Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Movie Marathon

This afternoon while I had the washing machine going, the dishwasher going, and the food dehydrator going, I thought to myself, "Thank you, Twenty-First Century," because I'm really not sure how I would have managed to be a housewife a hundred years ago.

Andrew and I had a bit of a movie marathon this past week. We watched Saving Mr. Banks first, which was amazingly insightful considering I'm reading Mary Poppins out loud with the girls and we were all very confused by the character of Mary Poppins is in the book versus how she is in the 1964 Disney film. She's very hard-nosed in the book, perhaps even a little cold, and my girls both took a disliking to her from the very beginning (though I think they've warmed up to her now that we have a few good adventures under our belt).

Though she's still a bit of a killjoy in the movie, she's a much warmer and loving character than she is in the book.

Saving Mr. Banks explained this beautifully (and made me cry like a baby). Much of P. L. Travers' life story is fictionalized (though the basic facts of her childhood, exact conversations and other details were obviously made up) the record of her behavior in the studio is very well documented (since she insisted on having all conversations recorded). The actress who played her, Emma Thompson, did an incredible job. Because of how particular P.L. Travers was, Thompson had a lot of information available for her character study and she certainly used that to her advantage.

We didn't even recognize her...from Harry Potter! She's Professor Trelawny, for crying out loud!

I actually always appreciate it when I'm not able to recognize an actor. This movie was filled with actors that I knew and every time a new person popped up on screen I was like, "BJ Novak. Whoa. Bradley Whitford. Whoa. Paul Giamatti. Whoa. Tom Hanks?! Whoa!"

But because I know few actors' names (except for Tom Hanks) it was more like, "The Office meets The West Wing meets John Adams meets Tom Hanks! Whoa!" All those people are too recognizable for me, but I eventually was able to accept them in their roles (except for maybe BJ Novak but probably only because I really hated Ryan Howard (sorry, not sorry)) and by the end of the film I think Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur (a completely fictionalized character) was one of my favourite characters—"You're the only American I have ever liked, Ralph."

Anyway, there's this one scene where Mrs. Goff is trying to hang out the laundry to dry while young Helen/ Pamela Lyndon Goff/Travers  and her sister are chasing a chicken around the yard and the baby is screaming its head off. Mrs. Goff is looking rather rundown and says something like, "Will you just...!" And I thought to myself, "Solidarity, sister!" because I don't know how many times I've uttered those same three words. Never anything after. Because what is there even to say?

Next I thought to myself, "At least I have a dryer for those days when I just can't use the clothes line because I'm teetering on the edge of insanity and having the children run crazy circles around me whil I try to pin up the clothes would surely push me over the edge."

Because those days do happen.

Anyway, I know the story wasn't an exact portrait of how things happened, and it was rather pro-Disney (and we did show Mary Poppins to our children the very next day), but I thought it was a beautiful story.

Next up in our little film festival was Lee Daniels' The Butler, which could have been called simply The Butler were it not for a silly law suit (because Warner Brothers 1916 silent film The Butler was similar to this Personally, I would have gone with The White House Butler, but I'm not Lee Daniels.

I'm glad that I watched this movie perched on the exercise bike because otherwise I'm not sure I could have sat through it (I'm getting to be just like my mother—maybe she needs an exercise bike).

When they first showed the cotton fields and the whole rape/murder scene I thought for sure this was set way back in the day. But no—1926! That really doesn't seem so long ago, though I do realize it's almost a century ago. I was totally expecting it to be before the 1860s (before slavery was abolished).

The movie was loosely based on the life story of Eugene Allen, who was born in 1919. My grandma was born in 1928. My grandpa was born in 1915. Though my grandparents were both raised far away from the problems of the south.

Somehow I didn't expect people to be treated that way in 1926. I'm pretty naive, I guess. I mean, I know that there are slave houses just down the road from us that were used as residences for families formerly enslaved up until 1954. I guess I just didn't want that to happen.

There were a lot of things in the movie that I didn't want to have happen (like the whole Woolworth's counter incident—brutal). And a lot of things I just had no clue about before.... Like how Lyndon B. Johnson reigned from the toilet seat—and is he actually called LBJ? Andrew said something about LBJ and I was like, "What's LBJ?" And he's all, "Lyndon B. Johnson, duh." And so I pulled the Canadian card. I mean, using JFK's initials is fine because he's like the American Princess Diana—who doesn't know Princess Diana? Who doesn't know JFK? But LBJ? He's like the American John George Diefenbaker—name three facts about him off the top of your head, Andrew!

He gave Canadian aboriginals the right to vote in 1960, so that's something. And how generous of him, too
. Canada obviously is steeped in racial issues of its own (what country isn't?), but the problems of the south were and continue to be jaw-dropping (and don't worry, Southerners—it's not just you because Arizona, for example, could use some help being kind to everyone, too). I think it's more worrisome to me now that I'm here than it was before.
We learned about Jim Crow laws in high school, but with a jovial "glad that's over!" tone. But it's kind of not. We're just a little more sly about it now, but it's no lie that "Black and Latino students are more likely to attend schools with mostly poor students."

I don't really know what to do about it. And we're as guilty as anybody because we moved Rachel from a poor school to a decent one as lickety-split as possible.

