MacMurray's square-jawed, glowering son.) He reminds me of a lot of those '50s teen actors, like Troy Donahue and...

Mom: Tab Hunter.

Me: Him too. They all played similar types, good-looking...

Mom: Upright...

Me: It makes me appreciate Rock Hudson, he was different.

Mom: Oh yes, he broke the mold. (Pause) Of course, at the time we didn't know which mold he was breaking.

(Grateful hat-tip to Girish Shambu, who also watches Barbara Stanwyck movies with his mother, and who sent me the DVD. Other thoughts on There's Always Tomorrow may be found at Glenn Kenny's place.)

71 comments:

DavidEhrenstein said...

Those 50's actors and their "upright" demeanor represented the fantasy of a New Improved postwar world.

The truth was another story.

Next time watch Far From Heaven with Mom.

The Siren said...

David, think she may have seen it? But not with me.

Watching her evolve on gay-rights issues (which she has been avidly supporting for years now) has given me even greater contempt for those who haven't, frankly.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You've got a teriffic Mom.

The Siren said...

David, my late father wasn't quite as progressive on the issue but for his era in Alabama he was pretty good. In the early 1980s there was a prominent attorney who was arrested in one of the periodic sweeps they did of gay bars. Dad wrote a long column for the Bar Association journal in which he pointed out that this was scarcely a good use of police department resources and that all he could see them accomplishing was hurting the man's family. He also openly mocked the arresting officer (then and now, something that isn't generally done in Alabama). The cop had allowed as how he knew which men to target because they had a "certain look in their eyes." Dad's response was "I know that song!" and then he quoted:

I fell in love with you
The first time I looked into
Them there eyes,
You have a certain
Little cute way of flirtin'
With them there eyes...


When I asked him how the article was received he muttered that not everyone in Birmingham had much of a sense of humor.

Raquelle said...

Ha ha! I love sharing movies with my mom for just these sort of incidents that lead to great anecdotes. :-)

Karen said...

Lovely! Both the scene in the post and the anecdote in your comment. We can see where you get your integrity and sense of humor!

Stephen Brophy said...

Does your mom know that Tab Hunter was also breaking the same molds that Rock was?

The Siren said...

Stephen, I doubt it--she doesn't share my Hollywood history obsession, she just likes movies. I will check with her though. :)

The Siren said...

Stephen, here you are:

Me, ten minutes ago: Mom, did you know Tab Hunter was gay?
Mom: It does not come as a shock.

Yojimboen said...

Well, I just called Tab Hunter and he says yer mudder wears combat boots!

Yojimboen said...

Seriously, I suspect every movie maven/movie lover in our midst owes an unpayable debt to their sainted Moms. I know I do.

The Siren said...

Sneakers, actually, which I have been unable to wean her off.

ladybug said...

How my mother came by her progressive views I do not know since she was born in Texas in the early twenties. When a friend of mine died and his parents found out he was gay, they fought over whether or not he could be buried in the family plot or left in San Francisco. Mother became irate. If needed he could be buried with our family. Gay or straight didn't matter to Mother. His family settled it, although not to Mother's satisfaction.

And when she discovered Rock Hudson was gay she noted that he was a much better actor than anyone gave him credit for since he sure looked liked he loved the ladies.

She eventually concluded I was by far the most boring of her children since I lived in such a diverse Dallas neighborhood and never visited the straight or gay bars that lined Cedar Springs. Mother made it her mission to educate me, but I had a bad habit of going out with her when she visited, having one drink at the bar or restaurant she had chosen and then falling asleep during the movie she rented. How could she discuss her days in Hollywood or anything else with such a child? How, she wondered, could she have had such a child?

I miss that woman.

The Siren said...

Ladybug, that's lovely.

Stephen Brophy said...

I lead short story discussions at my local Senior Center, and sometimes pair a story with a movie adapted from it. Recently we did "Death in Venice," and before the screening I pointed out that we had here a gay writer (Thomas Mann), a gay character (Aschenbach), a gay director (Luchino Visconti) and a gay actor (Dirk Bogarde). The assembled ladies took the first 3 with some equanimity, but were mildly distressed to hear about Bogarde. We certainly do love our actors and actresses, and don't like hearing that if fantasy became reality they would not necessarily love us back in quite the same way...

