Friday, February 19, 2010

Me! Me! Me!

First TBJ posted about Freda Payne's fur hemmed dress. Then I responded with Roberta Flack's Sticky Bun Hair on the Grammy's. He returned my thrust with something more powerful: A Meme! Thus I must comply with:

“Share three classic movie moments that have, in some shape or form, made you buy things, do things, think things that perhaps you shouldn't have.”

Lets see...what could it be...what could have had that impact on me? My problem is that I love movies that entertain me, which is a hodge podge lot at best. But the ones that make me desire, or reflect, or speak to something within me are movies with far deeper meanings - things that trigger emotion not material desire.

Airport (1970)
On a cold and bleak Saturday afternoon in 1970, when there was nothing on TV, my neighbor and friend Gary Moore decided that we needed to ask my father to take us to a movie.  I was seven, Gary was eight.  My father not wanting to sit through anything Disney said " about Airport?"  Gary - who was my polar opposite - gave an enthusiastic yes.  Me, never hearing of the movie asked "is it funny?" because being happy was a fleeting emotion for me - I wanted to be happy and movies were one of the few ways in my childhood that I could accomplish it.  And I was also a bit picky when it came to going to movies with my parents since they coned me into sitting through the Song of Norway, which was not everything they promised it would be.

My father assurred me that it was a funny movie, and off we went - with, I think, my middle brother.  Getting to the theatre I got my popcorn and my soda and waited.  The movie wasn't funny, in fact it was boring.  We had just returned from Florida on a jet liner, and two years before we had flown back from Los Angeles on a jet, which I had found to be enjoyable.  But watching other people fly on a plane was not fun.  I was bored, and even Helen Hayes couldn't bring a smile to my face.

And then the nervous man on the plane blew himself up, and my nightmare began.  Song of Norway this was not.

Totally unprepared, and lied to by the man who was suppossed to love me and want the best for me, their nightmare was now my nightmare.  When you grow in a violent home, the last thing you want is for that violence to invade the insulating cell that protects your fragile sense of security.  My father, ever attuned to me (ha!) and unaware of the insecurities that he planted in my head told me to "grow up" and "its just a movie."  "What are you crying about, its a "G" rated movie - just like Bambi," he said.  But Bambi never had to live in terror that the people on the airplane would die horrific deaths, and "Airport" was not a cartoon.

But the movie shattered my world.  I begin to develop all manner of trust issues.  The next thing to go were elevators - despite my parents assurances that they were safe, I was convinced that we would die in them when a cable broken and we would be smashed to smithereens.  Then it was the school bus which would lose its breaks and I would be smashed and lay dying while everyone else got out alive.  Then it was abandonment. Other phobias followed.  Each one undermining me, each one chipping away at my sense of self worth.  Like Susan Hayward, I wanted to live and every situation when I was out of control presented me with certain, irrational  terror and death.

"Why can't you develop an irrational fear of going sterile and ruining your eyes when you sit too close to the TV?" my mother asked me one day.  "I can tell you that you'd have a much worse death than if a school bus went over a cliff." 

It wasn't that I was afraid of death, it was the terror that you would have to live through before you died that scared me sensless.  The idea that one could be misled into feeling safe only to have the worst thing imaginable go wrong.  That was my real issue - or so said the school psychologists who interviewed me and reported back to my mother that I was neurotic at the age of nine.  "Who isn't?" was her reply when the report on me was concluded.

It was my mother who finally laid a line in the sand, she had saved enough money for tickets to the Rose Bowl in 1974 when I was 12.  It meant flying.  Flying meant dying in the worst way possible.  I protested, I begged and I pleaded not to go.  If we got on that plane, I was convinced that were going to be tortured by a man with a bomb and we would die.   But she held her ground.  I flew and survived to talk about it. 

Chinatown (1974)

Where do you begin with Chinatown? This is one of the few "great" works of cinema that emerged from the 1970s. Yet its topics - greed, murder, cruelty, incest, parental betrayal are so strong and so well portrayed that Americans are afraid to celebrate this film.

In 1974 I was dragged to California because my mother got us tickets on a tour "junket" to the Rose Bowl - OSU was playing - and damn it we were going come Hell or High Water. I was a basket case about flying (see above) because of an incident involving Airport, the movie and my father's role in making me see the film, so I was convinced we were going to die on that plane. We didn't. And once in California I found myself in enthralled with Los Angeles and its movie star heritage.

Making matters even better, my Father's sister and brother-in-law - My Aunt Betty and Uncle Lou, had an absolutely heavenly house on Stradella Road in Bel Air that we visited. The house had an astounding view of the Canyon and downtown L.A. The night time lights were intoxicating as were the homes perched on the side of the mountain.

So when Chinatown came out I had to see it. I was also 11 years old. After pestering my mother, who said "go ask your father," I started pestering my father who said "let me talk to your mother." My mother did what she always did when her was on the phone: She lit up a Vantage, made a cup of instant coffee and put the phone to her ear periodically saying "Yes Marvin...Uh huh, Marvin...I never said that Marvin..."

When my father took me to see the movie I was entranced by its portrayal of Los Angeles and water rights and Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway and the views of the city. And then there was that whole "She's my sister, she's my daughter she's my sister..." Coming out of the movie theatre my father said "You know what happened between that father and Faye Dunaway was wrong." To which I responded "yes, but don't you wish you could go back and live in Los Angeles back then?" A silly thought for child still basking in the amber-glow of John Alonzo's Oscar nominated cinematography.

