My mother used to regale me with stories of going to the movies when she was a teen. She lived with her family in a tiny house just off of Navigation Blvd. where she once watched Franklin Delano Roosevelt pass in a motorcade. On Saturdays, if she had a quarter, she would board a bus and ride the short way into downtown Houston where she watched films from the golden era of the nineteen forties. She was madly in love with Tyrone Power and Dana Andrews whose brother was her English teacher at Austin High School. She described those times so vividly that I too became enthralled with movies, often enjoying some of the favorites from her youth as they were rerun on television.
After my father died we often went to drive-in movie theaters on family nights when a carload got into the parking area for a single, reduced price. After my Aunt Polly went to work at the Trail Drive In we went any time she was working with the complimentary tickets that she regularly gave us. Mama always packed dinner and drinks and a grocery bag of popcorn to enhance our viewing pleasure. Those were some of the most glorious times of my childhood as I watched my favorite actors playing different roles.
I have no idea when the Academy Awards ceremony first came to television, but I suspect that I may have been watching from the start. Mama and I loved the beautiful gowns, the funny jokes, the singing and dancing and the anticipation of finding out if our own favorites would win awards. I don’t think I’ve missed a single airing of the Oscars over a span of decades. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of it all, and been disappointed many times when my own picks did not win or even get nominated.
Once the nominations are announced I do my past to watch all of the contenders and rank them in my own mind. Of course I have my own favorites that don’t always conform with the popular thinking. I’ve learned that I tend to most enjoy movies with beautifully written scripts. I suppose that words and the thoughts they engender mean more to me than special effects. I dream of one day writing something so meaningful that it will become the kind of story that inspires a movie. As a very ordinary writer, I still know when I am watching the work of a genius.
Last year my favorite movie was Belfast which won the Oscar for the best original screenplay. It was based on the recollections of Kenneth Branagh when he was a young boy growing up in Northern Ireland during the nineteen sixties when Irish Catholics and British Protestants were engaging in regular conflicts. The story was heartfelt and vividly portrayed the trauma of that era through the eyes of a young child. With stellar acting and a wonderful script it instantly became a classic in my mind.
This year it was another magnificently written script that captured my admiration. Women Talking was adapted from the book of the same title written by Miriam Toews. Based on a true event, it tells the story of a group of women who have been attacked by men in their in their isolated religious community. They gather in a hayloft to decide if they will stay in the community and fight back or leave to build a new life where they and their children will be safe. The challenge in leaving lies in their belief that that they may be barred from entering heaven if they go.
We do not see the attack in the film nor does the setting move far from the confines of the hayloft. The storyline is a conversation between the women that is recorded by a man who is a school teacher for the boys. The women are mostly illiterate because they have not been granted the privilege of an education. They have been led to believe that the attacks on them were the work of the devil. They must overcome their personal fears and differences to reach a decision about what to do. That is where the real beauty of the film unfurls with acting that is world class and a discussion that seems to almost timelessly define the challenges of being a woman. The movie is a work of art.
Films can be as though provoking as the greatest literature. Some burrow into our hearts and we never forget them. They become so much more than just bits of entertainment, respite from our daily cares and woes. They make us think or laugh or cry. I’m a fan just as my mother was. Movies have inspired me and enriched my life. I admire those who take their craft to the level of greatness. Movies are an extension of our human capacities to create. They represent one of the most incredible abilities of being human by demonstrating the most unique power of our minds. We have glorious imaginations that lift us from the depths of ignorance. Movies are but one more grand evolution in the ascent of humankind.