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BOOKS AND THE CULTURE ENDEARMENT, PASS BY Los Angeles IT’S FAIRLY hopeless to ask American audiences, much less American filmmakers, to distinguish between “art” and “entertainment,” but there comes when a critic must try. This is that unlucky day. Because we are here to discuss the Terms of Endearment movie, the kind of movie which critics and audiences alike are sure to go gahgah over. “Gah-gah,” it should be noted quickly, is the feeling experienced when we bask through the sort of movie that stimulates everybody’s emotions without challenging anybody’s values. Emotions being usually hungry for stimulation and values being usually a pain in the butt, the gah-gah picture is particularly endearing. Bear with me while we define .a term or two. The appeal of the gah-gah pictures is precisely that they fake art. Art is trouble. Art is the expression of a vision of how we exist. Right, wrong, bad, good, realistic, surreal, a work of art stakes its life on how close it comes to the quick of existence. Entertainment is, by comparison, a luxury, a means by which we are allowed to experience an emotion as we would most like to feel it. Lust, grief, anger, fear, love, hate, hope doesn’t matter which emotion. The point of entertainment the very sensation of being entertained is to experience an emotion in the manner that most flatters us, pampers us, allows us to believe that we really are the kind of people we’d most want to be. If only for a moment. Michael Ventura was a film critic for the Austin Sun and now writes criticism and features for the L.A. Weekly. He accepts partial responsibility \(as coRoadie and recently directed a documentary film on John Cassavetes, titled I’m Almost Not Crazy. By Michael Ventura Terms of Endearment, for instance, allows us to love our mothers without ambivalence for two entire hours. Quite a welcome luxury, especially at this time of year. The daughter, Emma, played by Debra Winger, claims to feel ambivalence, but she feels it in such a charming way that her ambivalence isn’t an issue, much less an agony -which is the point, the device, of the film’s charm. That people live this way is undeniable. To make a film about them would be valuable. To pretend they are so unfailingly charming is merely profitable. For we are faced with a director Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack anything appear charming. That is their expertise. Shirley MacLaine as the mother, Aurora, pinches her sleeping infant girl to make her cry, just to make sure she’s alive charming. Her daughter grows up obsessed, intimidated, and out-maneuvered by. her mother at every turn. Criticized by her mother about every, but every, aspect of her life, Debra Winger as Emma is so hungry for love that she hangs on every compliment for dear life. Her face, upon receiving compliments from her bridegroom, would be pathetic in its eagerness, if it weren’t so charming. She is so cut off by her upbringing from the rest of her era \(and this is the late music, which would be too rebellious can only listen to Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and Judy Garland, obvious mother-substitutes, arid this, of course, is charming. She is so obsessed with the need for her mother’s approval that she tells Aurora everything, calls every day, even tells her of the affair that she finally, after many years, manages to have. Charming. In all these years, she makes no other friends but her mother and an old high-school: chum charming. At the same time, as two scenes make clear,.. her husband, a mediocre college professor, is able to carry on his affairs because his wife almost never comes to the campus he’s managed to completely insulate her. Charming. You see why they play it for charm? To play it any other way would be depressing beyond endurance. That people live this way is undeniable. To make a film about them would be valuable. To pretend they are .so unfailingly charming is merely profitable. One device the Terms of Endearment movie employs to make these women appear strong is to present their men as morons. There are, for instance, several palpitating malenesses \(one could hardly Aurora. She is a widow and apparently uses these malenesses for diversion, though not for sex. The film uses them for comic effect, and the audience, ever needful of a laugh, is literally humored out of judging Aurora for her choice of company. Only something witless and insensate in her would need such witless, insensate males to tease. But Shirley MacLaine is beyond reproach; therefore Aurora is beyond reproach. We know Shirley isn’t weak and venal; therefore Aurora is strong. Then there’s the daughter’s husband, who goes through life being called, by those who supposedly love him, Flap. He is a third-rate professor who becomes a campus star at fourth-rate colleges. There is no ‘thought that THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15