The house on Walnut Road was and still is, among other things, a movie house. That becomes vividly clear in Michael Koresky’s searching and tender new memoir, Films of Endearment, in which he returns to this beloved childhood home several times over the course of sixteen months for a cinematic experiment. With his mother, he set out to watch ten films from the 1980s that she introduced to him when he was a kid, all of them featuring women as protagonists. The result is a revitalization of the act of rewatching—not merely an exercise in nostalgia, but a sizing up of the self, the mother, her story, and what lies beyond the threshold of the past.
In the book, the Koresky house—a two-floor Cape Cod with walls of books and a piano collecting dust—functions both as a setting and a portal to other houses, the ones lived in by the characters Michael and his mother encounter on-screen. It’s often the smallest details of those homes that linger in the memory long after the movies are over, and these interiors helped him develop a heightened sense of space, domestic comforts, and families navigating their zones. Films of Endearment also shows Koresky’s eye for great acting, from Jane Fonda’s ever-changing performances to Whoopi Goldberg’s quick-witted character studies to Debra Winger’s hoarse yet gentle mannerisms.
Shortly before the release of the memoir, I spoke with the author—who, in addition to his writing and filmmaking, works as the editorial director at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image—about what he took away from this emotional journey into the past and what he learned about his mother along the way.
Has this been a project you always knew you were going to write, or was it one that seemed to pick up in momentum at a certain point in your life, based on patterns you started noticing in your own criticism?
So many little things happen along the way when you’re a writer. Things that you don’t expect. As a writer, you don’t really understand what your voice is, or who you’re writing for, or why you’re writing, for such a long period of time, right? In my case, it was clearly film. I’ve been obsessed with it from an early age, and I also loved writing short stories as a kid, so I knew these two things would come together in some semblance of a career.
As the years have gone on, I’ve gone through some different realizations about myself. I went through many years of eradicating “I”—like it was somehow crass or crude to bring myself into my writing. There was a turning point where I wrote a feature for Film Comment that was about the history of this magazine called Films and Filming. It’s a British film magazine that existed from the fifties to about 1980. Anyone in the know—meaning queer people—could tell that this was, basically, a gay magazine. I realized, how can I write about this if it’s not also about me and my gradual realization of my queerness? The fact that I was able to harness that within this history piece made me realize that I could bring the “I” voice into it more.
The book came bit by bit. At one point in 2018, my husband and I were watching Steel Magnolias. It was on some streaming service, and we were just relaxing with a glass of wine, and I actually realized at that point, “Oh my goodness, I watched this movie so much as a kid.” My brother was off watching Terminator a million times, but I was watching Steel Magnolias. And there can be that kind of knee-jerk, “Oh, you knew you were gay at that point” that happens in our culture, where you’re kind of denigrated for your queerness with these non-masculine objects. It’s then that I thought, there’s something worth investigating. And then, when my mother told me that the ’80s were her most important decade, something clicked in my head. There were these two things that were coming together: my realization of what mattered to me as a child watching movies in the ’80s, and my realization that she was having these revelatory experiences with movies at the same time.