Monthly Archives: June 2012

Father of the Wonk

Father of the WonkDads. They ask for so little for themselves, even on the day that’s dedicated to them. (Click here for gift ideas.)

My own dad is not quite the cinema buff that my mom was. So my fond memories of growing up with him include more things like a Saturday morning spent learning how to cross my eyes, and watching many drawings of horses – usually dressed in hats, collars and big wide neckties – emerge from his mechanical pencil. But here are a few movie-related experiences with my dad that helped shape the wonk I am today:

True Grit” (original and remake): As a teenager I came close to being nocturnal (thanks partly to my job at the local movie theatre). Coming home late one night, I found Dad still up and watching “True Grit”. “You gotta listen to this dialogue,” Dad said, and turned up the volume just in time for me to hear Glen Campbell say to Kim Darby, “A little earlier I gave some thought to stealin’ a kiss from you, although you are very young… and you’re unattractive to boot. But now I’m of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.” That was all the reason I needed to stay up and keep watching with Dad. Growing up in Oklahoma, I had seen plenty of Westerns – both the TV and film varieties. And my mother’s interest in classic Hollywood movies had already introduced me to the idea that good dialogue was important to a film. But this kind of pleasingly quirky talk was not something I expected from horse operas. When Dad accompanied my husband and me to see the remake of “True Grit” in 2011, that scrumptious bit of verbage was one of the ones I was hoping that the Coen brothers would see fit to keep in, along with “A clumsier child you’ll never see than Horace; I bet he broke 40 cup” and “Son, your partner’s kilt you and I’ve done for him.”

“Cat Ballou”: This was the first movie I recall watching on the first VCR that my parents bought, around the time I started college. My sister and I had never heard of this film. But Dad had seen it when it first came out, and recalled a scene in which Lee Marvin, drunk, is mounted on his horse, also drunk, which has its front legs crossed and is leaning against a building while they both try to look nonchalant. So when I was home on Thanksgiving break, we gave it a look. It’s a hoot: Lee Marvin playing twin brothers, one of whom sports a prosthetic silver nose, Greek-chorus-style musical commentary by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, and … oh, go check this one out, or watch it again.

“Raising Arizona”: Another offbeat gem set in the American West. This was the last movie we went to see all together as a family before I left for college. Come to think of it, this was probably my first Coen brothers movie. We arrived at the showing a little late (very unusual for my punctual family), but took our seats, had a heck of a good time guffawing at lines like “Son, you got a panty on your head”, stayed just long enough into the next showing to see what we’d missed, then trooped out just as quietly as we had come.

“To Please a Lady”: Finding out that both my dad and I had seen this movie was a complete surprise. I plucked it off the DVD shelf at the public library, figuring that any movie with both Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck had to be just odd enough to warrant a look. The title made me think it would be geared for a female audience, but there’s a lot of auto racing in it. Clark Gable plays a midget car racer who performs in a “Thrill Show” owned by Joie Chitwood. I only recognized Chitwood’s name because it had come up not long before in conversation with my dad (a lifelong car enthusiast). An email to Dad revealed that he’d seen “To Please a Lady” when it first came out. Same movie, viewed 60 years apart, for different reasons.

… and a few flicks Dad wasn’t too crazy about: Most conscientious parents end up sitting through films they don’t much care for, just to please their kids. Mom and Dad both endured their share of Disney’s kid-focused extravaganzas. (Although my dad has expressed a fondness for “The Jungle Book”.) And during my especially awkward early-teen years, when I was old enough to be obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy, but too young to drive myself anywhere, who gave up irreplaceable weekend time to take me to the entire original “Star Wars” trilogy, “Flash Gordon”, and Ralph Bakshi’s version of “Lord of the Rings”? My dad.

If your pop is a cinema buff, treat him to an afternoon at the movies on Father’s Day. If he’d rather be doing something else, give your movie obsession a break and join him in that activity. Because whether you spell it “paterfamilias” or “far-ger”, you’ve only got one dad.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Would You Watch Flicks With A Goat? Would You Watch Them In A Boat?

Watching movies in a boat, with a goat For true cinema wonks, the answer is always “Yes!” (unless the goat has neglected to bring along some chevre to share, or the boat is loaded with people who talk during movies and have come equipped with crying infants and jangling cell phones.)

Funny how much the physical setting we’re in affects our impression of a film. Recently my husband and I found ourselves in a makeshift drive-in in Medicine Park, Oklahoma while we were on vacation. There we were, minding our own goat cheese, ambling down the main drag in the soft evening air, when a big parking lot across the street sprang to life with an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies”, projected onto a screen just slightly too big for someone’s living room. So husband and I found an open park bench and passed a pleasant 20+ minutes in the company of Jed Clampett and kin, along with dozens of fellow Okies watching from lawn chairs and the beds of pickups.

Turns out this was only the beginning: as soon as the final notes of Flatt and Scruggs died away, “The Flying Tigers” blazed onto the screen. Husband is a lifelong fan of the Duke, and I’ll watch just about anything, especially if it’s older than I am and in black-and-white. So we watched as long as we could, til the park bench became too hard and we weren’t sure we could find our way in the dark back to our charming cottage if we waited any longer. Next morning, the drive-in was gone like Brigadoon (although the coffee and outstanding baked goods at Mrs. Chadwick’s were wonderfully real).

This got me thinking about the different environments I’ve watched movies in, aside from the usual living room/auditorium/theater settings. Actual drive-in theaters (not the DIY Medicine Park kind) were a little past their peak by the time I came along. Neither of my parents was that interested in trying to watch a movie with squirmy or drowsy kids from inside a car using a tinny sound system, surrounded by others trying to do the same (or not). So I have only one very hazy memory of being at a drive-in as a youngster, as well as a couple of visits as an adult to the Admiral Twin in Tulsa, Oklahoma with husband. (The films we saw at the Admiral Twin were “Desperado” and “Waterworld”. The drive-in setting wasn’t particularly kind to either one.)

Here are a couple of other offbeat settings I’ve encountered, and the movies I saw there:

  • The restored Orpheum Theater in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, for “Lilo and Stitch”. This is the only two-story movie theater I’ve ever been in. (I think our showing was upstairs.) Kinda cramped, but the caged bird in the lobby added to its charm.
  • The dining hall of a nursing home in midtown Tulsa, for “Boys Town”, “White Christmas”, and several other old flicks. At one time, my church did kind of a “movie ministry” at one of the local nursing homes. No big agenda, just a way to spend a couple of hours one Sunday afternoon a month with older folks who didn’t get many visitors. Showing movies that they might remember from their younger days seemed like something we could manage without requiring too much time or expense. We did get a few audience members each time, most of whom shuffled in and out, or dozed through whatever VHS tape we were able to coax the home’s balky VCR to play.

What are some unusual settings that you’ve watched movies in? (And would you recommend these environments to others, or not?) Share your experiences in the Comments, won’tcha?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,