Some Other "Other" Mothers

Slide 1: Other Mother (Coraline)
When Coraline wanders through the secret door into the home of her Other Mother (voiced by Teri Hatcher), she is thrilled. She has time to play, and cook her favorite foods, and arrange wonderful play dates with her friends. The only problem is that the Other Mother wants her dead.
Slide 2: Beverly R. Sutphin (Serial Mom)
The best moms, by dint of their perfection, can also be most the most dangerous. Case in point is Beverly R. Sutphin (Kathleen Turner), the titled character in John Waters's Serial Mom. Cheery, well-kept, always there for her children and husband, Sutphin is pitch-perfect, even in her little hobby of murdering anyone who gets in her way. But for Waters, the film is really about motherhood, as a plea for embracing the homicidal maniac in each of us. Waters wants "to make you root for a serial killer. I was trying to find people's limits, make the audience a little bit nervous, that they're enjoying something they've been taught not to enjoy."
Slide 3: Eleanor Iselin (The Manchurian Candidate)
For most people, the term "mama's boy" is an insult, but for Eleanor Iselin the controlling mom at the center of The Manchurian Candidate, it's a political strategy. Originally written as a novel by Richard Condon, The Manchurian Candidate was then adapted into a film, first by John Frankenheimer in 1962 (with Angela Lansbury as Eleanor), and in 2004 by Jonathan Demme (who cast Meryl Streep in the Lansbury role). All versions revolve around a soldier who's been brainwashed by enemy agents to become an assassin, and a mother who turns out to be secretly pulling all his strings. In the 60s, this was a complex, daring yarn, one that involved red Communist cells, right-wing zealots and political corruption at the highest levels of government. But for the filmmakers, the most terrifying tenet was the mother. John Frankenheimer remembers how while developing the film, he and screenwriter George Axelrod "realized that we were making a movie where Frank Sinatra, our hero, orders the murder of the mother, played by Angela Lansbury…good God, this is a terribly immoral movie, and we can't do this."  And yet by the end of the movie everyone wanted her dead anyway.
Slide 4: Angela Petrelli (Heroes)
In Heroes, in which a race of people with unique powers emerges from the general population, one woman exhibits perhaps the most dangerous pull of all—the maternal drive. Angela Petrelli (played with icy precision by Cristine Rose) is somehow always right in the middle of every labyrinthine plot that engages the show's "heroes." For actress Rose, her character is a complicated creature: "Poor Angela Petrelli, so misunderstood. At worst she's morally ambiguous, meaning well but occasionally taking rather drastic measures to 'save the world.' Like killing a whole lot of people." Indeed she has a hard time deciding between her role as mother and evil mastermind. As Rose jokes, "While adoring her sons, she has, on occasional, suggested a 'bullet through the head' of each of them, so that her schemes would not be thwarted."
Slide 5: Edith Bouvier Beale (Grey Gardens)
The mother-daughter bond is a connection that has long been studied and written about, but few have documented it in such an extreme state as filmmakers David and Albert Maysles did with their documentary Grey Gardens. Once American royalty, now a pair of crazy ladies locked away in a wreck of house by the sea, Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter Edie (Little Edie) are a perverse (and yet touching) vision of mother and child captured in stories and paintings throughout history.
Slide 6: Deirdre Burroughs (Running with Scissors)
Deirdre Burroughs first appeared in Augusten Burroughs best-selling memoir Running With Scissors, and then was later embodied by Annette Bening in a film adaptation of that same book. If the 70s super mom wanted it all—home, career, children, creative expression—Deirdre was content with leaving children off her list. A bipolar, narcissistic poet who leaves her son in the crazed household of a pedophile psychotherapist in order get some "me" time, Deirdre saw parenting as an inconvenient truth to be argued away. In the book, she treats abandoning her son as a parting of two mature, consenting adults: "You are an adult," she said. "You're thirteen years 7old. You've got a mind and a will of your own. And I have my own needs right now. My writing is very important to me and I should hope that it would be important to you."
Slide 7: Claire Roth (In a Country of Mothers)
Novelist A.M. Homes has built a career out of teasing the sinister and sordid from everyday life. In her maternal thriller, In A Country of Mothers, Claire Roth is a happily married mother and therapist whose life seems perfectly content, until she meets the woman she begins to suspect is the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago. For Roth, the arrival of the "other" daughter brings out her "other" mother, as she goes so far as kidnap this woman and hold her hostage to prove her motherly love.
Slide 8: Eva (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Many women enter into parenthood with trepidation, but most, after having glimpsed their blessed infant, melt with maternal love. But in Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, the mother Eva feels no connection with her son. Year after year, she hopes to feel some emotions for him, but her son remains a stranger, an enigma, and then becomes a monster. But it's Eva, rather than Kevin, most readers have found so shocking.  Shriver believes her novel has "attracted an audience because my narrator, Eva, allows herself to say all those things that mothers are not supposed to say. She experiences pregnancy as an invasion… Eva finds caring for a toddler dull, and is less than entranced by drilling the unnervingly affectless, obstreperous boy with the ABC song. Worst of all, Eva detects in Kevin a malign streak that moves her to dislike him."
