Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a funny thing ...

My mom's memory continues to slip, tiny bit by bit, but with no discernible pattern. Some days it feels like there is only the worst to look forward to. Some days seem fine. One saving grace, at least for the present, is that no matter how hard it can be for her to communicate at times—the right word seems harder and harder to come by—she still enjoys reading and watching movies. And of course watching her adorable granddaughter.

I come from a family of movie buffs. My mom and dad had special nicknames for favorite actors. They always talked about movies particularly—how a certain movie at a certain time in their lives meant something. My brother and I would watch movies with them, mostly on television. From a young age we would also get to go out to the movies on rare occasions, to see something special.

Some of the movies we all trooped together to see made a lasting impression. Young Frankenstein is still my favorite Mel Brooks film, even though I was too young to get the dirty joke/punchline. I think I could probably quote it from beginning to end. 2001: A Space Odyssey bored the whole family to tears, and we are all sci-fi geeks. But shared misery can be a bonding experience. Star Wars thrilled us all and was the first movie we all saw together more than once. Life of Brian was controversial at the time it was released (sacreligious!), but my newspaperman dad wasn't going to let anyone censor his family seeing Monty Python or anything, for that matter. The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid we saw in the space of one week, while they were playing at the local drive-in. Robert Redford was probably the first movie actor I fell in love with that was in a current movie, and not someone from one of the old B&W ones my mom loved that we would see on television, like Tyrone Power or Robert Taylor. Another of my first loves was Frank Langella. We all went to see him in Dracula, as we liked scary movies as much as sci-fi—Langella was very sexy—sort of weird to see with mom and dad. Dad bought me the Bram Stoker novel with Langella on the cover, maybe to get me to read it, or get back to to the source. I was just thrilled at first to get to relive some of the movie's scenes, but then got caught up in the late 19th century epistolary writing style, so maybe dad was onto something. I think I may still have it somewhere ...

I remember when my mom and dad both got so excited about The Godfather coming out. They had both read the book from the library, taking turns, while trying to keep it away from us, from the racy and violent parts. When the movie came out my brother and I had to stay with our grandma while mom and dad drove to NY to see it on a big screen. Maybe my dad had some sort of press pass. Or maybe they just wanted a big night out in the city. My brother and I were so jealous, but we got from them that movies can be special.

I grew up with a B&W television until I was in my teens. One of my fondest childhood memories was when the Wizard of Oz was playing at the local movie theater and my mom insisted on us going to see it. My brother and I had already seen it on television, so we didn't know what the big deal was. We walked downtown with mom who made sure we got good seats. It was fun seeing Dorothy on such a huge screen, and I always liked going to the movies, but I didn't get it until ... She opened the door to technicolor Munchkinland. My brother and I both screamed. I looked at my mom and she just smiled. She had saved that surprise, that bit of movie magic, for us all those years.

So it is extremely gratifying to me that we can sit together in the evening on occasion and still watch movies together. I can see with some of the more recent films that she is losing the plot a bit. But if I put on an old movie, it's like magic. She's much more into the story and excited at seeing the old familiar faces of actors and actresses. I might have to supply the names, but she knows exactly who they all are, sometimes much better than I do. That happened the other night when I was flipping past channels and found Zero Mostel singing the opening number, "Comedy Tonight" in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I had seen the movie years ago, actually probably late one night on television with my dad. I didn't really remember it much, so it was fun to rediscover it with her.

The same thing happened again on a recent Sunday afternoon when we all watched The Pirate. My mom thought she hadn't seen it before (who knows?), but no matter. She loves Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, the kid got to dance along to Dorothy and that guy who tap dances on roller skates, and I got to see Gene Kelly dance in shorts, so it was a win-win-win.

I've always liked old movies, but I think I am going to like them even more now.
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