Daddy rarely went to the movies. There were only a handful of times I can remember him going to see one, much less doing so by himself.
When I was very young, we went to see Your Cheatin’ Heart, in which George Hamilton played Hank Williams and lip-synched to his songs sung by, strangely enough, Hank Williams, Jr. Daddy loved Hank Williams, and it wasn’t unusual when he was in a particularly good mood to break out himself with a chorus of “Hey, Good Lookin’’ or “Jambalaya,” leaving me to wonder what the hell it meant to “pole the pirogue down the bayou.”
We went to see Bonnie and Clyde with the little boy who lived next door when I was still a child and years too young to understand the movie’s forthright handling of sexuality, including impotence. I only knew that the previously unknown Faye Dunaway looked amazing, and that Warren Beatty looked, well, amazing, too. Naturally, my little friend and I started playing Bonnie and Clyde, and you should easily figure out who was who.
Bonnie and Clyde was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and that was the point in time that my relationship with Oscar began. In the decades since, I have tried to make it a point to see as many of the nominated movies as possible.
A few years later, a little picture called The Last Picture Show was nominated for eight Oscars, so I really wanted to see this movie about growing up in Texas in the early 1950’s. I was used to going to the downtown theaters in Tyler and seeing whatever I wanted. The ladies who worked the box office were no doubt used to the kid who showed up practically every Saturday and didn’t much care whether I was going to see Support Your Local Sheriff or The Boston Strangler. But a new two-screen theater had opened south of downtown, and that’s where The Last Picture Show was playing.
Figuring that the relatively new and pesky rating system would prevent an underage teenager from getting in, I got Mother to take me. Of course, I didn’t know that the movie would include scenes of four teenagers losing their virginity, one involving a married woman, plotlines including that adultery, possible child sexual abuse, references to bestiality and masturbation, with a whiff of homosexuality thrown in for good measure. Oh, and full, though brief, frontal nudity. Needless to say, Mother was horrified.
At dinner, Mother tried to get ahead of the story with Daddy, complaining about this perfectly awful movie that I had insisted she take me to see. Turning the tables on her, I told Daddy what a wonderful movie it was, how it was nominated for so many Oscars, and how it was full of Hank Williams’ music. I stressed that there was an oil field connection, with characters who were roughnecks and drillers, and reminded him that he had worked in that part of Texas back in the day when he was a young driller himself.
“Really, Daddy, I think you’d like it.” And so he agreed to go see it. Mother was again horrified.
I don’t remember whether Daddy went that same day or the day after, but to say that Mother and I were at home and anxious while he was gone would be an understatement. When he came through the backdoor, Mother set in on him. “Honey, what did you think?”
Daddy replied, “I really liked the music.” And that was the end of his critique.
Recently, I watched The Last Picture Show, and like any really good movie, one line resonated with me more fully than in so many previous viewings. It comes as Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion dismisses most of the teenage boys from his pool hall, café, and picture show after discovering that they had all pitched in to purchase the services of the local prostitute for a mentally disabled boy named Billy. The line is “I’ve been around that trashy behavior all my life. I’m getting tired of putting up with it.” Me, too, Sam.
It’s not just the trashy stuff. It’s the ignorant, the manipulative, the cynical, and the sometimes downright stupid that’s making me tired.
It’s the folks who think World War II started in 1941, who don’t understand how a foreign war can quickly threaten our own security. It’s those media outlets that tell us what is important and what to think about it, and then proceed to tell us how to feel about it and how much to fear the possible outcome. It’s those other media outlets that start with the fear of some folks, and then mold those into a way of thinking that allows them to tell their viewers what’s important. Anyone who hasn’t yelled at their favorite commentator on television is simply not paying attention. I’m tired of it being about eyeballs glued to the screen, and politicians using these stoked fears for fundraising.
I’m tired of being told that our “democracy” is under threat, when I look around and can only find some kind of “democracy light.” I’m tired of anti-democratic institutions like the Electoral College, the composition of the United States Senate, the process of the elevation of judges to the Supreme Court and the filibuster being so deeply embedded in our body politic that the will of the majority is subverted.
I’m tired of the diminishment of voting rights, civil rights, and women’s rights each time the Supreme Court “revisits” them. I’m tired of women having less bodily autonomy while they are alive than I have over my own corpse. I’m tired of mental illness being espoused as the cause of political terrorism by the very folks who continue to cynically manipulate the fearful to their own advantage.
And I’m tired of people opening their mouths because they want to say something when they should keep their mouths shut until they have something to say.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, doctor.
I can’t blame you for thinking, “Gurl, you need a vacation.” I do, and that’s what I’m taking. I’ll be back, Lord willing, in three weeks. So it’s up to you all to keep our crazy world going until then.