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HOW DID YOU BECOME " THE MOVIE MOM?"
When I was a little girl my father became the head of the Federal Communications Commission. He gained immortality by calling TV "the vast wasteland." When I meet people they seem to remember that, though I'm not sure it's what he would most want to be remembered for.
Growing up in that environment made me sensitive to what I saw. Both my parents loved movies. My mom would say, if you take a nap today you can stay up late to watch a very special movie. In my last year of high school I got mono, and my parents wheeled a black and white TV into my room. I spent the whole summer watching movies. I was the film critic for my high school and college newspapers and studied film history and criticism in college.
When my kids were little I wasn't good at crafts, but I could say "Let's watch movies." We connected the movies with activities. For instance, we saw "1776" and then visited the Liberty Bell. We watched "State Fair" and went to a county fair. After watching "The King and I" we made Thai puppets. I knew that movies weren't mindless, that they could trigger ideas and activities and get you to use your brain.
I used to see other parents at the video counter pondering what video to get for their kids. I'd find myself making recommendations, suggesting movies, telling them that a particular choice was off base. In 1995 I started my Movie Mom website at the same time I started my book.
YOU HAVE TO WATCH A LOT OF MOVIES. HOW DO YOU DO IT?
I've always loved movies. In college and even afterwards, I saw a movie a day. I wanted to write about movies but needed some special niche. With kids growing up, I also knew about children. My business side helped me see a need. I had a strong commitment to talking to kids about values. In one of the Louisa May Alcott books the characters play charades and the answer to one of the questions is an esoteric Bible story. Yet all the characters knew the answer.
I wondered, what kids today are familiar with that's equivalent? What are the myths and stories of today that everyone knows? It's movies and television.
BUT DON'T YOU THINK THE MEDIA HAS CREATED VERY NARROW "GENERATIONS" WHEN IT COMES TO SHARED CULTURE?
Not necessarily. I have two teenagers and one is familiar with the music of my generation. My son has become interested in it over time. It's the retro hip factor. Thanks to cable and video my children know the Marx Brothers and Andy Griffith and do not think of them as old fashioned.
My kids were not allowed to watch TV for 10 years. I didn't want to be the TV cop and have constant arguments over what to see. I'm a lawyer and there's a term "rebuttable presumption" --the presumption here being no TV.
At one point my son came to me and said that to gain credibility on the playground he had to see "Beavis and Butthead." He watched one show and that was enough. At least he knew what it was about.
After that, we made some exceptions when there was something really special. For a while they watched "Ghostwriter" once a week. Or they'd watch the"Simpsons". But because they weren't used to watching, they would forget to watch. It wasn't a ritual they were accustomed to and they didn't schedule their day around the TV.
WHAT'S YOUR OPINION ABOUT HOW MUCH TV KIDS WATCH?
TV can be very isolating. I'm upset that so many kids have TVs in their rooms. Nowadays 53% of kids have TVs in their rooms and 29% have VCRs. That number goes up with age. Two out of three kids over the age of eight have TVs in their rooms. And some families encourage their kids to watch TV in the car! The only thing worse is watching TV while you're eating dinner. Those are times when families should be talking. People say they wish they had more time with their kids, but then they blow the time by watching TV.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CURRENT STATE OF TV?
Television is much worse than movies in terms of issues. "Friends" may be well written and popular, but the people on it are sexually irresponsible. Everyone sleeps with everyone else. This, and shows like" Will and Grace" are routinely watched by young kids who don't have the context to understand them appropriately. It's terribly sad. The characters' actions are consequenceless and everything is resolved quickly.
HOW ARE MOVIES DIFFERENT?
Movies at least make attempts to screen out inappropriate audiences. But the rating system is easily and cynically manipulated by filmmakers. For instance, in "Fly Away Home" they put a little, hardly audible four-letter word in so it would get a PG rather than a G rating. Yet, there were two scenes in that movie that actually deserved a PG rating --a horrific car crash and a scene showing a nose piercing. In the rating system there's a lot of focus on language, but not on inappropriate content --either violence or sexually implicit scenes.
