A self-confessed mummy’s boy, Ken Wardrop once again explores the maternal ties that bind with his American debut, Mom & Me. Paul Byrne puts on his apron.
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Is there anyone in our lives who influences us quite as much as our mothers? Sure, dads are incredibly important, and clearly the strongest, smartest and wisest member of any family. Which is why they quickly agree that, yep, mother knows best. And there are 1,227 quotes about mothers from people much smarter than you and me, each reminding us of how important, omnipotent and downright dangerous these life-givers are. “Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother,” reckoned W. Somerset Maugham. For Norman Douglas, “Nobody can misunderstand a boy like his own mother.” For Irish filmmaker Ken Wardrop, the matriarch is definitely a major influence. His very first short, in 2004, was the award-winning Undressing Mother.
His breakthrough feature was 2009’s His & Hers, which took 70 women from Ireland’s midlands, and let them wax lyrical about the boys and men in their lives. Before Wardrop’s latest offering, Mom & Me, gets underway, we get a quote from Oscar Wilde. ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.’ Take that, Principal Skinner. How ya like them apples, Norman Bates? “I guess I do have a certain area of obsession here,” nods the highly-amicable Ken Wardrop when we met up at the Light House cinema recently. “And this has been called a sequel to His & Hers, although I never planned it that way. First and foremost, I set out to make a film completely different to His & Hers. I wanted to see the impact mothers had on masculinity, but then, as I researched deeper and deeper, it just became too academic. And I was soon lost. So, essentially, I was drawn to what I knew best, and that’s the emotional connection between mothers and sons.
What resonated for a lot of people with His & Hers, the biggest impact was the mother and sons section.” The big difference between Wardrop’s first film and his second is the location, with Mom & Me concentrating on grown men and their mothers living in Oklahoma city. The ties that bind here cover a multitude, although not all of those interviewed are truly, madly in love with their mothers. “One of the things I was worried about when setting out to make my second feature was that I might not have a rapport with the men,” says Wardrop. “I had always had fun with the ladies, and I wasn’t sure that I’d have that easiness with men. Secondly, I did want to do something a little outside my comfort zone. Being from the midlands, His & Hers was very much familiar territory. So, America just seemed different. I only know it from the movies really, and it seemed, in my head, uncharted territory. I needed to have that risk factor.
To do something brave here.” Having decided to structure his interviews around a radio show call-in, with each of the subjects seemingly calling in to real-life disc jockey Joe Cristiano, Wardrop was certainly being far more ambitious in scale second time around. “We had to figure out where to go with this film, and when we settled on the phone-in radio show, I just went onto YouTube, and typed in ‘Smalltown radio show host’ into the search engine, and Joe Cristiano was the first guy who came up. Who, to our surprise, wasn’t in New York – despite his Woody Allen delivery – but in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It was then we started exploring the idea further, seeing that some random magazine poll had named this place the manliest city in America – thanks to all these gun-toting, truck-driving men – and it all just started to fit into place…” The construct of having a supposedly live phone-in show, with cameras catching both sides of the conversation, must have been a bitch. “Oh, it was a real challenge! Joe is a wonderful talker, but he wasn’t all that drawn to the subject of mothers – his own mum had passed many years ago, and his real obsession is motorbikes, and drag racing. So, we had to do a little coaching and editing with Joe, for sure.
But it’s all part of the art of filmmaking, of course…” That Mom & Me is shot in the old TV ratio of 4:3 rather than the today’s standard 16:9 was surprising, especially given that most of the Americans on display are quite definitely widescreen. Nostalgia, a nod to the early days of documentary, of American television…? “It was all about keeping close to what was often just one, sometimes two, people, and nothing else,” says Wardrop. “I wanted to get in as close as possible, and not have any negative space around them. Simple as that. I should say it was a nod to the early days of documentary, to the Maysles brothers and all that gang, but, it was simply a desire to be up close and personal with these people. “That’s how I like to work…”
Mom & Me hits Irish screens July 15th