Trish said...

Yes, Rock Hudson was different. Though as a dramatic actor he was often a stiff (even in the Sirk films), he blossomed as a comedic actor. Having watched Lover Come Back yesterday for at least the hundredth time, I laughed as if it were the first time. He is so good at poking fun at himself - the himself that not many knew about back them. In so many scenes he is clearly enjoying the work. I don't recall ever laughing at Troy except when I heard him sing the theme song to Palm Springs Weekend...

Stephen Brophy said...

I just came back to clear up a false impression I might have left. I love finding out that male actors are gay (I prefer queer actually) because it makes it all the much easier to live in fantasyland when the spirit moves me.

But also I want to point Trish to Pillow Talk if she hasn't already seen it. One of my favorite scenes happens when Rock's character "saves" Doris's from the rich kid played by Nick Adams (with whom Rock was having an affair at the time according to some bios). Rich kid gets drunk and passes out and manly Rock has to throw him over his shoulder and carry him away...

The Siren said...

Trish, I think that while Hudson was limited as a dramatic actor, within his range he could be very good. Aside from the Sirks, about which it is just, mind you just possible I have rambled on enough, I like him a lot in Giant, in scenes like the one where he is trying to put his small son on a horse. And in Seconds he's superb.

Trish said...

Stephen, I'm a huge fan of Pillow Talk. My favourite scene occurs when "Rex" and Jan stop by his hotel room, apparently fulfilling all of Brad Allen's cynical predictions, then only wants to show her the view. Yep, he looked like he was having the time of his life - especially in those split-screens. If only someone could get Doris to record some commentary...

Yojimboen said...

My personal favourite Hudson role (with Barbara Rush yet!):
Taza Son of Cochise.

Yojimboen said...

Say it ain't so, Myrna!

Interesting piece in today's
Guardian.

Stephen Brophy said...

I've thought for a long time that cigarette smoking was ubiquitous in old movies because the smoke itself helped give black and white images depth. That's obviously not the only reason, or even, apparently, the most important.

gmoke said...

Cigarettes. Edward Bernays worked for the tobacco industry and got name debutantes to march in the NYC Easter Parade smoking cigarettes to popularize the idea of smoking for women. This was back in the 1920s. It was one of Bernays' few admitted regrets.

The tobacco industry PR machine kept the cancer/smoking link problematic from the late 1930s, when George Seldes' InFact started pointing it out to the 1990s. Every industry since has followed their obfuscation game plan, as the climate deniers are doing now.

Image is everything, as the fans of movies know.

"How big was King Kong?"

Trish said...

Further to our mother tributes, my mum was a big movie fan growing up in the 1940s. She and her sister went to the movies three times a week as they grew to womenhood. They particularly loved films from England, because they were far more "racy" than american films. From the time when my twin and I were very young, she spoke of a film where James Mason beat Margaret Lockwood with a whip, though she couldn't remember the name of it. We twins never forgot, and we were thrilled when we discovered The Man in Grey and Gainsborough films...

Yojimboen said...

Here you go, Trish, a bodice-ripping trip down
memory lane.

Dan Leo said...

I love watching movies with my mom because she's always going on about the actors' private lives:

"Wasn't she married to..."

tomcervo said...

"Me: I've seen Vinnie before. (William Reynolds, who plays Fred MacMurray's square-jawed, glowering son.)"

Sure you did--he plays Jane Wyman's horror-of-a-son in "All That Heaven Allows"; the one who gives her the television--the only warmth he's capable of providing--other than the rage at missing Dad's trophy on the mantelpiece.

Karen said...

Dear lord, but James Mason is beautiful in that clip--thanks, Yojimboen!

Vanwall said...

Siren, I love to see that dry humor and matrafact viewing pleasure with your Mom. I was the weird son, and Mum wasn't particularly a movie maven. Neither was Dad, unless it had saddle broncs and guns. Just kidding...a little, but I had to make my own path in the film viewing world. I wish I had that kind of rapport about films with family members, but even my great sis-in-law, the closest to a film buff, is a wonderful horror writer, and is more in tune with that genre than classic films.

