When my oldest child was 2, we took her to her first Big Screen Movie: Toy Story, by then unknown Pixar, an animation upstart. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and it took 25 minutes down country roads to get to the vaudeville house that the little town of Niles had converted into a cinema—the Ready 4. I remember that ten dollars got all three of us in and the works in terms of sodas, popcorn and South Bend chocolates. That theater has long since closed, but I can still take my family of 5 to the movies for under $20 out there in the country. Going to a movie in the city requires cashing in a savings bond and forget the eats unless you are in a top tax bracket. So we almost never go any more, weighing carefully which are the must see Big Screen, and which will work on the Big TV. But going back to that very first movie experience……. She turned around as the credits rolled and, eyes wide, said That Was A GREEEEEAAAT movie. And it was. At two, with no more experience (Sesame Street, Bananas in Pajamas, Disney Songs videos) than any two year old media savvy kid, she instinctively knew that this was a classic. And it has stood the test of time—it was the first movie she downloaded on her iPod.
Pixar is now owned by Disney, and is still turning out classics. We very uncharacteristically went to see their tenth, the new UP on its first day of release here, the whole entire family. WHOA. I still thing that Wall E may be a more important film due to its political message, but my kids are all making our dogs do DUG voices, and you can’t really quote WALL E since it goes so long without any dialogue. It was a wonderful family experience, and I am sure we will buy the DVD so we can keep sharing. As the music guys say on their show—it’s a buy it not a burn it.
And that one time two year old with great taste in film recently had her first short screened at a film festival and is eyeballing film school, and she is trying to participate in her third international film festival—this one in India. Ok, ok, it probably helps that your mom is a sometimes media teacher, and I am not sure how much weight one should give to those early experiences because I am a firm believer that kids pop out pretty much formed and its our job as parents to put what they need in front of them, but it has been interesting to watch her taste in media develop. We made the mistake a couple of years ago of buying tickets to the wrong theater when Disney released the Miyazaki film Spirited Away a few years ago---we wanted to take the whole family to the dubbed version, and ended up having to read subtitles to our 2 pre readers for 3 HOURS—we were NOT popular with the people sitting behind us. But my then 11 year old was suddenly WILD for Miyazaki and to this day prefers to see the film in the original language with subtitles. I learned something important with that error. You should just expose kids to the good stuff, to the real stuff, to the unusual stuff. They don’t HAVE preconceived notions. They are sponges ready to soak it all up.
In the end film is a way to tell stories. And storytelling is part of the deepest aspect of our humanity, from when we began as a species to paint on walls and to grunt out tales around the fire. We are hardwired to get it, if its done well, even with subtitles. In the end though, the story told must be a good one. It must resonate within our lives and help us bring meaning to our lives, because we all walk around, desperately trying to find meaning.
As I coped over the weekend with the ongoing and slow personal but universal tragedies of mortality and the economy, heightened intensely by taking in a theatrical adaptation of Gogol’s Overcoat (the Russians are way better at the human tragedy and existentialism than the French), I thought that the existential reality of human life is tragic—we die and we are aware that we die. That completely sucks. And all the beauty and love and goodness are more intense because we die. Some days, it just hurts so much to live with that. But that’s the mirror side of the tragedy. Live we must. And tell the tale.
As I told my sister in law, after dropping off her kids which I had whisked away to Michigan and the carnival and mosquito bites and poison ivy and sibling battles—
It is not what really happened, but the Tale We Tell After, and how we tell it. So live, and tell good stories.