Random Factoid #581 / A Remembrance

4 05 2017

I hope you’ll forgive me a brief personal aside here. Though my personality pervades just about every review I write to some extent, I rarely indulge in biographical babbling. (At least, not as much as I used to.) But sometimes I just need to write. It’s often times the best way I have of communicating thoughts that bubble up inside of me – especially ones that I find challenging to express emotionally or vocally.

Margaret Stratton died today. That name probably doesn’t mean a lot to you, if you’re reading this. (It might if you’re a friend of mine who’s been to see an advanced or press screening with me in Houston – which, granted, is probably the majority of my audience these days.) But she’s deeply woven into the fabric of this blog, and thus, my life.

I’ve hinted at it here and there, but when I’m not writing this blog, I’ve been pursuing a career in publicity, public relations and promotions. (I think it’s enhanced my writing innumerably and deepened my appreciation for how culture disseminates.) Margaret is a key figure in that career journey. She used to run the Houston publicity office where I had my first internship during high school, and though she had retired from most of her duties, she kept a large presence there. She could always be counted on to provide support for big events and activations – and, of course, serve as the screening rep for advanced screenings.

Some of my fondest memories come from working with her during the summer before I went to college. We were promoting “The Smurfs,” and even at my modest 5’8″, I was mercifully too tall to fit in the giant Smurf suits that Sony sent us to parade across town. Thankfully, Margaret was willing and able to pitch in. Bless her heart, she suited up in that costume in some of the hottest Houston heat I can remember. And these suits were THICK.

Yet even in what had to be a walking inferno, I cannot recall her complaining even once. In fact, I can barely even recall a moment when she didn’t have a grin from ear-to-ear. In typical teenager fashion, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s when I learned a pivotal lesson about work. If you’re going to do any task, even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant thing, it’s not worth doing unless you put your all into it. You can always affect someone for the better with it. The smiles (and, ok, the occasional terror) came about on the faces of so many young children because she was radiating enthusiasm through the costume.

And my gosh, I don’t even think I can count how many movies I saw with Margaret. It has to be well into the hundreds. Though I first knew her from publicity, our professional relationship later evolved into a more standard publicist-journalist one; I showed up at the screenings she worked, and she took my comments on them. Except it was anything but standard. From the beginning, when a young and timid 18-year-old me made his first forays into the big leagues of the entertainment press, Margaret believed in me. More than that, she championed me. In smaller venues, she’d introduce me to the more established members of the Houston press and sing my praises with the kind of enthusiasm you normally expect from family members. That vote of confidence meant more to me than I knew at the time.

During breaks in college (and the year and change after while I lived at home), I saw her countless times at screenings. She’d ask me all about what was going on in my life – I specifically remember her jubilation when I returned from Cannes – and then ask me what I thought about the movie afterwards. Margaret was such an optimist that she could find the good in just about any movie. I can probably count the number of films she outright rejected. So I always found it tough to tell her when I didn’t like something. After a few years, I found my cheat word to get around expressing outright disdain for a film: alright. Last September, she caught on after a string of particularly bad movies. I remember her putting her foot down and exhorting, “Oh Marshall, you and your alrights!”

Thankfully, the last movie we watched together was a great one: “Manchester by the Sea,” my favorite of 2016. We both walked out singing its praises and feeling emotionally invigorated. It’s now, in retrospect, a rather poetic final film given its subject matter of lives broken by a sudden death and how the living reassemble the pieces when they’re gone. You can never quite put it back together, and sometimes you can’t fill the lonely void. But the very act of trying opens up places in ourselves unbeknownst even to ourselves and lights the way to deeper and more meaningful relationships with the ones we love.

I’m in the middle of a screener for Oren Moverman’s “The Dinner” right now. It’s pretty dreadful. But darn it, I’m going to push myself to find something nice to say about it because that’s what Margaret would do. It’s now up to me, and the many people she touched, to keep her infectious optimism alive in a world that could sorely use it.

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One response

5 05 2017
Kristie Salzer

Beautiful tribute Marshall!

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