Answering duty’s call at the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival

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There was a glorious plethora of troubled (and troubling) aristocratic women at the 2015 TCMFF—from Queen Christina to Princess Anne to Tracy Lord.

phlyBecause I was stuck at home with a hateful virus, I programmed my own film festival (#OnlyMakeBelieve), unwittingly populating it with queens and quasi-royalty like CLEOPATRA, MATA HARI, POLLYANNA, and SLEEPING BEAUTY, in addition to ROMAN HOLIDAY and PHILADELPHIA STORY.

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As is so often the case, a theme magically emerges from this seeming hodge-podge. And this year, it was all about the pains and pleasures of the upper crust woman obeying or ignoring the call of duty.

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Hollywood’s heroines, especially the velvet-clad ones, are inevitably torn between their heart’s desires and their duty to king, country or family. Let’s take a peek at how overcomers make it to the happy ending and how others bow gracefully to a pre-ordained destiny.

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In the process, today’s woman can learn a bit more about how to responsibly answer duty’s demanding call or ignore it successfully. WARNING: There are a few unavoidable spoilers in here, so go watch these movies if you, like me, really hate to lose all the surprises in a film.

Your heart is calling—but it’s long-distance and collect

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Several of the 2015 TCMFF (and #OnlyMakeBelieve) heroines bowed to duty after wriggling on the hooks of their conscience. Probably the most sympathetic is the doe-eyed, demure Audrey Hepburn and the least, the bombastic, bitchy Kate Hepburn, but we’ll take a closer look at those two test cases in my next TCMFF post. First, let’s explore the top four questions we need to ask ourselves before we frolic thru the streets of Rome or flee the altar.

How royal/loyal are you?

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Cleopatra, portrayed with 1930’s sass by Claudette Colbert, is our role model here. Her ambition and identification with her country make it impossible for her to do anything but serve her country and family. Cleo is royal to the bone. As she declares several times, she IS Egypt and her brief Roman holiday was really only a stopover in her conquest plan.

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Was she sad Caesar died? Did she miss Mark Anthony? Sure.

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But where did she take her last breath? Not on the cushioned couches of romance, but on the majestic throne of power.

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Sure, she entertains herself along the way by outsmarting her sex-drugged foes, enslaving them with some darned amazing seduction tricks, including rolling herself into a carpet, tantalizing a man with an epic-scale peep show involving livestock, spending a fortune on mani-pedis, and such.

1934: Claudette Colbert in title role of Cecil B. DeMille's film Cleopatra.These tactics are worth a study in and of themselves, although few of us probably have access to a pleasure barge stocked with dancing girls, a million ostrich feathers, a tympani player with guns of steel, and groaning buffets presented by Nubians.

duty cleo 4Is your sense of duty so deeply seated that no amount of perks or pleasures can supplant the soul-satisfaction you get from your responsibilities? Then you’ll have to say “no.”

duty cleo 8What’s the true price tag?

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Our tour guide for this question is Mata Hari as embodied by Greta Garbo. The motive for Mata’s espionage activities is never explored; it’s her noble romanticism we’re supposed to admire—that, and her incredible Adrian wardrobe.

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Mata is as much seduced by her lifestyle as is her audience—she finally takes a stand to turn against her duty as a spy when she falls (improbably) in love with a dewy-eyed young soldier.

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In this case, the breakthrough man pays a heavy price for Mata’s betrayal, which makes her feel bad enough to figure it’s time for a change. Clearly, we learn from Mata that having a sugar daddy before you make the leap to a different life is a good idea.

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If your income, dwelling place, security system or lifestyle will take a nose dive when you toss duty to the winds, take the time to get that IRA in good shape.

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Is there a precedent in the house?

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I asked my favorite facialist how she made tough decisions and she offered up the fascinatingly New Age-y right brain/left brain technique. Ask yourself the question and then listen internally to where the answer comes from. If you “hear” it coming from the right side of your head, that’s your heart answering. It the answer comes from the left side, that’s your head/intellect/ego responding. React accordingly.

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I’m not sure if Pollyanna’s Aunt Polly (beautifully realized by Jane Wyman) used that method to decide if she’d continue to fossilize in her Victorian mansion out of a twisted sense of duty to her social standing and family status. We do know that her meltdown got its kickstart from little Pollyanna’s relentless positivity and love.

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Having a role model/mentor for your escape from family stultification is a terrific source of practical and spiritual inspiration.

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If you can find someone else who successfully tackled a challenging decision similar to the one you’re contemplating, learn all you can from her—even if she’s your junior. I’ve learned (and shared) a lot of wisdom from my daughters through the years about navigating life changes.

duty polly 1Who’s got your back?


Sleeping Beauty’s Briar Rose (aka Aurora) was born to reign, but goes incognito until Destiny, in the form of a handsome prince, arrives on her doorstep.


Until that momentous encounter, Rose is advised and protected by disguised fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather and your various denizens of the Disney fairyland forest.


They’ve done a great job; Rose feels no self-pity or shame about her compromised circumstances.


Despite enjoying a birthday waltz with her dream man…


Rose sadly but meekly returns to the castle to satisfy her royal destiny.


“A crown to wear in grace and beauty–as is thy right and royal duty,” reminds Flora.


The fairies never flag in their loving support and happily, in true Disney fashion, love conquers all and Princess Aurora’s familial loyalty is rewarded–after a little nap.


Our lesson: Sometimes, you really do have to trust that there’s a plan and walking in it can bear beautiful fruit.


How many of us have exhausting or irksome responsibilities for aging, ailing or disabled family members? It’s tempting to shirk those duties under the banner of “I’ve got a life, too!” And yes, sometimes, we’re forced to share that burden with others when our strength fails.


Contrary to current wisdom, I believe a life of loving service is not necessarily wasted, but you will need some help. Especially when it feels like there’s nowhere to turn.


Find a support group, sing in a choir, go to a film festival—but find some sweet, like-minded souls who are willing and able to advise, support, and protect you. (And maybe bake you a cake now and then.)


Getting Hepburned at TCMFF ’15

Well, that’s plenty to think about for today, dear reader! Next time, I’ll be delving into the heart of the TCMFF ’15 for me–Roman Holiday and The Philadelphia Story. I hope you’ll join me as we see how the two Hepburns answer (or ignore) duty’s call!

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