Every week is the anniversary of any number of films, and while they often turn into thinkpieces or lists of “things you didn’t know about…” for movie sites (like us), they sometimes stir more personal memories, too. These anniversaries are more than mere numbers or marks on a calendar. Movies can bring you back to the people and places of your past with memories both good and bad. Thinking of Manhunter for instance makes me recall how the theater wouldn’t let my friend and me see it because we were underage, and instead we had to sit through One Crazy Summer. I hate One Crazy Summer to this day.
Most of my movie-related memories are far more pleasant, and recent events have led me to realize that more than a few of them involved my mom.
She was never a big film buff or someone who, like my dad, could list off her favorite movies if asked, but she had great taste in the ones she did watch. Never one to be bound by genre or popularity she instead asked only to be entertained, and while she rarely instigated watching a movie, she could easily be lulled into an empty chair if something onscreen caught her eyes or ears regardless of how much she may have already missed.
I lost her recently, but between last month’s Twitter mentions of John Carpenter’s The Fog and this past weekend’s Mother’s Day celebration my thoughts of her bounced back from the sorrow and sadness I’d been feeling to happier notions of the time we spent together.
My mom was a college professor for a big chunk of my early years, and one day she brought my sister and me to her campus office so she could get some work done without having to find us a sitter. She kept busy grading papers and organizing her desk while we rolled her A/V unit out, plugged it into the wall and popped a VHS tape into the player.
It was Carpenter’s simple but hauntingly effective piano score that first caught her attention. She would glance up and lean over to see the screen and then return to her work. But then she’d do it again, and soon she was up and crossing the room to sit beside us as we watched The Fog, papers forgotten. She jumped along with us too, occasionally commenting on how wonderfully moody the music was, and when Father Malone gets his in the end and the main theme kicks in she stood up with a smile, a shake of the head and a single word: “Perfect!”
Years later we bonded over another film on a VHS tape. Having recently watched and loved Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste I had bought a bootleg copy of Meet the Feebles, and as I pressed play my mom walked into the room asking what I was watching. I knew little about it and replied only that it was a “puppet movie” thinking the designation would leave her uninterested and on her way. Instead she stood there and watched as a rat smoking a cigarette told a big-breasted hippopotamus, “All right you fat slag, move your ass!”
She was still there 90 minutes later, watching as that same hippo graphically mowed down the rest of the characters with an M-60 machine gun. It was no surprise that I loved the movie, but her enthusiasm for it was unexpected and highly appreciated. As was her style, while the movie made me want to seek out more of Jackson’s work, she was content with that singular experience. She enjoyed the film for what it was, and once it was over she moved on to the next thing. Probably making some “Shit on a Shingle” or deciding on a whim to knock a hole in the bathroom floor to serve as an impromptu laundry chute.
I remember coming home from seeing Die Hard with friends and reciting the entire plot to her, every detail, as she wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. Stripes reminds me that she took my cousin and me to see our first R-rated movie in a theater. I can recall nodding in agreement as she muttered “so cool” when the stained-glass knight in Young Sherlock Holmes first climbed down from the window. I can still hear her laugh til she cried while watching Porky’s.
I can still recall sitting ridiculously close to the TV screen in a darkened family room late at night watching Private School’s shower scene on cable and being startled by her voice from the top of the stairs asking what exactly I thought I was doing. And the same thing happening when she caught me watching my dad’s VHS copy of Hardbodies. And then again while I struggled to watch some sexy Italian movie through the distorted mess of a scrambled signal.
I wouldn’t trade any of these memories unless it meant I’d have the chance to make new ones with her again. To bond over great films and fun movies. To laugh and cry along with her, to sit wide-eyed as new and brilliant wonders appeared on the screen before us or even just to share with her the story from a movie I had recently seen and loved, and to see her appreciate it.
Just over five weeks ago I realized that chance was no longer a possibility. My mom had moved in with us a short time earlier in preparation for finding her own place here in Portland, and as we hadn’t lived in the same time zone in over fifteen years, I was already making plans to share a fantastic variety of films with her including ParaNorman, The Kid With a Bike and the first Captain America. But it wasn’t to be.
I came home one night in early April and found her sitting in her favorite rocking chair, one she had brought with her all the way from New York, one I recalled from happier times long ago – and she was watching Ride Along.
Even worse, she was laughing. A lot. Her cheeks were wet from crying, her laugh lines multiplying with each of Kevin Hart’s high-pitched jokes. “The little guy is so much funnier than Eddie Murphy,” she said, looking at me with eyes most assuredly blurred by laugh-fueled tears. I stood there horrified, the room spinning around me as she wondered aloud how Ice Cube could possibly keep a straight face during filming. I may have passed out.
Last night she asked when we could see Heaven Is for Real.
R.I.P. Mom’s Great Taste in Movies. You had a good run, and we’ll always have The Fog.