Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Creation of a Cinephile

I used to wonder how anyone could stand to be a parent. Don't you just worry yourself sick every time they walk out the door? You can do everything in your power to make sure they will always be safe, but at the end of the day there's no accounting for the negligent actions of other people. Your child could be an impeccable driver, always safe, always wearing a seat belt. That will be small consolation if a drunk driver or just some jackass runs a red light. And then there are the teenage years to contend with and all the cliches: teens have little sense of their own mortality; they think they're invincible; they're children in the bodies of adults.

Now that I have crossed that threshold into parenthood, the concerns over the possible physical harm that may befall my son have given way to worries that his taste in movies may just be awful. Or would it be worse if he simply had no interest at all? With full awareness that I'm probably setting myself up for supreme disappointment because parents have very limited control over what their children take to with enthusiasm,, I wonder how I can fashion Noah's cinematic taste so he's not simply engaged by the bells and whistles of colorful action movies.

Beyond that, how can I ensure his appreciation for cinema classics? Do I start him on a diet of Citizen Kane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington before exposing him to the magic of Pixar or the mind numbing inanity of whoever the next Michael Bay turns out to be? Am I setting up a scenario in which Noah will hate me and movies by the time he's 10 years old: "Oh Dad, do we have to watch Touch of Evil again? Why can't I watch Avatar on Blu-Ray 3D?" Probably because there will never be a 3D TV in my house.

My mother is fond of reminding me of my own childhood disdain for black and white movies, which did not result in any kind of dislike for cinema. Surely, considering the movies I liked as a kid, the list is crammed heavy with action spectacle. Children are not generally concerned with subtle character development and narrative structure. That's fine. I can live with that. I used to enjoy watching The Towering Inferno on TV too. Star Wars was my absolute favorite and what is that if not pure eye candy spectacle? Of course Star Wars is a whole different can of worms, as in, How can I make sure Noah thinks the original trilogy is far superior to the prequels? Do I just pop Star Wars on over and over again? I realize that's just not enough because my fascination (obsession) for those movies was heavily fueled by the accompanying action figure toys as well as the fact that every other boy my age loved them as much as I did. Noah will not have those supporting elements.

While it is true I didn't like black and white films and even formulated arguments for why I would never watch Casablanca and why I thought movies made pre-1970 were pretty useless to me, there were glaring exceptions. As a child I loved The Wizard of Oz (okay, that one is in color) and March of the Wooden Soldiers. The difference is the story lines. I didn't like movies for adults when I was a kid. It had nothing to do with color at all. I also had no interesting in Out of Africa or Gandhi But I do wish I'd had more exposure to old movies that might have interested me then. It might have saved me time later on.

So where to start with Noah? Surely there is nothing innate in a child that makes them reject older styles of entertainment. It's just the ready availability of the next cool thing that makes the old look everything from passe or nostalgic to downright boring. If Noah never sees an Xbox, Playstation or Wii, he might think my old Atair 2600 or NES are as phenomenal as I once did. But children aren't raised in a vacuum as they are in the Oscar nominated Greek film Dogtooth. On second thought, going back to my original fear about letting kids out, maybe the parents in that film have the right idea.

Well, obviously raising Noah in a confined bubble would lead to all sorts of other problems even if it meant he understood how Charlie Chaplin paved the way for the transition from pure slapstick to comedic characters you could care about, or the myriad ways in which nearly every film maker from 1943 onward owes some debt of gratitude to Orson Welles, and even if he understood all the nuance of the ways Bonnie and Clyde started the New Hollywood explosion of the 1970s.

The key to success in this area will probably be to not push too hard and to expose him to films that are accessible to him at a given age. I saw The Godfather many times (in bits and pieces) throughout my childhood, but I never really watched it until it was re-released to cinemas in 1997 for its 25th anniversary. Assuming Noah develops an interest in cinema, he will have to make his own discoveries along the way, to be sure.

But the way I most love watching a movie a second time is not by myself. Movie viewing can have a tendency to be a very lonely hobby. It certainly is in my case. I've been going to the cinema by myself on a regular basis since I was in high school. But there's something special about seeing something a second time alongside someone who's seeing it for the first. I have loved plowing through my DVD collection with my wife over the nearly 4 years we've been together because she'd not seen the vast majority of them. Sitting by her side watching her reactions in some small way is like experiencing it for the first time again. I get to see those films to some extent through her eyes. This has had the effect occasionally of making me see scenes in a new way. Perhaps she will laugh harder at a joke than I had before. Maybe she'll think something is forced or exaggerated that I thought was okay. This is different than verbal sparring after the fact because you get the reactions in real time. And as you're watching together, you can't ignore the fact that you're both seeing exactly the same thing.

So I at least have that to look forward to in Noah's future. He'll have my robust DVD collection at his disposal. Of course, if he hardly ever glances at them he'll be a supreme disappointment to his father.

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