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5 for the Day: Motherhood

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5 for the Day: Motherhood

Mom: Well, you thought like Old Lady Anna. She thought a dick was a banana!

A saint? Methinks not. “How the hell could I be a saint?” she would ask. “We’re Baptists!”

My Mom is a larger than life character crafted with one part June Cleaver, two parts Mahalia Jackson, three parts Oprah, and four parts Dorothy Parker. As the primary disciplinarian of five children, she is also eight parts Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. My Mom could threaten with words of such forceful violence that the MPAA would rate her NC-17. “Boy,” she would begin, “I will kick your ass so hard your great-grandchildren will be born with footprints!” It wasn’t hyperbole either. That aforementioned party? I went to it anyway. When I got home at 3 AM, my mother was standing in the doorway, illuminated by light like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers—an appropriate image as she loved Westerns. Except instead of holding her arm like Wayne, she was holding a belt. “I hope it was good,” is the last thing I remember her saying.

The occasional (and always deserved) ass-whipping was not all she dispensed. No one I knew could deliver common sense with a blunt honesty that ensured the lesson would be learned and never forgotten. In our house, The Awful Truth was more than a Leo McCarey movie. Sometimes I would say “well, you didn’t have to say it like that!” To which she would reply, “well, that’s too bad. I did.”

Through Mom, I was introduced to two things I love dearly: life and movies. I was born after a movie, in fact, which only serves to highlight her uncanny knack for consolidation. Through countless hours of movie watching on TV she introduced me to her favorites: Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Sidney Poitier, Abbott and Costello and Cicely Tyson. She had an opinion about every movie, and held unreasonable grudges against actors for roles they played. Her tastes ran from 40’s women’s pictures to horror movies too gory even for my cast iron stomach. And even though she liked the worst movie I have ever seen, I can still list her as the primary source of my love for movie knowledge. I love noir and screwball comedies because the dames were smart, tough and clever with words. Just like my Mom.

So, to honor her, and mothers everywhere, today’s Five for the Day salutes movie motherhood of all stripes, shapes and species. The sayings that precede each entry are Momisms courtesy of the person who brought you the Odienator.

1. “I’ll stomp a mudhole in your ass!”

Mommie Dearest (1981). “Don’t tell what Mildred Pierce did!” advised the ads for Joan Crawford’s Oscar winning Michael Curtiz movie. Now we know why! Years before the facelifts that turned her into Katherine Helmond in Brazil, Faye Dunaway took method acting to its expected extreme. Her Joan Crawford is so intense that I expected Faye to jump off the screen and come after me in the audience, throwing wire hangers and shoulder pads like ninja stars. She is, simultaneously, hilariously brilliant and horrifyingly bad, a feat later accomplished by Morgan Freeman in Lean On Me. So over the top is Dunaway that the makers of Dearest tried packaging the movie as the first child abuse comedy in cinematic history. Crawford comes off as the world’s worst mother AND gardener (“BRING ME THE AXE!!!!” screams Faye before performing a Friday the 13th on her garden). Her face cleansing ritual in the film should have been used by John Woo in Face/Off. I love this movie if only for Faye’s classic line to the Pepsi board of directors, a line my mother could have used on any of her four sons: “Don’t fuck with me fellas. This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.”

2. “You’re going to hell with your eyes wide open!”

Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Or, why Odie’s Mom hates Charles Grodin. When she wasn’t threatening to make my ass do something unnatural like shitting blue ink, Mom would threaten me with eternal damnation. Who better to hasten the apocalypse and my overheated eternity than Mia Farrow? Sartre said “Hell is other people,” and said other people are devil-worshipping neighbors in the Dakota Apartments where Farrow and her husband (John Cassavetes) live. Unbeknownst to her, Cassavettes whores his wife to Old Scratch in exchange for the financing for Faces. Farrow looks appropriately sick (and scalped by Vidal Sassoon) as her satanic pregnancy progresses. Farrow’s Rosemary senses something is wrong, and comes off far more intelligently than any other horror movie heroine. Behind Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and Davis in All About Eve, this is my favorite performance by an actress.

The infuriating last scene of this film, in addition to terrifying me beyond belief as a kid (“What have you done to his eyes, you maniacs?” “He has his father’s eyes…”), is the source of an ongoing argument you might be able to settle. Is that true motherly love in Farrow’s eyes, or is she contemplating her next move? And when I go to Hell, I’m closing my eyes just to be spiteful.

3. “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”

Hoop Dreams (1994). Hoop Dreams is a movie that proves truth is stranger, and more fascinating, than fiction. This riveting documentary would have been far too clichéd as fiction, but as a document of the lives of two inner-city kids, it is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I knew these people. I grew up in a neighborhood not unlike theirs. Perhaps that is why I was so affected. What puts it on this list is the scene where Arthur Agee’s mom gets her nursing assistant certificate. Considering what the film shows her family going though, the scene plays like an oasis in a desert of hard times. Watching Mrs. Agee react to her accomplishment moved me so much I had to leave the theater, fumbling for the exit door while blinded by tears. When I returned with a roll of toilet paper I stole from the ladies’ room (I told you I couldn’t see where I was going!), three other people in my row bummed a piece from me.

4. “Mommy will kiss it and make it all better.”

Men Don’t Leave (1990). Before Jessica Lange went bonkers and took the maternal role of Psycho Blanche Dubois in Hush, she played the mother of Chris O’Donnell and Charlie Korsmo in this fine update of a 40’s women’s picture. Here’s a tearjerker that earns the tears it jerks from you honestly. The aspects of the plot I’ll leave for you to discover, but suffice it to say that Lange’s mother character is far from perfect. She makes mistakes, is overly cautious and, at one point in the film, needs to be shaken up by one of Joan Cusack’s patently quirky weirdoes. But late in the film, she provides the kind of comfort only a mother can offer a child. Her youngest son has run away, and when she finds him, Korsmo and Lange play a scene that, in lesser hands, would have been a disaster. It reminded me of the day when I learned that, contrary to my childhood beliefs, my mother couldn’t fix everything. Life was easier—and richer—when a mother’s kiss could salvage your boo-boos and save the world.

5. “I’ll protect you from the GromperGronk.”

Aliens (1986). The GromperGronk was this monster that lived under my bed. When the lights went out, the GromperGronk would reach his hairy arms and clawed hands from under the bed…and tickle my feet. Only I could have a monster with a foot fetish, but trust me, it was some scary shit when I was 4. As a result, I am not ticklish anywhere—and I sleep on a platform bed. Newt, the little girl in Aliens, has a slightly bigger problem with her monster. It wants to kill her ass. But Newt’s surrogate Mom, Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) shows up in the nick of time! “Get away from her YOU BITCH!” screams Ripley, and the alien, a mother herself, turns to face Ripley in a colossal battle of Moms. Of course, we want Ripley to win, but on the same token, we can identify with the alien’s own maternal instinct toward the eggs Ripley wants to destroy. The interspecies catfight that follows shows the toughness of any Mom who senses her child is in danger. Even though her line is great, I wished that Ripley would have accosted the alien with one of my Mom’s sayings: “I’m going to dance the huck-a-buck in your ass!”