FILMS WE WATCHED WITH OUR CHILDREN
The first of these was The Jungle Book, in our friend Ray’s house in London, at the end of a long journey. Until then, our kids had seen the excellent Sesame Street on C4, and very little else. I think at the time they were aged somewhere between five and two, and it is to the credit of Mowgli and Co that the film jolted them out of near-stupor and kept all of them awake right to the credits.
Television was never much of an option once we moved to Gravir – our house being positioned in such a fashion that it blocks transmissions from the mast northwest of us at Achmore, the mast south of us on the Uists, and the westward mast on the mainland. So after a few years of battling with snowy pictures and grungy sound, and missing the ends of key episodes of ER, we ditched the aerial and decided instead to build up a film collection.
With awareness of the medium inspired by The Jungle Book, it seemed fair to initially collect material for the children, so in a few years we had an impressive raft of animations – Disney, Pixar, some old cartoon collections – Tom & Jerry, Top Cat, Dastardly & Muttley – and not much else. Mum and Dad could choose from Schindler’s List and Top Gun, one well made if grim, the other down at the popcorn end.
By the time Finding Nemo was released, the grown-ups were getting a bit overfaced with animation, and decided we could upgrade a little. We experimented on them with James Bond, which proved successful. After that, there was no going back, and while The Lion King, Toy Story, Pocahontas, Ice Age, The Hunchback of Notre Dame et al still got watched to death, there was now a swing towards more grown-up fare - especially Jurassic Park and Jason and the Argonauts. As they got older, the film library ranged over musicals, westerns, mafia dramas, superheroes, courtroom stories – Twelve Angry Men was a surprising hit – and non-genre stuff. Some TV series were creeping in – I, Claudius – another surprising hit – Absolutely Fabulous, The Fast Show, Blackadder.
With five of us aged between mid-forties and seven, we instigated a voting system every time we sat down together to watch a film. We each chose one movie, then everyone voted. If all five of us voted for one film, we put all the others back and watched that. If there was a split, we had a second vote, which usually sorted it out. Hopeless ties were settled with a coin toss. This system ran for years, and often the greatest fun of the evening was in the selection process, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest.
We talked about everything we watched, so the kids acquired a fine sense of how to critique a film – what they liked and didn’t like, and why, whether or not the story or subject matter was interesting and later, how well different elements of the film were handled.
Ray sent us a copy of Amelie one year, which was subtitled, the first foreign language film the kids saw, and I remember Al, about halfway through, asking impatiently when the people in it were going to start talking properly!
We had a relaxed censorship system in place, and there were mistakes. On reflection, Al shouldn’t have been exposed to Blade at the age of seven, and Maddy should not have been given the option of watching Ring a few years later, about which there was much fuss in Empire magazine. Telling them that we would stop it if it was too scary was of course tantamount to a parental dare; Harriet and Al, oldest and youngest, watched all of it with their usual stoicism and slept through the night; Maddy and I were all kept awake by concerns that the girl with the big black eye might be lurking behind the telly. Which just goes to show that trying to create a censorship system based on age simply doesn't work! It turned out Harriet was much more spooked by scenes in Sixth Sense, and Al, though I only found this out recently, was terrified of Alien, because he had a very realistic action figure of the titular character and was horrified when he saw it come to dribbling, gnashing life on screen.
At some point, the children realised that there were three of them and only two of us, which gave them power to fix the vote; they subjected us on this occasion to an Ace Ventura film, which had somehow got into the house; it was truly awful, and we had to watch something else after it to take away the memory.
During this time, Maddy was introduced to David Attenborough, and a lifetime fascination with wildlife and nature was born. So we also started to collect The Trials of Life, Blue Planet, Spy in the Den and all the others. We all liked Michael Moore’s films – Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and later, Sicko. Fahrenheit 9/11 triggered massive interest in the Twin Towers, and Harriet and I became fascinated conspiracy theorists. We also liked Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, very fertile discussion territory. Some history was added to the mix, which attracted Harriet – The Nazis: A Warning from History; The Yorkshire Ripper documentaries discovered on YouTube; Harriet became an expert on serial killers and Jack the Ripper, went on to do a course of film studies at uni.
Once Al got into his teens, we pretty much watched everything, from A History of Violence to Cabaret, from The Tailor of Panama and Pan's Labyrinth to A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs. This year, we've been catching up on television series, the best of these being the excellent Sopranos, ER and Band of Brothers.
Happily, film is still a central bonding mechanism for the family – we’re all opinionated enthusiasts, and even though we don’t all live together anymore, we’re always catching up on what we’ve just watched, and what the latest edition of Empire has to say.