Happy [Belated] Mother’s Day!

So originally, I had wanted to write about Classic Film/TV Moms for Mother’s Day. Then I was going to write about why I think there are so many Mother’s Day TV specials. But ultimately, I decided to do something completely different. This Mother’s Day, my mom was kind enough to talk to me about her favorite movies. (And now I know what I’ll be doing for Father’s Day!)

So, full disclosure, I currently have 3-4 moms: my biological mother, two step-mothers, and my future mother-in-law. This year, I am just focusing on my biological mother.

When I asked what my mother’s favorite movie was, two immediately came to mind:

1. Clue (1985): Stars include Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), and Martin Mull (Sabrina the Teenage Witch). Based off the classic boardgame, this film takes place in 1954 when a group of strangers are invited to a secluded New England mansion. Once there, they learn they’ve all been brought there for a specific reason and when other people begin dying, they need to find out who-dunnit, and where, and with what.

My mom said: “This movie still makes me snort out laughing.” This is still her favorite comedy nearly 34 years after it’s initial release. Although it didn’t do well at the box office, it has since become a cult classic. At the time of its release, each movie theater received a different ending, however all three are available in the home release, and Tim Curry shines in every one of them.

2. Life of Pi (2012): Directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel. In both the book and the movie, Pi survives a shipwreck on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger in the Pacific Ocean. It is a story of survival against some really impossible odds.

My mom: “The prettiest movie I’ve ever seen. It’s also intellectual. It’s a movie that is visually pretty and makes you think.” I have not seen this movie or read the book, but my understanding is that it is a very philosophical movie. My mom said this is her favorite movie that makes her think. 

3. Recent releases: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), A Star Is Born (2018), The Post (2017).

My mom loved Bohemian Rhapsody, but said that she felt like that had a lot to do with the music, since she loves Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody is a bio-pic starring Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as Queen lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Since it’s release it has been nominated for 57 awards and won 21 of them, including Oscars for Best Actor, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing.

She felt that A Star is Born was great, really well-acted, and was really impressed with Lady Gaga’s performance. Star is the third remake of a 1937 film of the same name and stars Lady Gaga (American Horror Story: Hotel) and Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), who also made his directorial debut here. It too received several accolades including 218 award nominations and 65 wins. The film depicts a musician struggling with addiction who falls in love with and helps launch the career of a young woman.

The Post is a film my mother really enjoyed due in part to the fact that she actually remembers when the Pentagon Papers were released and the accompanying scandal. The film stars Meryl Streep (Kramer vs. Kramer) and Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) and directed by Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark). It was nominated for a number of awards, including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress. The film follows the first female publisher of a major American newspaper and The Washington Post‘s attempts to publish the Pentagon Papers, classified government documents regarding the Vietnam War.

4. Groundbreaking films: Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), The Wizard of Oz (1939)

She described both of these movies as films she could watch again and again. She remembers when A New Hope was first released. At the time, it was unlike anything she’d ever seen before and began what is now a major media franchise and saga that has spawned movies, books, TV shows, video games, and more. The first film depicts Luke Skywalker after he encounters a message for help from a princess inside a robot. That is the most basic summary of the first film and any Star Wars fan will tell you that if you’ve never seen any of the movies before, that’s the one you want to start with.

The Wizard of Oz was already a classic when my mom was born, but at the time it’s use of color film was unprecedented. She described it as a movie she could sit down and watch any time.

5. Old Classics: My mom also listed a series of classic movies that she still loves: Gone with the Wind (1939), old musicals such Holiday Inn (1942), The Sound of Music (1965), and Fred Astaire classics such as Shall We Dance (1937) and Top Hat (1935).

Gone with the Wind to this day remains the most successful movie in box office history (when adjusted for inflation). It is a whopping 221 minutes long or 3.7 hours long (without overture, intermission, exit music, etc.). It’s based on a 1936 novel by the same name and takes place in the south during the Civil War and subsequent Reconstruction era. 

Holiday Inn is considered a holiday classic and is best known for its original song “White Christmas”, which won an Oscar. It stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

The Sound of Music is an adaptation of a musical by the same name, composed and written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (Rodgers & Hammerstein), which is based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers written by Maria von Trapp about her family in Salzburg, Austria and their escape from Nazi-invaded Europe. It stars Christopher Plummer (The Insider) and Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), the latter of whom was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film.

Fred Astaire was an American singer, actor, dancer, and choreographer. From 1934-1938 he made a series films with Ginger Rogers, who was an American actress, singer, and dancer: The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). The films featured revolutionary choreography and were big money makers for RKO. They were also responsible for a number of classic songs including “The Way You Look Tonight”, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1936.