Slide 9: Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest)
Before it was a cult movie, or bestselling memoir, it was Christina Crawford's real life. Mommie Dearest captures the terrors of growing up Crawford, with her movie star mom, Joan, living a double life. Before cameras and press, Joan was a gracious, gorgeous Hollywood goddess. But behind closed doors, the diva turned into a devil armed with Ajax and wire hangers to torment her wards. On its release, Frank Perry's film was roundly panned, but in time audiences found the director's genius in the cartoon sets and over-the-top performances. Christina Crawford supposedly hated the film, since once again the attention was about her mother, and not her. Faye Dunaway suggests the film sunk her career since, as she said,  "I was too good at [Joan] Crawford." From then on, when producers, directors, and casting agents saw her, they ran in terror.
Slide 10: Mrs. Violet Venable (Suddenly, Last Summer)
What can you say about a mother who attempts to bribe a psychiatrist to lobotomize a young woman in order to keep her son's homosexuality a secret? In Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film version of Tennessee Williams' play Suddenly, Last Summer (with a screenplay penned by none other than Gore Vidal), Katherine Hepburn plays the venerable Mrs. Violet Venable, a mother so controlling and overbearing as to validate every pop-Freudian theory of homosexuality. After pimping herself for years for her son Sebastian Venable's need for young boy flesh, the mother Venable abdicated the role to her niece  (Elizabeth Taylor), who goes crazy when she witnesses Sebastian devoured by the street boys he had once preyed upon. Mrs. Venerable attempts to force Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to cut out that awful secret with a scalpel from her niece's brain, so she might protect her son's reputation. Legend has it Hepburn showed her own protectiveness to another homosexual, Monty Clift, whom she felt was being mistreated by the film's producer, Sam Spiegel. On the last day of shooting, she supposed spit in his face.
Slide 11: Mrs. Robinson (The Graduate)
Long before "MILF" was snickered by teenage boys, Mike Nichols' The Graduate presented the mother of all MILFs in the form of Mrs. Robinson (played to the hilt by Anne Bancroft). Poor Benjamin Braddock discovers that the girl he's fallen in love with is the daughter of the woman with whom he's having an affair. What audiences found most shocking about the character was not simply that she had sex with a younger man, but that her sexuality made you forget she was also a mother.
Slide 12: Margaret White (Carrie)
Western culture has evolved the belief that children are born innocent into the world. But not Margaret White, the mother of Stephen King's infamous heroine Carrie. The fanatical Margaret (played with terrifying certainty by Piper Laurie in the film version) sees only filth and sin in her poor teenage daughter. And her daughter rewards her for locking her away in a closet to pray by nailing her in a way to the cross on which she always belonged.
Slide 13: Livia Soprano (The Sopranos)
In a series famous for its nasty characters, Livia Soprano (deliciously played by Nancy Marchand) stands out as the source of so much venom. The mother of New Jersey gang boss Tony Soprano, Livia proves the tree is never far from its fruit. Bitter, vindictive and singularly un-maternal, Livia went so far as to put a contract out on her son when he tried to put her in a nursing home. But Livia is not just evil; she's classically evil. New York Times critic Caryn James remarked that Livia "has come to resemble a maternal figure with roots in Greek tragedy or Roman history."
Slide 14: Wanda Holloway (The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom)
Stage moms are particular species of "other" mothers, but Wanda Holloway (juicily played by Holly Hunter in Michael Ritchie's satirical The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader) pushes that identity to a homicidal extreme. She doesn't just push her own child; she orders a hit on the competition. The whole thing would be funny if it wasn't for the fact that the story was based on a true story. In 1991, the real Ms. Holloway attempted to get her brother-in-law to kill the mother of her daughter's cheerleading competition, since, she assumed, a daughter so distraught by her mother's death would pull out. In fact, Holloway was arrested before anything happened, and served six months of her 10-year sentence before she was paroled.
Slide 15: Barbara Baekeland (Savage Grace)
Tom Kalin's Savage Grace brings to the screen the incredible lives of the Baekeland family, first immortalized in the 1985 true-crime book of the same name by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson. Barbara Baekeland had married into a family rich from inventing the plastic Bakelite. From that elevated social and economic position, she'd hoped to join the ranks of world's rich. Only her husband left her and her son turned gay. As an attempt to salvage it all, she seduced her son Tony (or so she claimed) to cure him of his homosexuality. Instead, Tony snapped, killing his mother in 1972. Kalin, in talking about the historic model for the character played by Julianne Moore, says: "Though you can see that Barbara was the mother from hell from her transgressing traditional boundaries, you can also see from the early photographs that she was unbelievably devoted to her child, had an incredible tenderness, was ahead of her time in her thinking about how you raise a child…for her it was not the lack of love, but an extortion or distortion that became suffocating."
Slide 16: Medea (Medea)
The mother of all "other" mothers is Medea. The mythic sorceress who convinces Jason to marry her, only to kill their two sons when he leaves, remains an archetype of the bad mother. Originally immortalized by Euripedes in his 431 BC Medea, the figure has reappeared endlessly in operas, plays, stories and poems.  In recent years, the term "Medea Complex" has been coined to give some pop-psych comfort to such inexplicable tragedies, like Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, in which real-life mothers have murdered their own kids.
Slide 17: Alexis Carrington (Dynasty)
Most cases of "other" mothers require a true and good mother to play off of. In ABC's 80s primetime soap Dynasty, Alexis Carrington (Jackie Collins) was the other mother to Blake Carrington's new wife, Krystle (Linda Evans). While Alexis was the actual mother of many of  the Carrington brood, her power-hungry, sex-crazed, champagne-swilling nature puts her in stark contrast with the sweet, nurturing Krystle. But it was also Alexis that pushed the show to number one in the ratings when she appeared at the start of the second season with her ex-husband issuing the now famous line, "What's she doing here?"

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