Category Archives: About the Wonk

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.

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Because I Can’t Help It

There are countless blogs devoted to film. Some professional, lots more amateur. So why add to the digital pile? Why should I write this? More importantly, why should you bother to read it?

My only excuse for writing this is that I can’t help but do it. I’m fascinated by movies and always have been. If the time comes when all that’s left of me is a brain and both eyes, floating in a jar of liquid, I’m OK with that. Just put my jar in front of a screen, and keep the flicks coming via DVD, Netflix, TCM, or whatever other technologies the future may bring. (Just make sure the subtitles are turned on. I’m a sucker for good dialogue in movies.) And with the advent of blogging, I have a way to inflict my opinions on the world, for free and without having to run anything by an editor.

But why should any other poor soul subject him- or herself to reading what I’m compelled to write on this subject? (Note to English language: please develop a unisex pronoun, pronto.) Or encourage me by contributing the occasional comment? I don’t have a good answer for that. Unless you’re like me and you can’t help but watch lots of movies, and itch to discuss what you’ve seen, and maybe find out about some you haven’t seen but might enjoy. And, like me, you’ve exhausted the abilities of the flesh-and-blood people around you (spouse, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, others standing in line at the grocery store) to listen to what you have to say about movies. Or to give you something new to think about when it comes to movies. Like me, maybe you suspect that the only truth is moving images on a screen.

So what can you expect from Cinema Wonk? Subjective opinions, and lots of ‘em. Supported by a certain basic amount of online research (Google, Wikipedia, IMdB ) where possible. Written by someone who likes writing, but who has no formal training beyond high school English. New entries posted when I have the time and enthusiasm. Hopefully that’ll be a few times a month. I tend to focus on English-language movies from the 30’s through the early 60’s, just because I have a soft spot for them. (Thanks mainly to my mom, and to the “Channel 8 Morning Movie” from KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma.) But I’m always looking for opportunities to watch more varied films, and expand my horizons.

But if you’re looking for any of the following, keep movin’ :

  • Up-to-the minute factual information about what’s happening in the entertainment industry. I’m not a journalist. Don’t have the training, aptitude, interest or resources to be one.
  • Scholarly criticism. I took two film courses in college in the eighties, one on silent film and the other on foreign (i.e., not American) films. That’s all the formal instruction I have in how to think about movies. Anything I learned outside of those courses is self-taught. (In the course on silent film, I did learn not to snore if I happened to fall asleep. You just can’t hide that kind of noise during a movie with no audible dialogue, no matter how loud the musical accompaniment is.)
  • Hands-on experience with how movies are actually made. I’ve never been to a movie set, looked through the viewfinder of a motion-picture camera, written a screenplay or acted in a movie.

So that’s the deal. Who’s with me?