I kinda made my film family as I went along, altho it was slim pickings for quite a while. I envy you who have such Moms, and Dads, and as much as I love 'em to pieces, my parents seem to let me do way too much talking without interacting, so I love to read these anecdotes, believe me - it's a gift you should all cherish.

Arthur S. said...

My family is not into cinephilia at all save for some rare occassions. However seeing His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby with Mother was fun. With my brother I saw On The Waterfront and Rebel Without A Cause and also some Scorsese.

I must say I prefer There's Always Tomorrow over Sirk's more influential colour melodramas(though not as much as Imitation of Life and his literary adaptations). The black-and-white cinematography gives a very gray feeling for this film, very cold and the attitudes towards Fred MacMurray's mid-life crisis is very mature. This is, needless to say, one of Barbara Stanwyck's best roles, as is All I Desire which isn't great, save for one amazing scene near the end between Stanwyck and the kid who plays her son, where she explains to him why she made her choices.

embroideredhistory said...

I love watching old movies with my mom. although she prefers the b horror films and I love comedies, we can both agree on Bette Davis. I first saw Now, Voyager with my mom.

This is still a common exchange-

Me: Dora
Mom: I suspect you're a treasure

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Big Lie about the 50's is that they were "quiet" and "conformist." Maybe in certain suburbs, but if you read books (John O'Hara) or went to the movies (Sirk, Kazan, Stevens et. al.) it's pretty obvious they were anything but.

Even as postwar America was settling into "Peace and Prosperity" storm clouds of personal and societal discontent were looming on the horizon.Amd there's scarcely a Hollywood movie of any consequence that doesn't reflect this.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing James Mason when the reconstruction of A Star is Born was released, and not for a nanosecond did he disappoint. Charming, witty, insightful he was -- James Mason.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Pillow Talk was directed by Michael Gordon -- a very polished studio craftsman who producer Ross Hunter rescuded from the blacklist.
His other credits inclue Cynrado de Bergerac with Jose Ferrer.

His grandson is

(wait for it)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Among Joe's credits, one of the best romantic comedies of recent years: 500 Days of Summer.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's Joe!

Arthur S. said...

I agree with David about 50s not being conformist at all. In fact there's more social and personal criticism in that period than today. And they did it in commercial films instead of the fringes. Frank Tashlin, for instance, is a super-commercial film-maker who is totally neglected today but he made the best film about rock music(''The Girl Can't Help It!''), the comics book craze("Artists and Models'') and Madison Avenue adveristing(''Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?'') right when these things were becoming big and altering the media landscape.

X. Trapnel said...

David's point goes a long way toward explaining why the films of the fifties show more in the way of tension, paradox, and ambiguity (the 3 musketeers of 50s litcrit) than our own complacent "we know better now" products.

Arthur S. said...

Well for me it's not just a case of "we know better now" smugness because it implies that we are just as clueless as they were when actually they knew better, were able to make better movies and generally had better values. I'm talking of course of movies and it's attitude to craft, audience and people not society which was frankly racist, sexist and homophobic but then a lot of that persists today despite great leaps and bounds.

It's not nostalgia when the movies were actually better, more engaging and actually formally more radical. In the 50s many films were mixing genres, high art with low art just like the French New Wave would do. Tashlin's films are almost Marcusean in their examination of mass culture while the melodrama gang of Ray, Minnelli, Sirk were using the genre, the style, the gimmicks against it's function and in service of it's function at the same time.

Then of course you have the late periods of Ford, Hitchcock(whose best years were the 50s), Lang which is also exciting and interesting.

A film like ''The Night of the Hunter'' although it's set in the Depression and hearkens to Griffith and silent cinema is full of subversive elements that makes it a quintessential 50s film.

Yojimboen said...

Speaking of Mr. Hudson...
Happy birthday,
Miss Koppelhoff
.

The Siren said...

Arthur S: "It's not nostalgia when the movies were actually better, more engaging and actually formally more radical."

I love that and wish I'd said it...

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Yojimboen,

I knew there was a reason the sun was shining brighter today. Now, give Doris that Oscar already, whether she shows to pick it up or not (Garbo wasn't there for hers, either).

