Friday, June 24, 2011

Am I Alone, People?

monkey eats popcorn by gilesbooth
monkey eats popcorn, a photo by gilesbooth on Flickr.

Last week, my son and I ditched one of his after-school activities so that we might get started on our "Summer Must See Movies" list. A ++ parenting, non? As we sat in the darkened theatre and waded through the super-lame previews that kick start most summer (and winter, for that matter) films, it dawned on me that there was only one thing I've always found annoying about the movie- watching experience. Popcorn. Specifically, the amplified sound of popcorn being chewed.

An informal poll of several of my peer-group, however, garnered slightly distressing result. Are you kidding, Francis, was the common refrain? Popcorn is the best part of the going to the movies! You have a thing against popcorn, said another? For real? It was obvious that I was alone in my hatred.

It wasn't the first time, either. I have discovered that there a more than a few areas in which my observations do not jibe with those of the gen pop. Like my use of the term gen pop, for instance. Here are a few more:

- I despise the way magicians dress.

- I think hand sanitizers are pointless.

- Pretzels should never be eaten alone. They need the rest of the Party Mix.

- Every time I see James Cameron I have to supress the urge not to bust the television

- I still enjoy Woody Allen films

- I don't find The Three Stooges funny

Just wanted to let you all know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Animal Snuff No More

When my husband and I cooked up our offspring, the thing we most looked forward to was introducing them to the classic movies that had formed our childhood. How great is it going to be to see these movies again through their eyes, I thought to myself as I sat down to compile a list for their enjoyment? Mid-way through the making of the list, however, I began to notice a troubling trend: Never Cry Wolf, Bambi, Finding Nemo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sounder. Are you seeing it? How all are either animal or mother snuff film?

Ask 10 random people about the greatest popular-entertainment-related trauma of their childhoods, and you'll probably find it's an even split between the death of Bambi's mom and the death of Old Yeller. So let me ask you this: whence comes the tradition of heartrending children's classics in which a central character spends an entire book caring for and loving a very special animal, only to have it die in the end? The easy answer would be Disney but blaming them for anything is like shooting fish in a barrel. Sadly, most of these classic have been culled from literature where cherishing, nurturing and killing off an animal is as old as the form itself. Hello? Have you re-read The Yearling, lately? Brutal.

Which is why I decided to reverse the trend with my kids by coming up with a radical concept. For every film aimed at a young audience, I would throw in a documentary. It sounds crazy, I know, but if well chosen, a doc can introduce your kids to film making and life concepts that a fish looking for his mom mom simply cannot. And if you can avoid those docs that have extreme violence and sex as a core them (Duh.) - for which their are legion - you won't believe how enjoyable the experience can be.

Our latest in a long line of Should-We-Let-the-Kids Watch-This? - films is the documentary, Man on a Wire. Directed by James March, the film chronicles the events of the morning of Aug. 7, 1974, when a French daredevil named Philippe Petit stepped into the sky above Lower Manhattan and for almost 45 minutes ambled back and forth on a metal cable strung between the towers of the World Trade Centre. The movie starts with Petit talking about how he skirted security to get into the World Trade Centre in the first place, and then it works backward and forward until the story is complete—right through the nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring moment when Petit steps into the chasm and enchants the world. My son watched this as if he were in a trance and afterwards, we had as deep conversation as you can have with a ten-year-old about everything we had just seen. From the film's theme of pursuing your dreams despite the odds, to the importance of teamwork to why people want to do things like this in the first place. And as an added bonus: no animals were killed in the telling. Brilliant!

N.B. I also highly recommend Spellbound, a fantastic doc about kids participating in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and Sharkwater. Both excellent doc- primers!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Talking Bout...Pop Music! Talking Bout....Pop Music!

In February of this year, a more innocent time, I embarked upon a strange project. It began with a request from my daughter to change the channel on the radio on our short drive to school to the syndicated pop station that for the purposes of this post must remain nameless. ( It does, however, rhyme with "More gin, Radio!" But, I digress.) Now normally, we would listen to the alternative music station enjoyed by both my son and I. (Sending them off to school bathed in the soothing waters of the Foo Fighters made the day seem easier to face, somehow, you know?) This morning, however, I decided to give in. We'll just listen to her station instead of ours for a few weeks, I explained to my son as he watched horrified as I cranked the dial towards this new pop music world. Let's just listen to it and try to embrace what the young kids are listening to these days, I said, as we sat back and let the soulful sounds of Kesha rape our aural canal.

Do any of you remember what it felt like back in 2004 as you watched George Bush become president? You don't remember seeing and hearing that freight train coming and feeling like there was nothing you could do about it? Well, let me ask you this: can you recall a pre-Black Eyed Peas world? Because it was a glorious time. It was a time when R and B singers weren't allowed to use Auto-Tune as training wheels (Sure, this robot helps me sing. But someday I'll do it all by myself!) and groups like Train didn't seem like the least likely group to put out a song entitled, "Hey, Soul Sister".

When I was a kid, my sister would order compilation albums from the TV. They had names like Knockout! and HITS! HITS! HITS! and we would sit and listen to these for hours. It was how we were introduced to some of the most crap-tastical music of the day. We would consume the popular songs like a bag of penny candy but if we let the record ride buried on there was usually an artist on there that didn't get conventional radio play. Louden Wainright was on one of ours. Nick Drake on the album of a friend. Who are these weirdos, we would say when our friends were around? Only to find ourselves strangely moved to listen to them again when no one else was around. Ah, the familiar push and pull of commerce and art!

It's important to remember this when it feels as if pop music has hit an all time low. Pop music has always been ridiculous and disposable. That's why it's called pop. Culture Club was pop. Pat Boone? Pop. Flock of Seagulls? Same, same. When was the last time you heard "I Ran" and thought, Wow, this song is a deep, deep well? And yet that album sold millions and millions of copies. Pop fades with time. Art endures. That's why we will still be listening to Arcade Fire 50 years from now long after the name of Train has been cursed for the last time.

Try to remember this the next time you climb into the car with the kids and one of them twists the dial towards the local pop station. Maybe I'll hear a hidden gem. Maybe I'll hear I'll hear a gem. It's what I keep telling myself.