Tag Archives: funny

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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Mom, the Movies and Me

Mom and me: 2 popcorn buckets at the moviesMother’s Day is coming up. (Quick, order a nice bouquet, or something more unexpected,  if you haven’t already obtained a Mom-appropriate gift!) My own mom had a lot of influence on my interest in movies (to say nothing of the countless other ways she shaped me). Maybe your mom did, too. Here are a few film-related gems of wisdom she passed on to me:

Movie manners: my mom was the one that taught me that it was OK to come into a movie after it had already started, and then stay just long enough into the next showing to see the part you missed.

Some words are so much funnier than others: Like “kumquat”. Mom pointed this out one fine day when I was watching “It’s A Gift*”, probably on the “Channel 8 Morning Movie” from KTUL. She was walking through the room with a load of laundry during the scene in which W.C. Fields is cornered in his grocery store by a customer with a very specific demand. And that demand is KUMQUATS. (Watcher beware: a lot of the humor in the YouTube clip at this link is at the expense of the sight- and hearing-impaired.) But, laundry-burdened though she was, Mom had time to point out to me that “kumquats” made that scene much funnier than “apples” would have. This insight seemed magical to me at the time. And for someone like me who really treasures anything funny, and who on occasion tries to be funny myself, it’s been priceless. Can’t thank you enough, Mom.

Alec Guinness had a career before Obi-Wan: One branch of Mom’s family came from the British Isles, and she was always partial to the particular brand of dry wit that the British do so well. Lest I think that Alec Guiness‘ distinguished career began and ended with “Star Wars”, she introduced me to “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and the original “The Ladykillers” . Which opened the door to the quaint, often funny, occasionally dark world of films made at Ealing Studios. Their movies are still comfort food to me.

It’s OK for feminists to laugh at dumb blondes: Mom and Dad both made sure my sister and I got good educations and were otherwise well prepared to thrive as independent women. (Regrettably, I don’t think any video exists of Mom, my sister and I sashaying around the kitchen while Helen Reddy belted out “I Am Woman” from a cassette in our clunky portable black tape recorder.) That said, Mom wasn’t above the occasional snicker at the expense of our own gender. She and I watched “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” together, and Mom hooted louder than I did at Lorelei Lee’s “I can be smart when it’s important“. Which introduced me to the idea that, once in a while, it’s OK to be just clever enough to get what you want. She also sent the occasional mixed message. There’s a scene in “The Quiet Man” in which John Wayne drags – yes, literally drags – his wife, played by Maureen O’Hara, up hill and down dale to bring her back home after she’s tried to leave him. It’s supposed to demonstrate that he cares about their marriage enough to take drastic action. But by more modern standards – the standards my parents wanted to instill in us – it’s cringe-inducing. Yet when we watched it together, there was Mom at the other end of the couch, chortling. And when one of the village matriarchs steps in to lend John Wayne a hand with the words “Sir!… Sir!… Here’s a good stick, to beat the lovely lady“, Mom dissolved completely in laughter.

Later she made a point of taking me to see “The Color Purple“. But I wasn’t quite ready to take in all that that film had to say. (My escapist tendencies were already forming.) Wish I’d been a little more mature.

It seems fitting that one of my last memories of spending time with my mom includes a movie. By this time, she was having serious health problems, but sitting together watching movies was something we could still manage. That evening, it was Marilyn Monroe again, in fabulous black-and-white, in “Some Like It Hot“. The terrific dialogue (Billy Wilder, one of my all-time favorites, was one of the screenwriters) includes Marilyn lamenting, “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.” Mom managed a soft chuckle, and that expression earned a permanent place in my vocabulary.

Mom passed away a few years ago, but as you can probably guess I think of her just about every time I’m about to enjoy a classic movie. If your mom is still with us, be sure and give her a hug on Mother’s Day and every other time you get the chance. And if you have any movie-centric memories of your own mom, dad or other family members, I’d be honored if you shared them here.

* This movie was hilarious to me when I was in kindergarten, and forty years later it still cracks me up. How many things are there in life that you can say that about? You must meet Mr. LaFong: click here.

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