Mom In The Movies: Iconic Screen Mothers You Love And A Few You Love To Hate, by Richard Corliss
I must admit that while I enjoyed this book I had somewhat ambivalent feelings about it. This book is obviously written by someone who has a great love of classic movies, and who has an agenda about supporting family dramas, a type of movie that was more popular in the past than at present. My own feeling about family dramas are, as one might imagine, somewhat complicated by my own life . I must admit as well that I have not been in the habit of watching old movies to the extent that, say, my roommate is. In fact, I would venture to say that he would probably enjoy this book much more than I would, because he has likely seen far more of the movies spoken about in it than I have. What for me was a somewhat distant but mildly entertaining read would be far more relevant to someone who has watched more movies and has less ambivalent views about the relationship of motherhood in the movies to motherhood in life, and the increasing distance between family concerns and most contemporary films that are not either Oscar bait or Tyler Perry melodramas.
This book of a bit more than 200 large pages is divided into several chapters that deal with different periods and different types of portrayals of mothers on the silver screen through the course of movie history. Opening with a forward by the late mother and daughter acting duo of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, the film begins with an introduction and a gallery of golden age moms. After that comes a discussion of silent era mothers like Mary Pickford, the mother martyrs of the pre-Hayes Code era of film in the early 1930’s, the Great American Moms from the golden age of cinema after that. There is a look at mothers from the serial movies that were on the lesser rank of doubleheaders as well as a look at mother characters from movies that are remade over and over again. A discussion of aunts, mammies and nannies, and surrogate mothers comes after this. The book then takes a darker turn at generational conflicts between mums and kids, bad seeds, malevolent moms, and mothers in crime and horror movies. The book then ends on a more optimistic note in looking at sci-fi moms, showbiz moms, and modern moms in more contemporary movies along with a look at why mother roles will endure in Hollywood.
There is a lot to like about this book. For one, the chapters are broken up with occasional short discussions from various Hollywood figures about their families and their feelings about the portrayal of motherhood in films. In addition, the book is full of gorgeous still images of films, some of which are rather obscure and at least one of which (The Magnificent Ambersons) no longer exists in its complete director’s cut because of studio folly. I found much to criticize in terms of the way that the author seemed to buy into so much of the sentimental nonsense that movies have often had trying to justify illegal or immoral behavior on the part of many film mothers “for the children,” but we can at least agree that it is a negative thing that there are so few good roles for older women and that movies about families have been made rare in an age of escapism and catering to violent movies about immature people who simply refuse to grow up, even if such films certainly appeal to a wide demographic. Those who like classic films and don’t mind reading what amounts to an extended pitch for offerings by Turner Classic Movies will find much to enjoy here.
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