So, we all like movies. Where do you think that came from? Did you watch (and become subsequently ruined by) the movie Bambi as a child? Did your parents not allow viewing of movies or TV, leaving you to stumble upon Die Hard one weekend on network TV at your neighbor’s house and realize you were growing up in a cult? Regardless of all the other brainwashing you received as a child, you were no doubt exposed to movies or television at some point during your childhood. Unless you grew up in the very early 20th century, you had some kind of idea what “moving pictures” were. Whether it was watching Popeye beat up very stereotypical WWII-era Japanese men, or watching E.T. in a movie theater, your childhood was influence and shaped in some way by movies and television. Granted, in earlier years of the art form, this was an absolute luxury. If you had even two hours available to watch a TV show or a movie in an entire week, it was a definite highlight. Now, we have every kind of entertainment we want at our fingertips whenever we want it. Our parents did not have this luxury. When they wanted to get rid of us they simply punted us out the front door to play. Today, parents (like myself) can call upon on-demand babysitters whenever we feel the need to enjoy our latte in peace. My point being, we are all shaped by movies in some way. Be it an endless stream of mindless cartoonery or substantial, bonding-level movie material, it is our generation’s challenge to develop the value film holds for our children.
Before you all run away in horror thinking I am going to preach about “the good ol’ days” and how “too much screen time is super bad,” let me tell you a story first. This story begins with a much younger superstar Audiences Everywhere contributor. The time period is the mid 80’s and I am around 5 years old. Husky, yes, but my mom tells me it is glandular. Anyway, I digress. One evening I am introduced to a movie that will stick with me throughout my entire life. My parents pick Disney’s Robin Hood from the local video rental. Fast forward to the present, I am still husky (glandular), and much balder than what I was back then (see: glandular), but I’ve only recently started to understand why this one, seemingly obscure Disney movie has had such an impact on me. As an older and wiser human, I can now take a step back and analyze the perplexing puzzle of influence. First theory is easy. It’s a damn good movie. The music is fantastic, best described as a cross between country/western and classical English minstrel. Just go search for “Robin Hood Rooster Song” on the internet and you will see what I mean (I’m whistling it now).
Okay, so I am able to appreciate it as an adult, but why did I like it so much as a child? For one, there were many other movies that I watched during this venerable time that should have been my defining cinematic moment as a youngster, but they didn’t stick. Why did this movie work so well for me? I will tell you why. My father watched it with me. A lot. Let’s rewind the story back a bit. My father never hesitated to watch this movie with me, and even back then I associated this movie with my father. If this movie was on, I was looking around for dad. He had to enjoy this with me, no matter how may times he had seen it. I would actually wait for my dad to get home from work before I would even ask to watch it. I’m sure, now that I can finally relate as a father, after a few good weeks/months having to watch this movie on loop may have gotten frustrating.
The thing is, my father didn’t necessarily like movies. He is the type of person who works, and when those kind of people are not working, they find other things to work on. Basically, I had my dad during the “eye resting” time immediately following the day’s manual labor. My father would rarely sit through an entire movie. Sure, he watched the occasional TV show, but never had the two hours free to watch a whole movie. But he made that time for me. We sang the songs and whistled the whistles. I can’t even begin to imagine the total number of times I watched this movie. My parents recognized this as well. We did well enough for ourselves, but we didn’t do well enough that we weren’t above daisy-chaining VHS players in some mystery configuration to record the movie from the video store copy. I still can’t understand how they pulled off that miracle hack of 80’s technology and I work on “computer stuff” for a living.
