Growing up in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by people who worked in the entertainment industry. Neighbors worked building sets or on crews. Teachers were location scouts on the weekends or summers. Uncles were film editors. Actors ate at In & Out as I did with my own family. The bulk of my film education took place on the weekends, on KTLA channel 5, where Tom Hatten hosted not only our version of morning cartoons, The Three Stooges, Little Rascals and Popeye but also Family Film Festival.
Hatten’s schedule of films followed some sort of secular liturgical calendar as he would screen certain films with the holidays. We watched James Stewart in Harvey for Easter, Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda in Yours, Mine and Ours for Mother’s Day and William Powell in Life with Father for Father’s Day. To this day, I associate certain films with certain holidays.
But it wasn’t just the holiday films I watched, I watched them all. Hatten would highlight a specific actor or director, then fill an entire weekend with films by that artist. An entire weekend of Jerry Lewis movies resulted in changing my underwear several times for I was constantly wetting them from laughter. After dinner at my grandpa’s house, I snuck to the backroom to watch Hitchcock’s Psycho after watching The Birds earlier in the day. Completely terrified, I would hide, behind my teenage uncle’s rainbow pillows, but determined to find out what happened. I was doubly freaked out when the broadcast was broke to announce that John Wayne had died. I had just watched him in Stagecoach the weekend before.
Now, as a parent, I am determined to give my sons, ages 5 and 7, a proper film education. My husband and I have been scheduling our own Family Film Festival on Friday nights. We sometimes give in and show the latest kid film but mostly we introduce them to films and genres that we love from the classics.
We started with the western genre, screening Rio Bravo. The boys love to imitate Walter Brennan’s Stumpy when I ask them to do something, “I’m goin’, I’m goin’ “ they’ll say with his drawl. We moved onto The Magnificent Seven. It will be a while before we introduce them to the Kurosawa version but this version brought up some great conversations about the different reasons why each gunfighter takes the job.
We’ve introduced the musical genre with Singing in the Rain, I hope one day, they too will feel like crying when Gene Kelly sings “Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face.” We’ve shown them Buster Keaton’s The General for their first silent film in which they screamed and laughed at the screen. We’ve even introduced them to Hitchcock with To Catch a Thief, they loved the caper aspect of the film. We told them how Hitchcock always has a cameo in his film and they enjoyed finding him in the first 10 minutes of the film. The firework scene went right over their head. Surprisingly, Screwball Comedy is the only genre that hasn’t been a hit so far. I suppose they just aren’t ready to look at love as comical, they just think it’s gross at their age.
The best part of this all, besides that they get our 1950’s film references, is that they have started to associate different films with holidays and seasons. This year was our 2nd viewing with them of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man for St Patrick’s Day, a tradition we’ve held as a couple for 13 years, one that Tom Hatten started in us as children all those years before. Now we are able to share this passion and love for movies that brought us together as a couple, with our children, our own family.