The Films Don’t Make the Fan

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Over on Indiewire, they’ve started a discussion on how you inspire a cinephile. It’s an interesting question, and I’ve really enjoyed reading the suggestions people have posted. Some have taken the physical description of the girl being mentored to heart, choosing movies for a teenager, an African American, and a girl as the keys to solving this particular puzzle. Others have disregarded that entirely, recommending the canonical titles thrown around to represent Great Cinema.

I spent a little time thinking how I’d add my two cents. I mean, I have a white, grade school son who’s developing quite a taste for movies himself, what am I doing to inspire him to love movies, and would that be in any way translatable to someone growing up with an entirely different world experience? Is it more important to choose movies that speak to the person to hone their taste? Or is it more important to choose movies that stand as great works of art, and teach them to recognize greatness when they see it?

I started appreciating movies myself when I was a teenager, spending a lot of time in the video store and my local library, watching films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Reservoir Dogs, Blue Velvet and Double Indemnity. I saw the art in these movies, and recognized the talent in the film making. But I loved movies long before going to rent any of those.

I still remember seeing E.T. at seven, and bawling like a baby. I also remember being completely horrified and mesmerized by Gremlins and Temple of Doom, and cheering while watching Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. The first thing I ever wrote for my middle school paper was a review of the Princess Bride, which I saw with my parents in a packed theater on opening night.

These are movies people love, and some are brilliant films, some have flashes of brilliance, and all are ultimately more about entertainment than art. Most importantly, each one impressed me because they were big and loud and it was impossible to not be carried along with the rest of the audience by their spectacle.

What made me fall in love with movies, more than the quality of what I saw, was sitting in a theater. Even today, with home systems and larger screens, there’s no comparison to the experience of being in a theater, with a crowd. How many of us saw Star Wars (either in the 70’s or at a re-release) where the crowd cheered at the end? How about tearing up at the end of Toy Story 3?

Honestly, it’s no sign of great taste to recognize The Godfather is a brilliant movie, just like it’s not hard to recognize War and Peace is an important novel. But knowing something’s great isn’t the same as loving it. If a person you’re introducing to film doesn’t like your chosen piece of art, does it really matter?

There’s a part of me that knows when my son grows up, his tastes will be very different from mine. It’s kind of inevitable that his friends and teachers will turn him on to movies I’ve not heard of and books I haven’t read. Until then, though, I can make the experience of going to the movies a great and memorable time. In the end, that’s more than enough.

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