Friday, August 1, 2008

"Yondah lies da castle of my faddah”

Sometimes silence is truly golden. Hearing a young Tony Curtis wrestling with his Bronx accent in many of his films (the above line is loosely credited to 1952's Son of Ali Baba, although the actual line differs slightly) reminds us of the magic of silent films at the beginning of all this celluloid craziness. You needed your imagination and full attention to flesh out the characters in a silent film, and you fleshed them out to suit your own vision.

Silent films are great for kids. It’s a good exercise in concentration, in honing reading skills, and in experiencing something quite different from what surrounds them all day long: noise of varying kinds, and human voices -- yours and their teacher’s and their friends' and the X-Box’s and the crossing guard’s and
the television’s and the neighbor's next door. Silent films force the viewer to assign a personality, a tone, a feeling to the faces on the screen, and actually create a more involved viewing experience.

When our son, Keegan, was about five years old, we took him to a special event at the fantastic Castro Theater in SF, an all-day affair with old silent films, cartoons, magicians, jugglers and I can’t remember what else at the moment. It was his first experience with silent films, and we helped him read the short sub-titles and made sure he was engaged. He loved every minute of it. That was followed shortly by another Castro visit, this time to see Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last, which I'll write about another time.

Around this time, my husband, D, told me one night that he had been discussing film with his college students one afternoon, and casually asked how many had never seen a black and white film. This was around 2001 or 2002. An astonishing 99% raised their hands. D was floored. So was I. This was in the Bay Area, for god’s sakes, a place drowning in rep theaters and performance spaces and film festivals. What self-respecting SF college student had never set foot in the Red Vic or the Castro or the UC Theater in Berkeley, to name just a few? They’d never seen The Third Man, or Casablanca or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf or Citizen Cane?

That means they never saw Mel BrooksFrankenstein, for that matter.

Things sure have changed.

I think that may have lit the fire under us to make sure our son grew up knowing more than Disney (actually, D is anti-Disney, so it was probably already ingrained in us)... and to ensure that as Keegan grew a bit older, films more sophisticated than Indiana Jones would enter his purview – well before his college years! D and I have always had a taste for the more underground-everything (movies, music, art, etc), but it's easy to get in a rut with your kids and just rent them Shrek because you don't have time to think about it.

Get comfy. Read on. (And click on July's "Welcome to KidsFlix" posting to the right if you didn't start there.)

(Possible comment topic: Do martinis go with popcorn?)

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