Lou Lumenick said...

The earliest movie I can remember watching with my late mother was when she took me to "The Man With the Golden Arm'' at the long-gone Beacon in Long Island City during its original run when I was...five or six. I was so traumatized I've never been able to watch this particular movie again.

Vanwall said...

The real interesting literature, as M Ehrenstein mentioned, was not about the surfaces and facile assumptions of what was accepted, it above all was truly, bluntly subversive - the Sixties had nothing on that kind of groundbreaking plowing-under of contemporary society, as the taboos had already been broken.

The movies had to be sly, sneaky, allusional, hinting and more underground than underground comix, 'cause if they showed their heads over the parapet, it would get shot off, stapled down, hammered flush. There were no alternative venues with any reach. Movies back then made you think, because they had to be clever themselves to put forth any meaningful criticism amongst the chaff and wind-blown papers. And they looked so damn good doing it, too.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

I learned about Proust and Baron Charlus at my mother, Jane's, knee. She and I also more-or-less read the Durrell Quartet together.

I remember discussions of "Mildred Pierce" at the dinner table, where we argued whether Mildred was (a) a martyr or (b) delusional. I took the latter position ... which, in retrospect, seems remarkably like sawing off the tree limb upon which one is sitting.

We lost her two years ago. She used to say that people likened her appearance to either Carole Lombard or Dina Merrill, depending on the birth date of the speaker. Shortly after the death of this sharp-edged woman, I realized that a more accurate comparison might be Angelica Huston in "The Grifters." And I say that with all (ambivalent) respect.

Karen said...

Speaking of Miss Koppelhoff (yikes! she sounds like a Preston Sturges character, doesn't she?), I watched Doris in the rather spectacularly dreadful Julie yesterday, which didn't seem to be completely sure whether it was an inversion of The Two Mrs Carrolls, Zero Hour or a film noir, and so just gave up entirely. A ludicrously bad movie.

The Siren said...

Julie is truly bad, as opposed to Midnight Lace which is enjoyably bad.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's Terry Melcher doing a Nico cover -- with an assist from Mom.

hamletta said...

Midnight Lace? Gawd, that movie freaks me right the F out.

But I really want to second David E.'s appreciation of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Several years ago, I went through a period of horrendous depression, and I took comfort in late-night reruns of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. It came on after Tom Snyder, and I was never sleepy yet.

Anyway, JGL had a one-off role as the mute son of the hunky/sleazy saloon owner. He was a little kid then, but he was such a good actor, he really made an impression on me.

As to watching movies with my mother: If it's old movies, everybody was gay; more recent stuff, everybody is Scott Baio. She's a hoot.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's a Joseph Gordon-Levitt tribute the gang put together over at Dennis Cooper's place

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm interviewing Anna Karina today by Phone. End of April she'll be here in L.A. for a special screenign of Pierrot le Fou with a panel discussion afterwards. I'll be on htat panel.

As oyu can well imagine I Am in Heaven!

The Siren said...

David, my friend Filmbrain will PLOTZ. That is beyond cool.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's the last film Jean-Luc Godard and Anna karina made together

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well I'm just off the phone with Anna Karina.

(Can't believe I just typed that.)

And yes -- she's Anna Karina! Very chatty and delightful. Not at all bitter about Godard. Says a lot of nonsense has been written abotu their relationship by people who weren't there and therefore don't know. She has no regrets and is more than happy to talk about the good times. She say, in spite of all you may have heard Pierrot le Fou was a very happy shoot.

She also had tons to say about Mr. Cukor -- who became quite a close friend when they made Justine. She of course knew all about him to start with, but really got to know him pseronally. He used to come and see her whenever he came to Pais.

She says her greatest pleasure doing the Justine shoot was watching from the sidelines as he directed the other actors. You could see him acting out everything they were doing right when they were doing it. He was completely caught up in the scene. She says it's a shame they didn't have little cameras like the one Agnes Varda has today because if she did she would have loved to have hot Cukor while he was directing.

Yojimboen said...

This is the shot from Vivre Sa Vie where Karina, embracing a john, surreptitiously checks her watch; it was later “borrowed” by Alan Pakula and Jane Fonda for Klute.

