Walt Disney's 'Bambi'

Time to get sentimental. Were you lucky enough to have one (or both) of your parents nurture your love of movies? More than anyone else in my life, my mother encouraged and inspired my great appreciation of movies.

Most weekday afternoons, I'd walk home from school and find her ironing clothes, cooking dinner, or caring for other household duties, but always with a movie playing on the television in the family room. She'd already worked outside the home, part-time, and I'm sure doing the domestic routines after that were tiring, yet she always asked about my school day, and my homework, and then we'd watch whatever the rest of the movie that was squeezed into the 90-minute time slot allotted for it on TV. (I never realized how severely some of those movies were "edited for television" until years later.) She'd share stories about watching movies when she was a young girl, and why she liked certain movie stars but not others. She'd grown up in Arizona and especially liked Westerns, but she enjoyed pretty much any kind of movie, no matter the genre, as long as it had a "good" story. (She wasn't too big on criminals.)

Later, when I'd wait long hours in line to see Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, she'd relate how she waited in line for three or four hours to watch the road show of Gone With the Wind. When I was short of cash to see something I really, really wanted to see, be it Damnation Alley or Logan's Run, she'd slip me a few bucks.
Later still, after I'd moved away and would visit home only annually, she'd defend my selfish desire to spend a precious vacation day watching five or six movies by myself -- though she did occasionally join me and watch one or two with me.

'Bambi' Re-Release Theatrical PosterThe very first movie I remember watching with her, though, was Walt Disney's Bambi. (No, not the original theatrical release in 1942, smart guy -- I'm not that old -- but one of the subsequent re-releases.) We lived in suburban Los Angeles at the time, and traveled downtown to one of the great movie palaces in the so-called Broadway Theatre District. I wish I could remember which one. Going to see a movie was a big deal, as I recall. My cousin, who drove us, called it "going to the show." My father didn't want to go, my older brother had no interest, and my younger sister was deemed too young to get anything out of it. Money was tight; no sense paying a ticket for someone who wouldn't benefit.

So off we went, and I was enthralled with watched the animated adventure unfold on such a big screen. Our only television at home was 13 inches and black and white. There was something very special about sharing that experience with a large crowd and in the company of my mother. Unfortunately, she didn't prepare me for the traumatic scene in the forest, and the great crime committed by a hunter. Frankly, I was shocked and scared, no, terrified by what happened.

I don't remember crying or otherwise communicating the horror of what I had seen. I clung tightly to my mother's hand afterward, but she was wrapped up in conversation with my cousin and didn't seem to notice that her son was petrified by Walt Disney. (I still hold a grudge against Walt Disney, by the way.)

The next theatrical release I shared with my mother was much less traumatic: a screening of Doctor Zhivago, in a drive-in, no less. I kept falling asleep, waking up and seeing snow, falling asleep, waking up and seeing snow. (I loved Elisabeth Rappe's historical appreciation of the film.)

On a trip home about 12 years ago, I remember watching movies with her for hours. Sometimes we'd watch AMC on TV -- back when they showed movies uncut and unedited -- and other times she'd point to movies she wanted to watch, picking from a large collection of videotapes that she had amassed.

She was dying of cancer, and her energy level was not very high, so we didn't talk very much as the days wore on, but I think we were still sharing our love of movies, the love that she had shared with me when I was but a young child, and the love that she had nurtured and encouraged, without prejudice and without pushing it.

My mother taught me many things, but that's one of the things I treasure most about her memory. And I'll never forget the first movie I watched with her, nor the last.

What about you? Do you remember the first movie you watched with your mother?
categories Cinematical