BRINGING UP BABY: Suitable for any birthday party.
In this flabby, spineless age of ours, what more rueful sight than a child maneuvering his/her cowed parents to some insulting CGI movie earmarked by Hollywood for family consumption? The Cat in the Hat, anyone? Spy Kids 3-D? Sometimes even the most vigilant parents don’t know. My friends Jim and Michele took their daughters, Lucy and Alice, for a family movie outing. They ended up at Chicken Little. “It was practically screaming, ‘Hey, you people are stupid to be at this movie,’ ” said Michele. “It was totally inappropriate, the songs and dancing teaching children to be sexual,” complained Jim.
So what to do? How about staying home from the multiplex and renting a gentler, kinder movie? An OLD movie, short on sex and violence, but tall with a chewy plot, and great characters. Will your kids go for it, something that is not NOW? Here’s sage advice from Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr, in his charming, entertaining, wise and right-on book The Best Old Movies for Families: get to them when they’re very young. Three-year-olds don’t know that it’s not cool to enjoy silent Charlie Chaplin. Burr has been showing his two daughters an eclectic array of movies since they’ve watched TV, and this is the fine result: their birthday parties included screenings of Bringing Up Baby and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Burr describes for you dozens of scrumptious movies to watch with kids. I can’t applaud this volume enough; and, yes, I’m going to get copies to friends with children. In fact, I held it up to my college film students and advised them to buy it. Burr has great taste in movies, and he believes (as I do) that a really good film for kids is really good, period, for all ages. I’m just as happy today as when I was a youngster watching, say, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, How Green Was My Valley, The Boy with the Green Hair, The Searchers, City Lights, National Velvet, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and oodles of other movies. I’ve talked to Martin Scorsese and I’ve talked to Jim Jarmusch, and one thing we agreed on: our abiding love since childhood for Howard Hawks’s Land of the Pharaohs, an Egyptian melodrama with a script by William Faulkner and Joan Collins as a shameless vixen.
The Best Old Movies for Families is for everybody: beginner adults, who need to learn classic cinema for themselves before exciting their children, and also for the most advanced cinéaste. Burr has movies even for me. I’ve got to check out Leave Her to Heaven, a Technicolor film noir. I’ve got to rent Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning, in which two Japanese brothers scheme to get their parents to buy a TV; it even includes (Burr approves this for the family) some mighty choice fart jokes.
Years ago, I hung out at several film festivals with French director Jean-Claude Brisseau. A big, shy, awkward guy, he shared with me an obsession with cult American movies, and he made good films himself, such as De bruit et de fureur|The Sound and the Fury (1988). Nowadays, he’s notorious because of a trial in which he was accused, and convicted, of sexually harassing two actresses. He tries to justify his actions — poorly, pathetically — in Les anges exterminateurs|Exterminating Angels, a fatuous, embarrassing film that’s screening at the MFA March 16-24. A male film director keeps auditioning women, claiming (straight-faced) that he wants to see the poetry and the ecstasy as he watches them masturbate and have lesbian sex. Brisseau loves his autobiographical protagonist. Anyone else is apt to see the character as leering and depraved.