Sorry, but I don't like getting flyers about how to keep my kindergartener from joining a gang so I was happy to move her to a school that, evidently, doesn't have gang problems (or at least doesn't send flyers about such activities home with her). Her classroom is still much more mixed than it would be in, say, Utah, but it's definitely wealthier (and much, much whiter—coincidence) than her classroom at her old school.

In fact, she went from being one of three white children to having only a third or so of her class being black, which is ridiculous, in my opinion, because Durham is about 40% white and 40% black—so I'd expect to see similar trends in classrooms. I don't think it would be possible to achieve a perfect demographic ratio, but I certainly see segregation when I look into schools. Not forced segregation...but natural segregation, I guess, which speaks volumes about how the issue of race isn't a historical thing.

Rachel's old school was 75% black and 9% white. Something is wrong with that picture, especially because her school struggles—with funding, with parental involvement, with community support, with everything.

Her current school is 68% white and 21% black, which is not much better. But her school is wonderful. She feels safe and happy and that means a lot when I'm sending my child off for hours on end.

There are schools in the area that are more integrated but there are also schools that are more segregated. I don't really know what the solution is. And I realize we're part of the problem by fleeing to a better funded school...but...I don't know what the solution is. Surely it's not this (which is kind of what's happening in Louisiana).

Anyway, we're about as unsegregated as we were in 1968. So...yeah.

I rather enjoyed the book and movie The Help when it came out, but it was criticized for being too sugar-coated: the racism portrayed wasn't blatant enough, violent enough, angry enough (oh, and it's mostly about how a poor little white girl can succeed through sheer grit and by stealing the story of a black nanny). If the racism in The Butler is anywhere close to accurate, I, um, can see now how The Help was too mild. Because I thought The Help was pretty awful. But The Butler? What it showed was terrifying.

It was an excellent movie, though. It was fascinating to see what Eugene Allen may have seen throughout the course of his life (the changes in general, I mean (or lack thereof), not every scene in particular).

Ready for the last movie?

A friend slipped me a copy of The Saratov Approach at church on Sunday. She mentioned watching it on Facebook. I mentioned wanting to borrow it and the next thing I know I have a copy of it in my hands. My son's friend recently (like six months ago—that's recent, right?) returned from a mission in Russia so she waited to watch it until he got home. It wouldn't have been wise to watch it while he was out, so I'm glad she waited.

And he was all the way in the Novosibirsk mission, which is a 38 hour drive from Saratov (2909 km or 1807 miles—Russian roads aren't great which is why that distance takes so long, maybe?).

I'm certainly glad this movie wasn't around when I went to Russia. Saratov is only 7 hours (by car—513 km or 318 miles) east of Voronezh.

I remember being quite uncomfortable when I was first picked the middle of a cold Russia a strange Russian man driving a Lada...and being shuttled across the city to who knows where. I can't imagine how much more uncomfortable I would have felt in that circumstance had I watched The Saratov Approach before heading out to Russia.

This film wasn't as polished as the major blockbuster films we watched earlier in the week, and one of the mothers made me want to claw my eyes out, but overall I think it was a wonderful telling of a remarkable story—one that involves two things very close to my heart: my religion and Russia.

Also, it was a little weird seeing Corbin Allred portraying a missionary, but I got over that.


  1. Yes, the race thing. I sat in the same booth in the cougar eat with a man of African descent, and made some comment about the kind of pie I had (coconut cream) and not what he had (chocolate) and he was all "What's WRONG with chocolate?" as if my comment was RACIAL. We had a nice chat about American/Canadian race issues. It is super hard to understand. In one of my lit. classes, I wrote about how shocking some of the stuff in Huckleberry Finn was to this little Canadian girl, and my professor asked to keep my essay and use it in future classes. A whole different world. Growing up where I did, the only black people I knew were highly respected. Mr. Morrison, the English teacher. Mr. Mathis, the music teacher (Johnny Mathis's brother, actually). All the East Indian people, the same. The Thomases, both high school teachers. The vice principal of the elementary school who retired just before I started school. I can't remember her name. Chinese and Japanese people, all respected. But we were horrible to native Canadians and to poor white people. But I think that the First Nations situation is much better now.

    1. The cougar eat thing--when I was about 18. Not recently!

  2. I think some of the state legislators were trying to help with the school problem by allowing public funds to be available for poorer families to choose other schooling alternatives. Don't children usually attend schools near their neighborhoods unless they flee to better schools? So it makes sense if white families tend to live near Duke, and black families tend to live near the Durham Rescue Mission (I'm just making this up as I don't know who lives near Duke) that the schools would reflect this?

    Or perhaps with forced integration, you take children from your neighborhood bus them clear across Durham County to mix with Latinos or black children or white children so the school is more properly mixed.

    Yeah, I don't know what the solution is unless we force people to stay where they are are and/or move students around so the schools are more mixed. Can you force parents to get involved who don't want to? It is sad. I wish all students had a safe environment, and had parents to advocate for them the way you do for Rachel.

    Thanks for sharing about what you learned from movies. I agree that it is appalling what people did to others - and still do. People certainly can be evil.