On Sunday, June 25, I lost my favorite movie-viewing partner, my mother, Deborah Dunn. She died after fighting a long battle with diabetes. She was my best friend and fellow cinephile. She wasn’t the pretentious type: she had great taste in cinema, but she drew the line at foreign and silent films.
Mom introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock before I was 10. I think the first one I saw with her was “The Birds.” She loved watching other classics by the Master of Suspense with me for years to come, stopping everything whenever Turner Classic Movies showed “North by Northwest” or even the not-so-popular “The Trouble with Harry.”
Even when I was a little kid, Mom would bring me along to see drive-in movies, including the horror titles like “Children of the Corn” and “Hellraiser.” Being exposed to horror at a young age left its mark on me; I have more irrational fears in real life, but horror movies rarely scare me. However, realistic violence was where she took a stand. She said no to watching “Natural Born Killers,” a movie I still haven’t seen it because I can hear my mother warning me against it in the back of my mind. However, “Pulp Fiction” was A-OK by her.
I developed a rating system based on how long my mother could stay awake during a film. This was tested during our first movie-related trip together in 2003 to the Savannah Film Festival in Georgia. Within the first five minutes of watching “Collusion,” a terrible British suspense thriller, my mother was off to dreamland. At the end of the screening, she woke up just before the director walked past her, but I’m pretty sure that he could hear her snoring. She asked if she missed anything, I replied, “Only one of the worst movies ever made.” This system would be applied to other titles too numerous to name.
Her other reactions to films were pure gems:
On “Napoleon Dynamite”: “Are you sure this didn’t take place in the ’70s?”
On Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”: “I don’t know what I just saw, but I liked it.”
On “12 Years a Slave”: “Why did it have to be so sad?”
On “Rachel Getting Married”: “Why is this movie so boring?”
On “Gone Baby Gone”: “This movie should be on Lifetime for men.”
Mom was the only person I’ve known to laugh out loud at the dark humor in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” That was another title that we would watch together repeatedly. We also enjoyed TCM Underground, a series of late-night B-movies that we would mock within seconds, including “The Sadist,” “Ganja and Hess” and “Hatchet for the Honeymoon.” She also introduced me to blacksploitation flicks and Cary Grant movies.
Two years ago, Mom was declared legally blind. She could not watch more recent titles on her own, but I liked describing the action and costumes for her so that we could enjoy that time together. She preferred older titles as the actors were more talkative throughout the movies. In her declining days, we would talk about what film I reviewed for Take 2 or a classic movie to watch to cheer me up. She encouraged me to get lost in the comedy of “Dolemite,” to enjoy the scares in “Alien: Covenant” and “It Comes at Night,” and to visit the area drive-ins this summer.
There are so many movies I wished she had a chance to watch like “Hidden Figures,” “The Babadook” and “Moonlight.” However, the memories I have of us are better than anything Hollywood could produce.