My mother described a lot of these movies as “comfort food movies, like mac & cheese”. This is an idea I think worth exploring. Everyone has that food that you eat when you want to feel good/better. There are movies (and in the age of streaming, I’d argue TV too) that do the same.

The Role of Witches

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Typically, I spend the month of October, attempting a month-long marathon in the vein of FreeForm’s “31 Nights of Halloween” (formerly 13). So, originally, I had intended to make this post about that, focusing on some of my favorite Halloween TV specials and movies. However, in light of certain events, I decided I wanted to look at the role of women in Halloween culture.

The most obvious figure, is the witch. In Salem 1692, these were individuals who supposedly were in league with the devil. Over time, they have become almost exclusively women and, for a long time, almost exclusively evil. In 1939, the Wicked Witch of the West was the frightening antagonist with the green skin and hooked nose who was thwarted with help from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. This beautiful ginger got a name and a sparkly pink dress and crown, while our anonymous friend looked severe and dour in the traditional dour black dress and conical hat.

In The Wizard of Oz, good and evil are both represented by witches/strong female characters (although protagonist Dorothy later needs to be saved by her men). In typical fashion, they are characterized by their appearance, but they both demonstrate a great amount of power. Almost 54 years later Disney released another good example of strong women on both sides: Hocus Pocus (1993).

In Hocus Pocus, the Sanderson sisters are three witches who cast a curse just before they are hanged in 1693 Salem. The curse enables them to be resurrected 100 years later to exact their revenge. Played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, these witches are not so obviously “ugly”, and, in the case of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, she’s actually quite beautiful. Instead, the “ugliness” is in their actions and personalities and in how they aren’t especially intelligent.

In contrast, there’s our protagonists, siblings Max and Dani Dennison, Max’s beautiful crush, Allison Watts, and 17th Century Salem resident-turned-cat, the immortal Thackery Binx. Although the protagonist is decidedly Max (and to some extent, Binx), he is often outshined by Dani and Allison’s intelligence and resourcefulness. Max is the one who starts the trouble, and while he finishes it with his bravery, the beautiful girls more often than not prove to be the more intelligent characters.

Hocus Pocus and The Wizard of Oz share some key similar traits in how they portray women, with good and evil females on both sides, and the evil ones less beautiful or intelligent. However, where The Wizard of Oz, also gives its strength and intelligence to the male protagonists, Hocus Pocus reflects the changing times by making the females the more capable characters.

In the years since Hocus Pocus, witches have more and more often been portrayed as forces for good: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, 1997-2005), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003), Charmed (1998-2006, 2018-), Harry Potter (1997-2007, 2001-2011), The Good Witch (2008, 2015-) … the list goes on. The point is, women have been taking back that word. Because, let’s be realistic, what is a witch but a woman who has power beyond male understanding? Witches don’t need men and cannot be controlled by them (which is why some of them choose romantic partners that are not your standard human man: Willow and Tara, Scarlet Witch and The Vision (a cyborg created by an alien intelligence and hyper-sophisticated AI)).

Today, witches are again being threatened. See, it’s no longer just witches threatening the patriarchy. More than ever, women are standing up for injustices that have previously gone unacknowledged, but also/still receiving pushback. Women are looking for the same autonomy, power, and resources afforded to men; the right to feel safe and secure. While women have been restricted and vilified as witches, (wealthy, white) men continue to exhibit poor behavior and decision making skills without consequence. For centuries, women have been silenced, burned at the stake (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially). It’s never been okay and now that people are voicing that opinion it’s even more important that we keep standing up and saying it. Because these voices are having an impact, the opposing side is becoming more frantic and eager to silence them. While this message seems to be gaining ground socially, it seems to be stagnating politically. For the first time in my life, I am actively encouraging political participation. Vote, take a stand; things are never going to change when we have politicians who want them to stay the same. Find the power within yourself to be a witch; someone who cannot be controlled and expects respect and equality.

Consider what kind of world you want to live in: one where Dorothy needs to be rescued by a Scarecrow and the hero is a boy who summoned a trio of evil witches (NEVER light the Black Flame Candle), or one where Captain Marvel is supposedly going to be the most powerful character in the MCU and Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins’s success is leading to the DCEU actively recruiting female directors for female-lead superhero films? (A historically male-oriented genre wants to explore powerful women without asking them to wear a sexy outfit.) This October, almost 55 years after its pilot aired, we’re even getting a female Doctor on Doctor Who! (Seriously, I could go on…)


So this year, rather than be a sexy witch for Halloween, be a powerful one all the time.