1. Family Movie Night is never scheduled. I cannot bear having one more obligation so our FMN is whenever I call it. It’s infrequent and spontaneous.
2. It’s just the four of us. No friends or extended family are invited.
3. We always have an easy dinner and a delicious dessert right there in the living room in front of the TV.
4. We only watch old movies.
Number four is the best rule. And also a secret rule. I still haven’t explicitly told my kids that FMN is actually OMN (Old Movie Night). They’re catching on, but I think they hold out hope that I’ll slip in a little something with Martin Lawrence or Adam Sandler. Fine comedic actors, both, but neither are invited to our special nights.
I didn’t set out to start an OMN. This whole thing happened because of a weekend day with no friends around, when the kids were bored and I was tired. Rear Window was on. They wrinkled their noses at first. I bribed them with sweets to keep them in front of the TV.
At first, my kids (ages 9 and 11) couldn’t understand how the characters spoke, not just their cadence and inflections, but also how little they spoke. If you haven’t watched an older film in a while you will be surprised, maybe even a little unnerved, by how little pressure the screen writers felt to plug every moment with dialogue. Old movies move slowly. They build.
The kids acted like they accomplished something important after they watched Rear Window. And yes, they slept that night, even though they often find excuses to come down because they “heard a noise”. Perhaps they didn’t feel tricked or spooked by Rear Window because it is so smart and it made them feel smart, too. Steadily it earned their approval, and so they felt like willing participants in the experience rather than hijacked observers.
From there we watched Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, and Young Frankenstein. This last one we timed with Halloween and it got a lot of groans when we started because “It’s black and white!!”. But as soon as Gene Wilder stabbed himself in the leg and slowly announced “Class…is…dismissed.” they were bought in: hook, line and scalpel.
Here are the benefits to watching old movies with my family:
1. Older movies have a sharp sense of humor that current family movies don’t. Sure, I get a kick out of a fart joke every now and then, but how many before the whole thing just stinks? I want to expose my kids to smart humor, like when Butch and Sundance were in the middle of a gunfight with the Bolivian police and they were running low on ammunition.
Butch: We’re going to run out unless we can get to that mule and get some more.
Sundance: I’ll go.
Butch: This is no time for bravery. I’ll let ya.
2. Old movies give our family inside jokes and common references. When Nancy Grace recently trotted out to Spamalot on DWTS my daughter said, “She knows how to use those coconuts”.
3. But most of all, old movies give us time to slow down our busy lives. They earn our trust. The pace is slow and the plot builds gradually. In a time when kids are being trained to multitask everything and the media expects them to stay focused for no more than 3 seconds flat, I appreciate my kids being pleasantly stilled.
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