Saturday, October 23, 2004

Saved by the miracle that is lasagna

Couple weeks ago, Nancy was musing about how to teach her daughter taste in movies.

t's Nance's dream that some night in the not too distant future she and Kate will settle down together for a double-feature of The Godfather and Goodfellas, a dream she was doubtful of realizing any time soon after a family movie night with the Kate-chosen feature, Bratz---Starin' and Stylin'.

This reminded me of Cheers. (Everything does.) In one episode Lilith and Frasier were supposed to be taking Frederick to a concert by the children's performer, Nanny G. (I'll pause here while you remember fondly that Nanny G was played by Emma Thompson and she turned out to be Frasier's first wife. Ok. That was fun. Let's move on.) Frasier, who didn't know what was in store for him, was trying to wriggle out of going to the concert on aesthetic grounds.

Lilith said, "Frasier, this is your son's first concert!"

And Frasier said, "And this is me bugging out of my son's first concert. I intend to do this all through his childhood and on through his teenage years. Then when he's twenty-five he'll come to me and say, 'Dad, let's go see Bobby Short at the Carlyle, I'll say, 'Son, now you're talking.'"

Frasier, as we learned when he got his own show, had a father who waited all his life to hear his sons say, "Dad, let's head over to the Coliseum and take in a 'Sonics game."

The moral here is that our kids are who they are and try as we can to teach them they will be who they are and like what they like, and as much as Frasier can hope Frederick will share his taste in music, it's just as likely that when Frederick's twenty-five he'll say, "Dad, let's mosey on over to La Zona Rosa and hear us some of that Dwight Yoakum."

I'm not advocating that we let the kids run wild. Along with good manners and decent behavior, kids should be taught to recognize and appreciate beauty, talent, merit, and the differences between art and kitsch; pop culture, culture, and kultur; real enjoyment and merely being entertained. This is tricky, because they have to learn it without being turned off to art and without being turned into little snobs.

Or parrots.

Nance is fighting the good fight. (She's also waging war against junk books, the TV/movie/toy/cereal company tie-ins that aren't just evil because they're advertisements in disguise but also because they are uniformly atrociously written. I can't find the link. But Nancy's withering on the subject.) We're doing what we can on the home front here too. It's hard, though, to look into the delighted eyes of your child and say, Son, I know you loved Cats and Dogs but it really wasn't one of Jeff Goldblum's finer moments. We may have it easier in one way than Nancy does. We have boys, so Bratz is not a worry.

But then there's Yu gi oh.

We have a rule that helps. Family movie night means the movie must be fun for the whole family. We won't make the boys watch The Station Agent. They won't expect us to watch GI Joe: Cobra vs. Venom.

Naturally, the blonde and I have had to be more catholic in our tastes. Which is why I can tell you, Inspector Gadget 2 is much funnier than the first Inspector Gadget. But since mostly when they have a DVD in mind it's something they've already seen at the theater and there isn't one of those arriving at Blockbuster every week, I usually choose the movie. This has worked out pretty well. The guys have learned to trust my taste. And we've had some nice surprises. They liked North by Northwest.

Our scheme here is to show the guys as many first rate flicks as we can get away with and hope that Hitchcock and Mel Brooks, John Ford and Howard Hawks, David Lean, Sam Raimi, and Peter Jackson teach them what a good movie looks like.

But here's the looming irony.

Frasier can teach Frederick all he knows about good music and Frederick may like Dwight Yoakum because of what he's learned from Frasier.

And Nance might make a film buff out of Kate, could raise her to be the second coming of Pauline Kael---the kid can write---and Kate may never want to watch the Godfather with her mother.

I don't mean that teenage rebellion will put an end to family movie nights. I mean that Kate just may not like gangster movies.

I don't. Never have. Nance and I have stayed friends all these years not by never talking about religion or politics but by avoiding discussions of the supposed genius of Francis Ford Coppola. I don't like monster movies either. Even when I was a kid, The Wolf Man and Dracula left me cold. I wonder if it's the same aspect of my personality at work in both cases. I don't know. All I know is that from Public Enemy through Goodfellas there's a long line of distinguished movies, great acting, great directing, great writing and you have to make me an offer I can't refuse before I'll sit down to watch one of them.

You can have all the taste in the world and still find some things just not your cup of tea.

But even if Kate does like gangster movies, she still might not like The Godfather. Or not like it as much as her mother does.

And this is because there is no way Kate can see it under the same circumstances that Nancy did. Nance's love of the movie is tied up with her being a junior high school kid in the 70s and having a particular, remarkable woman for a mother.

Back in grad school, watching Dr Strangelove, a friend leaned over in the theater and whispered in my ear that she had lost her virginity the night she'd seen the movie for the first time. Obviously, her appreciation of the film had a different basis than mine. But from that moment, my appreciation of the movie had a different basis. It'd improve your opinion of any movie to have a pretty redhead whispering to you about sex in the middle of it. We love the movies we love not only for themselves but for when we saw them and who we saw them with and what was happening all around us at the time.

Movies are works of art, but we don't experience them just as art. We experience them as social events, like the State Fair and baseball games, company picnics, and public executions. We go to the movies to be with other people. How much we enjoy the event depends on the company and how much fun everybody's having. Doesn't matter how good the movie is, if you're out on a bad date when you see it you're going to hate that movie forever. And the most disappointing movie-going experience is watching a great comedy in an empty theater.

This is why certain intellectual types' love of foreign films is so unattractive. It's an expression of their alienation, anti-social impulses, self-involvement, and agoraphobia. Loving a movie that no one else has seen, that most people won't ever have the opportunity to see, seems like a form of miserliness.

Then you go over to Filmbrain's site and see the yang to that yin, the almost desperately happy urge to share. Reading his posts I almost feel as if I'm back with one of the smart pals I used to have close by, who's explaining to me over coffee the finer points I missed in the movie we've just seen.

I haven't really enjoyed movies since they stopped being dates and became a necessary escape from the kids. Rushing off to the cineplex after leaving hurried instructions with the sitter and then rushing back to get the sitter home before her curfew, without going out to dinner before the movie or dessert or drinks after, that's not going to the movies. And I can hardly remember it, but once upon a time talking about movies was a way of flirting. Not much esoteric film criticism occurs on the car ride home between two exhausted married people who know each other's opinons backwards and forwards already anyway because one of the reasons they got married is they loved the same movies.

Nope, it's not as much fun to go out to the movies, but it's a whole lot more fun to stay home, order a pizza, and watch a video, even when the feature for family movie night is Garfield.

Hey, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I laughed more than I do at the actual comic strip, although that's not saying much. The movie's main charm for grown ups is that Bill Murray does the voice for Garfield and it's pretty much an 80 minute Murray monologue, an hour and a half of Murray doing an extended riff on his hipster as reluctant hero schtick, which is what Stripes was when you think about it. And, really, it had its moments. When Garfield is saved by the miracle that is lasagna, I cracked up, I admit it. I don't understand why Garfield was CGI while all the other animals were, as the 11 year old called them, actors. But the animation was good enough that I forgot it after a while. I'm not saying rush out and rent it, just that I don't feel I failed the kids too badly by letting them see it.

Because: now that they're fans of Bill Murray, the boys are ready to see Quick Change, I think.

From there we can move on to Groundhog Day, and then, who knows? In a few years they'll come to me and say, "Dad, let's go to Blockbuster and rent Bill Murray in Lost in Translation."

<>And I'll say, "Sons, now you're talking."


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