Tonight I met up for dinner with my good friend Vito Grandolfo, before we attended a screening of the classic campy film, “Mommie Dearest” starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford. The screening was part of the local FilmOut monthly movie series at the Birch North Park Theatre in North Park. Vito and I met up with some friends who were also planning to see the show. It seemed like a good and fun idea to go see a wickedly bad movie that definitely inspired some audience participation as fans of the movie shouted out some of the biggest lines from the movie back at the screen.
I had never been to the Birch North Park Theatre before. It was a nice venue for one as old as it is. It wasn’t too large and wasn’t too small either. It looks like the venue is able to be used for stage productions as well, tonight there just happened to be a huge screen parked on the stage. Before the movie began they did a raffle for a few prizes and even awarded one for someone who had come dressed as Joan Crawford. Additionally the screening had Billy Masters as an opening act. He came, shared some stories about the movie, how Faye Dunaway thinks the movie killed her career, and gave away some prizes. I’m not entirely sure who he is, but he was moderately entertaining. He said to watch out for his favorite part in the movie which occurs during the infamous wire hanger scene and the cleaning powder where Faye goes cross-eyed for a moment.
The movie was lots of fun with an interactive audience. Definitely a better experience than renting the disc from Netflix as I had done several years ago for the first and only time I’ve ever seen the movie previously. Faye Dunaway might think the movie killed her career, but I think every actress should be so lucky as to have an opportunity to go over the top and chew scenery like Faye did. She was like a Disney villain except more vicious. The only true disappointment is the actresses playing Christina as a child and an adult weren’t good enough actresses to hold their own against Faye.
Do I honestly believe Joan Crawford was as evil a bitch as she was portrayed in the movie? No, the whole movie reeks of one sided bitchiness on the part of Christina. I don’t doubt it was a troubled childhood experience for her, but it definitely seems like she could have used some therapy to deal with her impressions of her own childhood. I’m sure there was probably a nugget of truth to all of it, afterall, who hasn’t had their own stories from their own childhood where they didn’t get their own way and had to suffer some kind of perceived injustice at the hands of their parents.
The scene of Christina refusing to eat the rare steak and being forced to stay at the table until she finished it reminded me of one of my own test of wills with my mother when I was forced to sit at the table until I my dinner too. Like Christina, I sat there for hours until I was released but I flat out refused to eat whatever it was I didn’t like that was being served. Fortunately I didn’t have to face the same plate of food for multiple meals. And I certainly remember being spanked on the rare occasions when I got out of line. Do I hate my parents for that? No. I didn’t like them in the heat of the moment, but I think I’m definitely a better person as a result of their having put me in my place when I did inappropriate things.
In any case, the movie is unintentionally hilarious (after all, I don’t think they deliberately meant to make child abuse hilarious) and sure it demonizes one of Hollywood’s great legends. I don’t for a moment believe it takes away from the work Joan Crawford did. I’m not a huge fan of old movies so I haven’t seen any of her films besides “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane” where she co-starred with Bette Davis. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the performance of either Crawford or Davis, but I could see they had talent. Just not necessarily talent I care to watch. As far as I’m concerned, Joan Crawford strikes me as a determined woman who worked hard for the status she achieved, and sometimes that requires being a bitch. And if that happens to be the one skill Christina learned as child from her adopted mother, then so be it. I enjoyed the movie for all its campiness and classic one-liners.
What I think really sums up the movie best is the following very funny YouTube music video that pairs up footage and campy lines from “Mommie Dearest” with ABBA’s “Mamma Mia.” And while finding that video I came across a really funny take on the Wire Hanger scene that will have you laughing, be sure to turn the volume up to catch the fun the video creator had with the soundtrack especially when Faye tears apart the closet. Enjoy.