It’s mother’s day and as I was watching MULHOLLAND DRIVE just now for the millionth time, it occured to me that my love for cinema would not be nearly so fierce if not for my own mother was not a natural blonde, Swedish to be precise, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s a mix of tenderness and disinterest, the Teutonic fire that burns not out nor warm nor long… and it’s what cinema is! For psychological subtext there’s Hitchcock and Lynch – Naomi Watts, the mother of mirrors hallucinating in her dirty bathrobe while we hover as camera lens ghosts at her hem line, or Marnie in PSYCHO or Melanie in THE BIRDS, creating this sense of unfulfillable longing– we can never please her so we spend our lives creating shadow plays to distract ourselves… stuffing birds… a curious hobby, and not as expensive as you’d think, until they attack everyone as manifestations of Jessica Tandy’s ferocious id. Imagine an Oscar clip montage devoted to psychotic moms! All sharp instruments and flashing blue eyes… cans of soup on the stove, Ultra-Man on the TV, a vague sense of doom, comfort, coziness and futility all commingling in your pre-school genius mind.
So without further ado… five great blonde mothers in five great films:
2. Michelle Pfeiffer in WHITE OLEANDER — aka Hannah Belle Lechter, mom kills a boyfriend and later drives her daughter’s step mom to suicide with just a few well placed words, all from the cozy confines of her prison. In one of her giddy pieces of praise for this pic, Kim Morgan writes:
“We’re not like that. We’re the Vikings,” says sociopathic blonde mother Michelle Pfeiffer to her crying teenage daughter Alison Lohman in White Oleander. One of cinema’s great blonde-semble pieces, this melodrama is supposed to be, in part, about the foster-care system, but Oleander really shows the varied, sometimes insane incarnations of blonde womanhood. (read full article here.)
In a different piece praising Pfeiffer’s best roles, Morgan notes: “By artfully melding her gorgeous Grace Kelly qualities with the cold eyes of a Ted Bundy, Michelle creates a classic performance for a real “Woman’s Picture.” (read that one here.)
3. Liv Ullmann/Bibi Andersson in PERSONA – The poor bespectacled son can’t even make it out of the morgue of pre-egoic identification to be with his mom in this nutty gem from the Great Swede himself, Ingmar Bergman. While the son resides in some bizarre synaptical cine-womb, ever reaching for her projected image, Liv prefers to merge vampirically with the blank hotness of Bibi Andersson (pictured below, with glasses off). Mirror these two up to Betty and Diane in MULHOLLAND and you got yourself a four-way trip to the bughouse of the pre-differentiated self. Incidentally, of all these blondes, Andersson is the one I am most attracted to and yet she also is the one who most resembles my mom. For what it’s worth, maybe too much information for you… I’m just throwing that in the stew for extra frisson.
5. Leopoldine Constantin in NOTORIOUS. The old school hausfrau to a Nazi son (Claude Rains) with bad taste in women, Frau Constantin is willing to stay in the background as a stock character, but when Rains finds out he’s “married to an American agent!” he knows he can relax, as his mom sheds her homey front with a sigh, like a wolf grateful to cast off its sheep’s clothing and feel its fur in the wind again. Lighting a cigarette, Rains’ mom paces back and forth puffing tobacco and forming a diabolical plan. For her, the chance to plot the slow accidental death of her daughter-in-law is like the sudden arrival in the mail of a juicy book of sidoku would be to my own mother.
4. Cheryl Ladd in POISON IVY. As the grandly dying mom up in her red silk bedroom, cringing at the touch of her ugly duckling daughter (Sarah Gilbert), Ladd is great in a weird role that she pulls off with aplomb. The movie would have been perfect anyway, as it’s got Tom Skerritt as the alcoholic dad, sneaking vodka shots out of the kitchen cupboard after realizing he’s fooled around with his daughter’s blonde nymphette friend (Drew Barrymore), but then Ladd comes along as the icing on the cake, clutching this homewrecking hottie to her chest like Cleopatra with an asp.
1. Natasha Henstridge in SPECIES! This mom is the ideal for both humans and H.R. Giger-designed aliens. I’ve written extensively about my love for Henstridge in an article for Acidemic on one of my favorite films of all time, GHOSTS OF MARS. I also discuss SPECIES, noting that Henstridge:
“played Syl, an alien/human hybrid who escapes her medical lab upbringing and hunts for a “breeder” partner, to mate with, mantis-like. Thanks to Henstridge’s startling beauty and sex appeal, this death/re-birth by vagina dentata becomes horribly desirable. A femme fatale with no pretense of not killing you, but so hot you can’t resist. Her allure is thus now and forever linked to the key Freudian primordial fantasy — to die and be reborn into a nicer mom’s womb, to move from outside the screen to inside the actress. This is the death drive’s actual goal realized via cinema, and she is its ultimate goddess, the modern Kali, ripping your heart out with one hand, and pulling you out of the void into life with the other.” (read the rest of this crazed rant here).
So… Syl has Alfred Molina’s baby mere minutes after fucking him, running off to an underground oil well to do so. Granted the bastard gets fried by flame throwers… oh wait, how bad does the climax of this movie suck? Pretty badly. The trick is to drink lots of vodka during the first hour and a half, so that by the time the underground cavern climax rolls around, you’re passed out cold. Then when you wake up, just press play and watch from the beginning, that way the film goes on forever in a weird version of the mobius strip called “quantum immortality.”
Of course there are great moms of death who aren’t blonde too. I’d like to give a shout out to Asia Argento (HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS), Kate Hepburn in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and of course, Mrs. Bates… Happy Mother’s Day!