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Author Topic: "And You'll Be a Movie Goer My Son" in NYT  (Read 1316 times)
cigar joe
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« on: January 08, 2007, 05:08:35 AM »

And You'll Be a Movie Goer My Son

New York Times Jan 5 2007

A.O. Scott

Mothers of America, let your kids go to the movies!” Always good advice, but the exhortation has dated a bit since 1960, when Frank O’Hara made it the first line of his poem “Ave Maria.” “Going to the movies” has a quaint ring in the age of the plasma-screen home entertainment system, the iPod and video-on-demand.

 The movies are more than willing to come to us, which has inspired some sages, in and outside the film industry, to prophesy the obsolescence, or at least the increasing marginality, of paper tickets, bags of popcorn and big dark rooms lighted by a projector beam: the cultural ritual known dispassionately in the business as “theatrical distribution.”
According to this vision, children are leading the slow exodus from the theaters. From an essay in the current issue of The New Yorker, for example, one learns that, when it comes to visual entertainment, kids these days are “platform agnostic,” perfectly happy to consume moving pictures wherever they pop up — in the living room, on the laptop, in the car, on the cellphone — without assigning priority among the various forms. David Denby, the author of the article and one of The New Yorker’s film critics, is an unapologetic adherent to the old-time religion, as am I, and his survey of the current technological landscape is colored by nostalgia for the old downtown movie palaces and the studio system that fed them.

Of course, as Mr. Denby acknowledges, children have hardly disappeared from the movie audience. On the contrary, adolescents and their younger siblings are the most sought-after segments of the demographically segmented universe of potential viewers. The movies that make the most money, and therefore those on which the most production and advertising money is spent, are the ones that simultaneously reach down into the primary grades and up into the ranks of young adults.

And there is special commercial potency in those movies that parents will be eager to see — sometimes more than once — with their children. Usually animated, always featuring big stars and wholesome lessons, these films are the ones pointedly aimed at the whole family: cute animals (and product tie-in toys) for the little ones, semi-naughty humor and exciting action for their older brothers and sisters, enough in the way of topicality or sophistication to keep mom and dad from losing their minds.

If you have children between the ages of, say, 4 and 12, you don’t need a list of these movies, and chances are that, during the holiday school vacation, you have already seen “Charlotte’s Web,” “Happy Feet” and “Night at the Museum,” just as you saw “Over the Hedge” and “Cars” earlier last year and will see “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Shrek 3” in a few months. In many ways the ascension of these movies is an encouraging development. Because entertainment aimed at children occupies a bigger share of the marketplace, the level of quality tends to be higher than it was, say, back in the heyday of Walt Disney live-action comedies. And the phenomenon of family viewing — the mothers and fathers of America taking their children to the movies — has become a central cultural activity consistent with the highly participatory style of parenthood currently in vogue.

I would not wish it otherwise, but I also worry that the dominance of the family film has had a limiting, constraining effect on the imaginations of children. The point of Mr. O’Hara’s poem is that the movies represent a zone of mystery and cultural initiation: “it’s true that fresh air is good for the body,” he writes, “but what about the soul/that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images”?

Never mind that he also reminds his mothers that their offspring “may even be grateful to you for their first sexual experience, which only cost you a quarter and didn’t upset the peaceful home.” How are they going to grow, if the images they see are carefully vetted for safety and appropriateness by the film industry?

In other words: Parents of America, take your children to the movies you want to see! Within reason, naturally. I cringe at the sight of strollers at “Apocalypto” or “Saw III.” But I also cringe at the timidity and cautiousness — the hypersensitivity — that confines family viewing to movies with a plush toy or fast food advertising tie-in.

At their best, movies not only offer glimpses of fantastic imaginary worlds, but also inklings of what is, for children, the most intriguing and enigmatic world of all: the world of adulthood.

For the last six months or so, in the guise of a civilian moviegoer, I have been conducting (with the sometimes unwitting assistance of my wife) a cautious, intermittent experiment. Ignoring the advice of the Motion Picture Association of America and the studio marketing departments about what my children, who are 10 and 7, should see, I have taken them to revival houses and museums as well as to multiplexes; to musicals and subtitled films as well as to risqué action blockbusters and not-too-explicit love stories.

This experiment has proceeded along two tracks, with two distinct but complementary intentions. I want them to learn to appreciate the varieties of this incomparably rich art form, which means learning to endure and even enjoy being occasionally bored, confused or scared. I also hope they will develop a taste for the act of moviegoing.
The recent releases they have seen include “Casino Royale,” “The Illusionist” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” none of which bored them or troubled their sleep and all of which seemed to me to be much better suited for their age cohort than mine. “The Illusionist,” in particular, with its star-crossed romance, its theatrical effects and its carefully turned plot twists, struck me as the kind of thing that would delight a bookish, intellectually curious fourth or fifth grader, and I was startled to see it in a theater full of adults. But I was gratified to hear my own children, on the subway ride home, puzzling out the intricacies of the plot and arguing about its ambiguities, just as the grownups did.

Our house is full of DVDs, many of them acknowledged classics, reissued and remastered for rediscovery. And we have watched Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne, “Casablanca” and “Frankenstein.” But we also comb through the weekend movie listings in search of those dwindling numbers of screens that will show us old movies the old-fashioned way. On Saturdays we frequently find ourselves in sparsely peopled rooms staring at ancient shadows.

Some adjustment of expectations is required: in the old movies people frequently talk faster and move more slowly. They burst into song without self-consciousness. There are fewer cuts, longer scenes and occasional visual anomalies.

“Why is he purple?” my daughter asked in the middle of “West Side Story,” noticing the effects of an aging Technicolor print on Tony’s face. In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” the tint would periodically switch from sepia to silver and back again. My son, noting each shift, wanted to know why it was happening: a question about aesthetics that I could only answer with a whispered lecture about chemistry. Most of the old movies he had seen were delivered by means of new technology; this one was old in the physical as well as the cultural sense.

What he made of it I don’t know. (He was amused that Lee Marvin, as the titular villain, calls Jimmy Stewart’s character “dude.”) But he watched with an unusual intentness, the same quality of attention he brought to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Oliver” and “Samurai Rebellion,” some of the other stops on our haphazard tour of movie history. I’m convinced that these films’ beguiling strangeness was magnified by the experience of seeing them away from home and its distractions, with the whir of the projector faintly audible in the background and motes of dust suspended in the path from projector to screen.

Moviegoing, though unlikely to disappear, will probably never again be the universal rite it once was. This is not a catastrophe, just a change of habit. Going to the movies may survive as an acquired taste, and also, therefore, as an activity through which taste is acquired.

« Last Edit: January 08, 2007, 05:09:56 AM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2007, 02:01:32 PM »

Excellent article Joe.

Thank you for posting that.

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« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2007, 07:27:36 PM »

Brilliant and so true. Always very good to have a great classics DVD collection.

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