If a child can watch Barney, can't that same child also enjoy watching Charlie Chaplin or the Marx Brothers? And as they get older, wouldn't they grow to like screwball comedies (His Girl Friday), women's weepies (Imitation of Life), and westerns (The Searchers)? The answer is that they'll follow because they'll have learned that "old" does not necessarily mean "next channel, please."
Here is an impassioned and eminently readable guide that introduces the delights of the golden age of movies. Ty Burr has come up with a winning prescription for children brought up on Hollywood junk food.
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February 12, 2007
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Excerpt from The Best Old Movies for Families by Ty Burr
I N T R O D U C T I O N I KNEW WE had passed some twisted point of no return when Eliza announced that she wanted to have a Katharine Hepburn party. With a screening of Bringing Up Baby. For her ninth birthday. My wife, Lori, and I tried to dissuade her. Maybe our daughter could gladly sit through a fifth viewing of the screwball comedy classic, but how many of her schoolmates would make it through their first, conditioned as they were to color, brightness, Shrek? Eliza was unmoved: It was her birthday, and she argued convincingly for the constitutional right to choose her own party theme. So out the invitations went, featuring a photo of Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story that Eliza personally cut out and pasted on. And in came the phone calls from the parents. To my chagrin, most of them were convinced that her father the fancy-pants movie critic had put her up to it (on a stack of the collected works of Wong Kar-Wai, I did no such thing), but their more pressing concern, which we shared, was that their child would get bored, wander off, play with knives. My wife and I assured them we were laying out a table next to the screening room, filled with books and pencil-based activities to divert those kids oppressed by the very notion of black-and-white cinematography. The books were never opened, the pencils never used. We took a half-hour intermission for cake, but when I asked if the group was ready to restart the movie, there was a unanimous roar of assent, and we picked up again with that marvelous forest-of-Arden sequence where Kate, playing flibbertigibbet heiress Susan Vance, leads Cary Grant's nerd zoologist David Huxley through the nighttime wilds of Greenwich, Connecticut. At one point Susan breaks a high heel and teeters up and down, burbling in delight, "Look, David, I was born on a hill. I was born on the side of a hill," and the moment feels so spontaneous,so magically free, it can make your hair stand on end. (In fact, the bit was mischievously improvised by Hepburn after the 1938 equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction.) The kids had never seen anything like it: It felt more unscripted, more real than anything twenty-first-century kid culture feeds them, up to and including reality TV. When the parents showed up to collect their children, five minutes remained-Grant was still stuck in the jail cell with Hepburn dragging the wild leopard through the door-and eighteen kids sat mesmerized and giggling. The moms and dads were astounded. They shouldn't have been, nor should Lori or I. Great filmmaking trumps all other considerations. This is even more true if you're nine and every movie still feels like the first you've ever seen. Some backtracking may be necessary. I work as a film critic for a major metropolitan daily newspaper. Before that, I spent over a decade writing about movies for a national entertainment magazine. Before that, I screened and recommended films for the acquisitions department of a pay-cable movie network. Before that, I was a cinema studies major, ran a college film society, and wrote long, impenetrable reviews in the student newspaper. Before that, I was a pale teenage movie ghost who wondered why taking a girl to a double bill of Sam Fuller films never got me anywhere. This is simply a way of saying that I have seen many, many, many movies. When asked how many, I hazard the guess that I average a movie a day, and, since I've been watching seriously for thirty years, the total comes to something on the order of 10,680 films. On a good day, I remember seven thousand of them. On a bad day, maybe five. I am also now a father to two girls, currently nine and eleven. As any parent understands, this changes everything. I once viewed children's films with indulgence, even nostalgia. Today I look at the movie offerings afforded my kids and am stunned into depression at the pandering narrowness. The animation industry has given it