The Happy Returns - PygmalionSaturday, July 28, 2012
With no competition from TV or frequent sojourns to the movies I am today a finished product of which my mother, father and grandmother worked on. My father was in my life for 11 years and during those years I experienced strict discipline with a kind smile. I became much like my father not because my father taught me much but because my mother would say, “You are just like your father in this.”
Through my mother I learned of her passion for Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach and Grieg and her passion for reading. Many of the books I first began to read where books she placed in my hand. “Alex try this book by Leslie Charteris (I thought he was a she for many years). It is about Simon Templar known as The Saint. Your father read all the books.”
My first ventures into sex were the books of Frank G. Slaughter which my mother also passed my way. I particularly liked his novels featuring rather worldly bible characters like The Song of Ruth. Another author with risqué characters featured Saint Luke in Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician. These books prepared me for St Augustine’s “O, God make my holy, but not quite yet.”
My grandmother taught me about art and how artists could get away with almost anything if they claimed to be artists. It was her intervention that saved me from the dreaded whippings my mother gave me with her Filipino chinela (slipper).
All three of them, my father, mother and grandmother taught me about film. They were a collective bunch of snobs who took me to see movies that are now perceived as classics. It was my grandmother who leaned in the direction of Westerns and pirate movies and I came to appreciate Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster and Errol Flynn. It was my father who admired Gary Cooper and I will never forget him taking me to see Beau Geste.
My mother’s tastes for movies were far more sophisticated and romantic. She liked Leslie Howard, Ronald Colman, Tyrone Power but best of all Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten. She took me to see many films with Katherine Hepburn who confused my rudimentary idea that women wore dresses and had long hair. I could not make my mind on who this woman was.
By the time we moved to Mexico in 1955 my cultural education was pretty well set. It was around this time that my mother slowly weaned me from Hardy Boys and Tom Corbett Space Cadet with Hornblower books by C.S. Forester. The character development in Forester’s Hornblower series is all there between the lines. Somehow you learn very quickly what Hornblower is thinking by what he doesn’t say. I learned subtlety. I learned to appreciate subtlety. When my mother took me to see Captain Horatio Hornblower RN (directed by the stellar Raul Walsh) wit Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo (a pale copy to Maureen O’Hara in Against All Flags with Errol Flynn and Anthony Quinn) I too became hooked on Peck. Peck was the perfect Hornblower - uncomfortable with women, stern on the outside and milquetoast on the inside. And best of all you did not have to guess what Peck was thinking. If you had read all the Hornblower books it was patently evident.
I was able to see Peck’s Hornblower film for the second time ever last week. Rosemary immediately lost interest as she does not like violence in movies. Peck had ordered, “Ship witness for punishment. All hands on deck!”
Last night TCM aired Roberto Rodriguez’s (more important with cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa the same cinematographer for John Ford’s The Fugitive, 1947) La Bandida with María Felix, Pedro Armendáriz, Emilio (Indio) Fernández (the corrupt Mexican general in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch). This film is not readily available anywhere so I called my Mexican-born daughter Hilary and told her to switch on. But she is unable to get TCM and also showed little interest.
It occurred to me then that this was predictable. In the golden age of Mexican cinema, the 50s I would not have been caught dead seeing any of them. I was not interested in María Felix whose mannish (she never seemed fragile on screen or off) ways made her a Mexican equivalent to Katherine Hepburn. I did not like Mexican westerns in which the heroes were more likely to duel in a bar with guitar and song and keep their guns holstered. For me Mexican films of the golden era were overblown telenovelas. They were over-acted. Only the artificially blonde Sylvia Pinal lured me to her movies (which unbeknown to me were directed by one Luís Buñuel). I avoided all the films that were based on some obscure writer called B. Traven. I simply did no know any better and concentrated my movie going experience to seeing anything with Grace Kelly and when allowed by terribly strict Mexican censorship standards, films with Brigitte Bardot.
It was with all that info swirling in my head that I went to Limelight Video on Broadway and Alma on Thursday to rent George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard and with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in her first stellar role.
I try to find films that will entertain and instruct my daughter Hilary, her two daughters Rebecca, 14 and Lauren, 10 while not offending my wife’s prohibition of too much violence, sex and profanity. This can be tough! But to my amazement all enjoyed the film.
Are they now ready for Major Barbara and The Petrified Forest? I hope with caution. It was in 1966 that I noticed that a movie theatre in Buenos Aires, on the then wonderful movie row street, Lavalle, was featuring George Cukor’s Romeo and Juliet with Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, John Barrymore and Basil Rathbone. My mother had spoken highly of this film with loud romantic sighs. I had seen it in my youth and had little memory of it. I took Susie, my gorgeous new girlfriend. What a romantic notion, to take one’s love to Romeo and Juliet.
Even I found Howard too old and Norma Shearer too cold. As for Susie, without saying much she invited me to see Horoshi Teshihagara’s The Woman in the Dunes . I was shocked and later turned on by the overt sex of the film. Was love to be more that pure romance? Susie taught me that even Hornblower managed to have children so sex, surely was part of it.