The arts are among the core building blocks of a child’s development, and since the birth of my son, I’ve aimed to give him an edge in the cinematic arts.
From silent films to the first talkies, a history in the golden age of Hollywood to the independent scene of the ‘90s and onward, I’ve unlocked for my son, now 13 years old, a diverse canon of film and culture that’s shaping the young man he’s becoming.
“Dad,” my son asked when he was around 6 years old, “is Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ really a metaphor for feminism in America?”
It all began when he was really young—the day he was born, to be exact. There was a TV in the hospital room, and I battled my wife for the remote to show our newborn something of value on TV.
“Look, they’re playing spaghetti westerns all day,” I announced while flipping through channels. “This is a good introduction to the world and how evil it can be.”
My wife still hasn’t let me live that one down, even though, in the end, I switched to something she wanted to watch since she was the one who carried the kid for nine months and had to do all the work to get the kid out. Still, she can’t downplay the role I played in the administration of Lamaze during labor.
Once at home, however, I got my son started. I dug up one of my old film history syllabuses from film school and worked my way through a number of movies from various movements in cinema.
At 4 years old, my kid could tell you how postwar anxieties and societal malaise led to film noir. He could also tell you that MGM was once the grandest of all studios, Warner Brothers king of the gangster pictures and Universal home of the classic monsters.
There’s an expression that goes something like this: Don’t tell your kid something you don’t want repeated. My kid is no exception to that rule. He repeats everything. And he tells all.
“You let him watch an R-rated movie?” my wife asked when he was around 10 years old.
“What?” I said in disbelief. “Who told you that?”
There went any hope of going through my catalogue of films from the ‘70s.
“What kind of Sicilian are you,” I asked my boy when it was just the two of us. “Haven’t you ever heard of omertà, the code of silence?”
I had to play it safe from then on out. Before going to Hawaii later that summer, I showed him the film “Tora! Tora! Tora!” so that when we visited Pearl Harbor, he’d know all about the attacks on American soil on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We were blindsided,” I told my wife. I wasn’t referring to the Pearl Harbor attack. This was the next school year, when school, my son’s friends and popular culture began bombarding my own flesh and blood with horrible films of the day.
My wife called me a movie snob.
“It’s not that he can’t watch these movies,” I said. “I just don’t want him watching only new, popular movies. I want him to be cultured.”
To show my wife and kid that I was serious about what I was saying, we began going to all kinds of popular films. We went to all the Marvel movies, which we both really enjoyed, and we watched all kinds of new, popular shows on TV and on the web.
Maybe we enjoyed the stuff too much, which led me to believe that we needed tickets to Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival that year. I took the whole family to see Buster Keaton, the silent film star, in 1928’s “Steamboat Bill Jr.” It was a world premiere restoration with an original score composed and conducted by Maestro Carl Davis, performed live at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
The kid loved it. He talked about it for days and he couldn’t get enough of Buster Keaton films for weeks. My kid knows quality when he sees it. Cultured he would be.
As the Academy Award season rolled around this year, I’ve tried to get my kid into the spirit by watching past winners and nominees. When it came time to choose between a classic film with Dad and some lame new release laden with nothing but special effects with his friends, I knew he’d choose wisely.
He chose his friends.
This story originally appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, earlier this week. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.