the Last Picture Show
say that when you have kids it changes your life. Theyíre
I used to go to the movies two, three times a week. In college
my minor was in film.
Then, 16 years ago, I had Madeleine. The first movie I saw
after Madeleine was born was Fatal Attraction. Iíve
always felt kind of guilty that I had left her with a babysitter
to go see Fatal Attraction. Why couldnít I have seen
something nobler, more artsy-fartsy?
But I had really wanted to see Fatal Attraction. I
knew Iíd have to choose wisely from now on since I wouldnít
be going to the movies very often anymore. I started weeding
out the ones I wouldnít get to seeóno more retrospective house
favorites, no more documentaries, no more foreign moviesóin
favor of the guilty pleasures I knew really and truly wanted
to see: movies with baby aliens and bunny boilers, haunted
houses and insect infestations, anything with Kevin Bacon.
And then I got a VCR. It was more of the same. Who could stay
awake to read subtitles on a TV screen? Who could watch anything
that lasted longer than 84 minutes, which has always seemed
the maximum length of time any child could leave an adult
So I picked movies based on schlock value and length. There
was a whole rental genre that got the household nickname of
Jo Page movies. These were the cheesy scary movies that invariably
carried endorsements from some critic in Podunk telling the
viewer that Hitchcock couldnít have done it any better.
The closest I got to artsy was watching Roman Polanskiís The
Tenant, the weirdest, sickest, funniest movie Iíve ever
seen. In seminary, The Tenant was my stress-release
film after a long day of Greek declensions and sitz im
leben in form criticism.
Not that movie-viewing has to slow down that much when you
have kids. You get the chance to watch movies like The
Brave Little Toaster, The Lion King and that masterpiece
of anti-feminism The Little Mermaid.
And who needs Cocteau when you can watch Disneyís Beauty
and the Beastóand hear Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson sing
the title track?
That was all long ago, of course. My girls are growing older.
Madeleine, as I mentioned, is 16. Sheís thinking about college,
about careers. She wants to go into filmmaking. She wants
to go see lots of films. She called me from the University
of Vermont a couple of weeks ago where she was visiting a
friend and insisted that I had to see The House
of Sand and Fog.
I read the book, I told her.
But I had to see the film, she told me. Itís an experience.
guess itís a good thing to have a daughter who wants to be
a filmmaker. It gives me permission to go to movies again.
It gives me permission to nag her about movies she should
see: Black-and-white ones. Ones with subtitles. Non-narrative
ones. Hello, Stan Brakhage. Good-bye, Walt Disney.
But my plan hasnít been going well. Sheís got her own ideas
about what she wants to see. And rather than genuflecting
before the time-honored DVD Iím about to pop in the player,
she just goes upstairs and visits IMDB.
Her current goal is to see as many Oscar-nominated movies
as she can. Iím a little touchy about Oscar. I went to an
Oscar party when she was about 6. I hadnít seen a single one
of the movies. I spent a lot of time by the onion dip, talking
with other parents. We were all careful not to talk about
movies or television. We were sick to death of Barney and
This year isnít that much different. When the nominations
came out, Madeleine read the list to me.
I hadnít seen a single movie on the list. Not even Kevin Bacon
in Mystic River.
Of course, I had seen Love, Actually. Twice.
Iíve got a thing for Billy Mack.
But Love, Actually hadnít been nominated for anything.
And I realized I was becoming a social misfit not just among
childless people my own age, but with my own child, who was
going to all the same movies my childless friends had seen.
Time for remediation, I thought.
My first step toward becoming au courant was going
to see Cold Mountain. With Madeleine, of course. It
was on her list of movies yet-to-see.
Mountainís got a pretty flimsy plot line, but itís big
on gore. Made Gladiator look like Bambi, Maddy
said. (Iím happy to report that while I have seen Gladiator,
I have not seen Bambi.) I spent a lot of time
with my hands over my eyes. I donít mean with my fingers slightly
parted, giving a partial glimpse of the screen. I mean with
my hands cupped over my eyes, as if I were playing hide-and-seek.
The sex scene was intriguing, though. I was kind of hoping
that the violence was as unreal as the sex. How two long-unwashed
people could so quickly reach orgasms their first time in
bed in an ice-cold twig-walled shack in the middle of winter
with Renee Zellweger in the next room sort of amazed me. Maybe
Iíve forgotten how to suspend disbelief.
Next we went to see The Triplets of Belleville. Itís
more my kind of movie. I thought that after years of animation
that Iíd really had my fill. But this is different. The Three
Weird Sisters from MacBeth have been sweetened up and
given rhythm. They fry up a mean cuisine of frogs. They give
the bad guys a slip. Sisterhood has never been stranger.
Tonight weíre going to see Master and Commander. A
late show, but itís vacation time so it wonít matter if Madeleine
doesnít get to bed until the time she usually does on a school
night, though I pretend not to notice. And, then, with three
of this yearís Oscar films under my belt, I figure she owes
me a golden oldie. And Iím wagering that after Breathless,
Elijah Wood will be looking pretty tame.
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