Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Mom Memory

I was cruisin' around MetaFilter the other day reading, of all things, a discussion about olive oil when I came across a slightly off-topic comment/quote:

The scene with the butter wasn't in the original script. The script called for extra virgin olive oil. The truth is, it was Marlon who came up with the idea because the prop department didn't have the butter handy when we were ready to shoot the scene. Bertolucci was fat and sweaty and very manipulative; he was the one who convinced me to do it. I should've called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script. I didn't know that at the time. Marlon said to me, "Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie." But during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated, and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.

OMG! Last Tango In Paris! The controversial film of 1972/1973 (maybe of all time, if we are to believe film critic Pauline Kael)! "Pornography disguised as art," said a couple of reviewers, "obscene!" Moral breakdown! Outraged sensibilities! The end of Western Civilization! Unclean! Sodomy! Apocalypse! Gasps and moans and gnashing of teeth! New life for the dairy industry! Won't somebody please think of the children before the Almighty Jeebus kills a kitten?

And my mother--my Mom!--went to see it.

I'm not entirely sure what possessed her--maybe it was Art Buchwald's review, "'Last Tango' Just A Report On Paris Housing Shortage," which she thought was one of the funniest things she'd ever read, but whatever it was, Mom and one of her BFFs drove to Washington, D. C. one Saturday in '73 to see it.

Some quick background here: Mom's friend--let's call her Mrs. O.--was something of an anachronism. In 1973 when women's fashions were finally becoming a little more... relaxed... she still went everywhere dressed in '50s-style white gloves and hat. She was prim and proper and formal and far from what anyone would describe as "worldly" (which is not to diss her; she was a very, very nice lady, loyal to a fault, devoted to my mother, and surprisingly fond of me, which probably makes her eligible for sainthood), so why she wanted to go see Tango remains something of a mystery. Maybe she just wanted to break bad for once in her life.

Anyway, according to Mom, they got to the theater, found some seats, settled in, and began watching the movie. Until. Certain... Notorious... Scenes. Flashed before them.

Whereupon Mrs. Otto began a squirming fit: (stage whisper) "Virginia?* What's going on?" "Virginia, what are they doing?" "Virginia? What are they doing now?" "Virginia? Why are they... (stunned silence)."

Mom's response each time was, not surprisingly, "Shhh!" or "I'll explain later!," which leads me to this recurring, horrific image of the two of them driving back home with Mom--my Mom!-- earnestly explaining the intricacies (I almost wrote "the ins and outs") of anal sex the entire way (equally frightening is my image of the two of them slowly regarding their buttered popcorn as something entirely new and interesting, but that's just silly. Maybe).

Hey, I may have wound up as a drug addict for a while,
but at least I wasn't in
The Island of Dr. Moreau!

Anyway, that's it. As my friend Anne wrote, "No thinky thoughts, no grand proclamations, no fifty cent words," just a random memory about my Mom.

Oooo! Just one more thing! At 17 I thought this was, well, not exactly out of character for my Mom (you have to know her), but it certainly seemed a bit extreme until I learned years later she did a thesis (senior? Master's?) on Ulysses by James Joyce when it was still considered by most people, even academicians, to be obscene, if not outright pornographic.

She continues to surprise.

*Mom's given name is Virginia, which is what she's called by her friends. Her sisters (and parents) call(ed) her "Ginny." My father called her "Jean;" I don't know why.

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