Remember that old song Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry? Well, it was written about me. Or it might as well have been. I couldn’t begin to count all the movies that have made me cry, but just to take a recent example, A Night To Remember was on the other night – the 1958, black-and-white British telling of the Titanic disaster, not James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster. My eyes had welled over several times long before the band got round to Nearer My God To Thee. After that of course the floodgates really opened up.
Now I know that a certain amount of weepiness is respectable, especially when it comes to such a classic tear-jerker. My trouble is, it doesn’t stop there. Anything that registers more than about 2 on the emotional Richter scale sets me off – sad movies, happy movies, sad songs, acts of kindness, moments of triumph. Yep. Such as when people win big prizes on TV gameshows. Pathetic, isn’t it?
And I suspect – dammit, I know! – I’m not alone. We crybabies suffer agonies of embarrassment for our sensitivity. All that furtive cheek-dabbing and nose blowing as we try desperately to conceal our wateriness. Fellow sobsisters, (for I suspect we are mostly female) don’t you just hate it when some stone-hearted husband, boyfriend, son or brother turns to look at you during some poignant moment with a pitiless inquiring stare, then whoops triumphantly ‘Look, she’s crying! Hahaha!’
What you rotten scoffers don’t acknowledge is that we can’t help it. It’s hereditary. It’s in the genes, like skin colour, and sexuality, and propensity to certain diseases. And you are absolutely not allowed to scoff at things like that these days! (Getting serious now.)
My mother, whom I suspect is a worse case than even I am, used to get my father to wait behind with her in darkened cinemas long after the other patrons had gone, till she thought she was in a fit state to be seen in public again. When the captain of Collingwood shed a triumphant tear after the 1990 AFL Grand Final, Mum followed suit, and she’s not even a Collingwood supporter. When Malcolm Fraser’s bottom lip trembled at his loss of the 1983 election, so did Mum’s, even though she doesn’t like him any more than she likes Collingwood.
There’s my sister too. I vividly remember the three of us watching a war movie together once in my far-off youth. Three Came Home, it was called. The plot went like this: An American family – father, mother and little girl – is interned by the Japanese in separate prison camps – one for men, one for women and children. We see years of suffering and endurance in the women’s camp, but not what happens to the blokes although we imagine the worst. The war ends, GIs liberate the camps. Men pour out of their camp to reunite with their womenfolk and kids at their camp down the road. Tears and hugs of joy and love abound as families are reunited. Still no sign of our hubby. The happy throng begins to disperse, but will our man ever come? Has he even survived? How long must our heroine and her child stand gazing yearningly up the now empty road to the men’s camp?
At last, to swelling music and against the sun sinking slowly beneath the horizon, here comes one last straggler….and it’s him! Clothed in rags, half-starved, shuffling along on crutches, but we know he’s gonna make it into the arms of his adoring, ecstatic family. Look, I’m almost weeping now at the memory of it, but you can imagine the uninhibited snuffling, blubbering and wailing it provoked back then.
And here’s another interesting thing. The same triggers keep working. For my mother, it’s when Pavarotti hits that high note at the end of Nessun Dorma, no matter how often she hears it. As for me, although I know all the words, I can never sing my way right through that other Eric Bogle song about the Great War:
And here in the graveyard it is still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generation that was butchered and damned.
It’s those ‘countless white crosses’ in the second line of the last verse that cause my voice to falter, my nose to tingle and my head to fill with hot salty tears.
This is a shortened and slightly edited version of a column first published in The Hobart Mercury in 1993. Hence when I say ‘A Night To Remember was on the other night’, I was writing at a time when you actually had to watch a show or movie at a time of the TV channel’s choice. No such thing as streaming services back then, and you got nothing ‘on demand’. No sirree. We had it tough.
In the original column I facetiously nominated both Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke as possible patrons of WAW – Weepers Awareness Week, for both having shed public tears; Fraser for the loss of the 1983 election and Hawke over his daughter’s drug addiction. Both are dead now, as is my dear old Mum. I also removed references to a couple of now-forgotten media brouhahas involving WA senator Noel Crichton-Browne, who was expelled from the Libs for making inappropriate comments about a female journalist, and sports administrator Arthur Tunstall, who got into trouble every time he opened his mouth. Tunstall died in 2016.
See forthcoming column ‘Crying 2’ for my uncontradictable case that ‘A Night to Remember’ was a vastly more effective tear-jerker than ‘Titanic’ and an all-round better movie.