Fast forward 15 years and my father and I are still watching movies. Not very often at all, but occasionally I will bring a movie home that I am excited about and force it upon him. Dad likes westerns. He grew up in an era when westerns and Popeye were the preferred entertainment. To that end, my own father, born a long-long time before myself, was shaped by movies and this influence still persists to this day. So, as an older, and surprisingly less husky young man, my father introduced me to the Spaghetti Western. Holy hell was I hooked! Clint Eastwood, as “The Man With No Name,” was an absolutely fascinating character study for my young mind to process. Sure it wasn’t as deep a character study as One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest, but I fell instantly in love with the coolness of Eastwood’s character. I still love the Sergio Leone westerns to this day; many of them are on the short list of my favorite movies. Granted, there have been “cool” actors even before and after Eastwood’s western days, and I only wonder what actors are gifted this status by today’s younger audiences. Sure, Liam Neeson has his share of moments, and even (dare I say it), Ryan Gosling has established himself through strong, quiet, yet physically assertive characters. But in comparison to my own experience, they don’t even belong in the same lunchroom as Eastwood, let alone the same table. In conversation, people with differing opinions often say, “Well, I like what I like.” But why? Why do I have an affinity for Eastwood when you, the reader, may have an affinity to any other number of older actresses/actors? Is it possible that it was due to the cinematic experience you were exposed to as a young, impressionable child? Maybe yes, maybe no. However, I believe there is a significant possibility that it is due to your prior exposure, and given that I am now a father myself, I need to acknowledge this and build upon it.
Fast forward again to present day, I am now a father of a beautiful five-year-old girl. When I first recognized my daughter was old enough and had the appropriate attention span to sit through an entire movie, I was the happiest dad around. Not because of the Spongebob effect mentioned above (although it is nice sometimes), but because I love to watch movies! Since that day some three years ago, we have learned a lot from each other. She has shown me that I really do like most of the newer children’s movies (Not so fast there, Monsters University). In turn, she offered me an absolutely amazing experience: sure enough, after she had reached that age where she could pay attention to a whole movie, Disney released Robin Hood from its tyrannical “vault.” My daughter loved it. I loved watching it again. It had been easily over 15 years since I had last watched it and I found myself overcome with nostalgia. We sang the songs and whistled the whistles. A truly awesome experience, and an even better experience realizing that I had came full circle; the movie I loved as a child was now being enjoyed by my daughter. Even more remarkably, for the next month or so, every day when I would get home from work my daughter would greet me with, “Lets watch Robin Hood!!!” Of course I obliged, just as my own father did some 25 years earlier. “You pay for your upbringing”, said my father upon hearing about this. No truer words ever spoken.
As she gets older, I continue to introduce to her movies I loved as a child. Thankfully this is easy due to the streaming media sites available. Most recently we watched Ghostbusters. Again, I wasn’t sure that she would enjoy it, but enjoy it she did. We listened to Ray Parker Jr’s titular theme song on YouTube on loop afterwards, we pretend played like we were Ghostbusters ourselves, and I even shared with her a cartoon I watched myself as a child, “The Real Ghostbusters” (remember that one?). It’s a real good time watching some of the old movies that helped shape my childhood with her, as well as the newer children’s movies like Wreck It Ralph and Frozen that will shape hers. I can’t even begin to imagine what movie she will remember as her first when she gets older. The only thing I can do, as a father, is make sure that memory includes Daddy.
I truly feel that during this formative time in my daughter’s life, it is of the utmost importance that she is exposed to a wide variety of different stimuli. Of course the “not too much screen time” people are correct: it is important to physically experience things. Music, arts, sports, and science are all things that I feel have grand importance. One can get carried away with modern parenting techniques though, and deprive a child of a key social and formative characteristic of our society. We all watch movies, we are all shaped by movies, we all ENJOY movies. It’s culture in a box, something all people need to be at least somewhat familiar with. My favorite conversations as an adult happen with others who can simultaneously use and understand movie references. Water cooler talk just isn’t the same without it. It is a part of American culture, like it or not. It is my job, as a father, to expose my daughter to as much culture as possible to prepare her for a lifetime filled with change and diversity, and I would be doing my little sweetheart a grave disservice if I didn’t expose her to cinema as well.
So, you tell me, what is the first movie you can remember watching as a child? What is the one movie from your childhood that resonates with you to this day and why? Feel free to take to the comments and let’s discuss. There is no more interesting topic in my opinion. Oh, and if you want to debate with me about my joke about Spongebob and ADHD, all I can say is “COME AT ME BRO!” I am completely willing to defend my– SQUIRREL!!!
Originally Published: June 14, 2014
Featured Image: Walt Disney Productions