The Siren said...

Do you realize how many men could type "I just got off the phone with Anna Karina" and die happy? Not to mention how many women?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Nana's dance in Vivre sa Vie

Trish said...

Oh! She is so stylish!

Arthur S. said...

That settles it, David Ehrenstein officially has the greatest job in the world.

When and where will the full interview be published?

DavidEhrenstein said...

It'll be published in the L.A. Weekly towards the end of the month. I'll link it in here when it goes up.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Saw City of Your Final Destination last night. It's James Ivory's first film since Ismail Merchant's death -- and it's truly teriffic. Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from a novel by Peter Cameron it's a bout young writer (Oma Metwally) whose pushy controlling girlfriend Diedre (Alexandra Maria Lara) insists that he's the ideal person to write the biography of a famous author (famous for one book only) who has just died. His estate which includes his wife (Laura Linney) his very young mistress(Charlotte Gainsbourg) and his brother (Anthony Hopkins) has turned him down. But the girlfriend forces him to go see them in person on the estate in Buenos Aires where they live. He discovers that the wife is the big opposition. The brother likes the ide, and the mistreass -- fall in love with him. Much complicated interpersonal back and forth leading to a very satisfying conclusion.

Linney revels in playing a Dragon Lady, while Hopkins is exceptionally low-key as the brother -- who's gay and has a gorgeous Japanese boyfriend (Hiroyuki Sanada.) The latter even gets a nude scene (Mr. Ivory my be old but he's far from dead.)

Charlotte Gainsbourg is lovely, Omar Metwally is very good in the James McAvoy part, and it's great to see Ivory on his feet again at last.

The film was shot in 2007, but because of Merchant's passing it's taken all this time for new producers to come on board and bring it out. It was worth the wait.

pvitari said...

This is one-half off topic but I hope you don't mind the momentary hijacking. I'm delurking to mention I screencapped ALL of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Go here if you want to look at any or some or all of the 4,452 screencaps: http://paulasmoviepage.shutterfly.com/

I remember watching Letter From an Unknown Woman with my mom -- she swooned like Joan Fontaine over Louis Jordan. She also had tacked up in the laundry room for years a big poster of Paul Newman in a white tee-shirt until it (the poster) fell apart. :)

pvitari said...

Er, I mean, Louis JOURDAN.

Louis Jordan is someone else entirely. :)

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

"Letter From An Unknown Harlem-ite"

A return to Edgar G. Ulmer's "Moon Over Harlem" style, circa 1951, with Eartha Kitt as the girl and Louis Jordan as an exceedly *hot* musician.

cgeye said...

SHUTTER ISLAND had a disclaimer stating that the production nor the studio received cash for smoking scenes, although heaven knows they could have made a mint of the smokes Di Caprio puffed....

And as for JULIE? Someone with more gray in the hair please tell me that cops regularly let go murder suspects who confess to their wives and stalk/threaten their wives, as a matter of course? 'Cause I'd like to blame that instead of Miss Day's underdirection and Jourdan's listlessness.

The Siren said...

Cgeye, AFAIK it's totally illegal to profit in any way from cigarette placement in anything under the federal rules passed some years back. So why they bothered announcing it I don't know, except that even smoking in period movies where it's clearly germane to the characters sends some quarters into hissy fits.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I heard Doris Day speak on the radio yesterday. She frequently talks to a disc jockey in Carmel. He was having a brithday tribute to her and she called in. She sounded utterly marvelous, I am very happy to say. She's been gettign a lot of happy birthday greetings and wants to thank everyone.

Yojimboen said...

Not many people could make it look this good.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Wow!

Trish said...

David, when I read the recent Vanity Fair article, it suggested she was not in a good way - living in one room and generally not living her retirement years the way we fans would hope she would.... How wonderful to hear that she's okay.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I can't imagine what that "Vanity Fair" piece was talking about. She runs a hotel that specializes in offering accomodations to pets. She has a circle of friends who see her all the time. She's retired, and apparently quite comfortable. That's all that I -- or any of her many fans -- could ever hope for her.

DavidEhrenstein said...

COMING SOON! (as they get completion money.)