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Not Judy Holiday's best movie, but her last - a fun trifle about a girl working at a telephone answering service. You remember them, don't you? The first answering machine I ever saw was on January 21, 1983 in the apartment of the man that I call my first ex-husband. I had just come out to myself - admitting I was gay and hearing those words come out of my mouth was quite a shock. But I saw that answering machine and I thought it was the most decadent thing I had ever seen. When I moved to Columbus I got one because it was something that I needed, but it was really a symbol that I had arrived.

But when I saw Bells Are Ringing, I was taken by the opening scenes immediately following the names of the stars and the producers and directors. It’s a montage of young women and ringing phones and missed calls and campiness. I had to have that for my out going message because I found it clever, Susanswerphone, if said quickly in a Brooklyn Accent it could sound like "Stusanswerphone." Getting it on tape was another matter. Rent the film, get a VCR, play rewind, play, rewind, record, record record.

Thinking myself clever, it took my brother in Cleveland and his "You know that outgoing message is useless and it wastes my time" to realize that if the answering machine was a token of adulthood, that outgoing message that was so cute in the film, was pretty childish.  I reverted to the standard message; Stusanswerphone was out of business.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

The brilliance of Nia Vardalos' My Big Fat Greek Wedding is - if you come from a large city - you realize that you can remove the "Greek" and insert any ethnic group and get the same movie with the jokes, but told from the Italian, Jewish, Polish, Japanese or Serbo Croation vantage point. The only group that this movie can be made to work with are WASPs because the WASP's have to be your straight man to make your ethnic group look even more wacky.

For me, the movie takes on another dimension. I am the result of my parents being half Jewish and half Methodist (who converted to Judaism before I was born). So not only do I get the humor of the Greek family (which is closest to the humor you would get if the movie was My Big Fat Jewish Wedding), but I also see what happens when the two tribes don't mix so well. Because of this, I am neither really Jewish to the Jewish community, and I'm not a non-Jew to the gentile world. And because I have never made a connection with God, I'm not sure what that connection should feel like.

So while I get the humor, and feel an understanding for Nia's consternation, I also know that for those of us who have a foot in each world - one in the ethnic, the other in the non-ethnic, neither side ever really takes you for what you are - you are always going to be someone from the other side, you are always gone to be one of "them". For those of us that can never bond, we are neither fish nor fowl but we are always on the outside looking in.

Still I found myself yearning that Lanie Kazan was my mother and that if that couldn't be arranged that she could at least find good roles in popular movies.

Mother (1996)

I've never been a fan of Albert Brooks, until I saw his film "Mother".   Lets be honest, who here in the blog-o-sphere hasn't had an issue with their mother at some point or another?  Some mothers give birth and leave their young never to look back, like Jenny in East of Eden.  On the other end of teh spectrum, other mothers give birth and will never leave you, no matter how far you try and run, like Mama Rose in Gypsy.

My mother is, a little in the middle - which is why Brooks film is so brilliant.  He got my mother, and planted her into the mind of Debbie Reynolds and gave Reynolds great lines that sound like they would come out of my mothers mouth. 

There's a scene in the movie where Brooks goes to the grocery store and Reynolds drives him there.  They circle through the parking lot, looking for a place to park - Reynolds just keeps missing the spots and keeps driving.  This is my mother, to a "T".  Albert Brooks understands me, I said to myself.

Truth be told, this was a lie to myself.  Albert Brooks can't really understand me because Albert Brooks doesn't know that I exist.  And, Brooks can't capture 100% of my mother and the things that created her or made who she is.  She and I have our differences, but I am grateful that she is who she is after being through everything that she's been through.

But when Brooks made this movie and combined lots of mothers and their quirks, he had to have hoped that people would identify with them, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

OK, like all good Meme's, I get to tag two people.  Therfore I tag:

Mr. Peenee because he gave me a Meme once and it made me flatulent for a week- and -
Mr. Bluehaunt because he wears a mask and I find that terribly arousing!

Good luck boys!


  1. Loved your answers! Seriously!

  2. It's so funny you would blog about Airport! I have talked about that film TWICE this week ... I met Jackie Bisset once and all I could think of was Airport! I told someone the story and they were incredulous "What? 'The Deep' maybe?"!
    Fabulous post.

  3. I would have asked her about "Rich and Famous"!

  4. Stu, loved the answers. And, now that it's 2010 and we all love ironic, post-modern humor, I say it's time to bring Stuanswerphone back.

  5. I love Albert Brooks, adored him and thought him veddy hot. Do you know that his brother is Bob Einstein(who told the best joke on this past season of "curb your enthusiasm)? That his father was Pakyakakis, the comedian (who dropped dead after leaving the dais of a roast)? Do you know that Albert's given name is Albert Einstein?

    Talk about a life in therapy.

    And yes, stuanswerphone gets my nod too, with you as jean stapleton at the controls.

  6. Loved your choices, but wanted to interject a couple of my own thoughts.
    I love Airport. I'm mad about the movie- full of long legged glamorous sluts who smoke too much, wear too much make up and steal other women's husbands- why it's like a ninety minute finishing school. And Dean Martin's Toronado is to die for, although I find him to be cardboard and non believable on his best day, and I've never been able to figure out which day it was.

    It isn't that Judy wasn't great in Bells Are Ringing, it's that she couldn't play Dean's part as well and he obviously misunderstood his character- somehow he thought he was playing a Zombie. Which he did. Poor Judy. I still love the film, I just close my eyes when he is on screen.

  7. I think we're the same age, and I saw Aiport in New York City at Radio City Music Hall - so scary!
    Chinatown: was there ever a more beautiful or more heart breaking movie. There is a clip from it and a critic's comment today on The New York home page, you might enjoy
    Bart Boehlert

  8. Thanks Bart - Since I am homebound for the next day I think it would be great to find a DVD of Chinatown and reemerge myself in the movie!