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Not the Last Picture Show

People say that when you have kids it changes your life. Theyíre right.

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 unattended?

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.

I 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 Raffi.

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.

Cold 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.

óJo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org


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