HAVE PARENTS LOST CONTROL?
One of the messages I'd like to convey is that parents HAVE control. I've heard parents describe that they feel helpless when unsuitable movies are shown on the school bus! Parents can do something. One parent wrote into Family Wonder saying that her 2 1/2 year old knew how to work the VCR and she didn't know what to do. I said "Say NO and mean it. Give your child a time out. Create boundaries. Kids want boundaries."
DO YOU LEARN FROM YOUR OWN KIDS?
My kids and other kids influence what I say. Once, I took my son to see a Disney movie and he couldn't understand what was going on, and looked on with horror. Finally a light bulb went off and he explained his confusion "You mean the BAD Guy drives the COOL car!"
It's amazing to see the conclusions kids draw. There are lots of reasons kids can be upset watching "Bambi." Bambi's mother gets shot; there's a forest fire. But near the end of the movie little kids sometimes ask --"What happened to Bambi?" or "Where's Bambi?" It's because Bambi looks so different all grown up. A little kid might not recognize the transformed character.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SCARY MOVIES?
There's not a person alive that hasn't been scared by a movie. The Flying Monkeys in the "Wizard of Oz" are the classic. We need to learn to deal with our fears, to realize that something is going to scare us and know how to handle it. The Journal of the American Medical Association says that there is some violence in every G rated movie made. Of course a movie needs some drama and suspense. If a kid is a little scared, you can help them think about feelings and help them realize they have power and options. There's fun scary and uncomfortable scary. Kids can learn to make distinctions about different kids of scary material. Everyone reacts differently
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ALL THE REMAKES OF OLD FILMS?
There's an old tradition of remaking films. The famous Humphrey Bogart version of "The Maltese Falcon" was the third version of that film in five years. There's always the potential to do it right or better.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WATCH SO MANY MOVIES?
I watch about three movies a week. My kids like to go with me. My parents shared movies with me, even if their favorites weren't exactly to my taste. When Entertainment Weekly comes out with Spring Predictions, that's a great time to look over the list with your kids--to find good movies that you can see with your teens. Teens are toddlers with hormones. It's easier to talk about what's in a movie than their own feelings or to talk about their feelings through what's in the movie. It's terrific to let your teenager pick a movie and then go with them to see it. One of the pleasures of having children is seeing things through their eyes. That goes for movies, too.
HOW CAN PARENTS BECOME MORE AWARE AND EMPOWERED?
I think the best way is to work through the schools. Schools can support certain policies such as no television on school nights. It does a great service when schools do this, since parents don't have to take the rap. There's a huge amount of parent education that we need to do. Some parents don't understand how kids react--for instance the father who took his three year old to an R rated movie because his own parents had been restrictive.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PARENTS TO REMEMBER ABOUT FILMS?
There's a treasure trove of great old movies and for your kids they are brand new. The Marx Brothers, for instance and movies on Turner. Set your VCR to record and watch with your kids.
YOU HAVE ANOTHER LIFE AS A LAWYER AND SHAREHOLDER ADVOCATE. IS THERE A CONNECTION?
In many ways it's exactly the same job. When I talk to corporate executives I tell the story of the mother who didn't feel she could control her two year old. I try to get shareholders and executives to take responsibility and think about what they are doing -- to empower shareholders in the same way I empower parents. You can see I have a strong streak of morality and bossiness. I want to make people more conscious of their own choices.
HAVE OTHER PEOPLE BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR DOING MORE THAN ONE JOB?
At first I kept the two lives separate. But I discovered that everybody wants to be a film critic, and in some ways we all are. In my shareholder life I talk to the press and use film analogies. I find that one world feeds the other.
IS IT DIFFICULT TO HAVE TWO CAREERS?
I would suffocate if I had to do just one thing. I am happiest doing a lot of things at once, as long as I can maintain my own voice in everything I do
.DO YOU EVER GET OVERLOADED SEEING SO MANY MOVIES?
did look at my watch a lot during "Pokemon." But I seem to have
an infinite capacity for movies. When we have a free evening and my husband
asks what I'd like to do, I'll usually say "Let's go to the movies!"
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