Sonoma author (and mom) on the magic of watching classic movies with kids

Posted on April 12, 2019 by Sonoma Valley Sun
Jennifer Churchill and Weston, her four-year-old inspiration

By Jennifer Churchill | For The Sun

I’ve been a fan of classic movies since I was a wee one, watching them with my mom on the public television station in my small town in rural Michigan.  My grandma Charlotte, my mom, and my aunt Michelle all loved classic movies, and my mom would point out to me, “That’s Katharine Hepburn, and that’s Cary Grant,” so she was my Turner Classic Movies and my Google all rolled into one before those things were even invented. I later learned to approach cinema from a more academic perspective  as an undergraduate at Aquinas College in Michigan, studying with Dr. Andrew Jefchak, a well-known film history scholar who sadly passed away just a couple of years ago.

There’s a linear connection from the still and moving images captured more than 100 years ago on through to YouTube videos, movies, and video games that we watch on hand-held and electronic devices today. Understanding this connection is crucial to developing media literacy, and to appreciating the history of storytelling through this visual medium.

Classic movies still have a relevant place in our fast-moving, media-drenched world. These works of art connect us to the past, transport us to another time, and help us understand history and ourselves. My book Movies Are Magic is intended to help spur in both kids and their parents an interest in learning more about classic movie history and, most importantly, in watching these movies together.

My philosophy with my own child, who is now four, was to limit screen time, but if I do let him watch something I want it to be educational or a classic film. My theory is, if that’s all they know, they’ll love it. Don’t show them now those new cartoons with lots of quick cuts and editing. They’ll see those soon enough.

The first things I let my little one watch was Top Hat with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and the Little Rascals shorts. He’s currently obsessed with learning all about the Titanic and how it sank, and so the other night we had a pizza-and-movie night and we watched the 1953 classic A Night to Remember, about the sinking of the Titanic. It’s somewhat slow-moving compared to modern films and cartoons, and is in black and white, but it held his attention and we had a blast.

Jennifer Churchill and Weston, her four-year-old inspiration

I don’t think it has to be classic films starring kids or marketed to kids to appeal to little ones. Shirley Temple movies are adorable, of course, but most classic films – minus anything Pre-Code – don’t have a lot of swearing or obvious sex or gore. I don’t let him watch The Thin Man because of all the drinking, so be sure you’ve seen the films you’ll be watching with your kids. In general, expose your kids to the things you love, and – hopefully – they’ll love it all, too!

The other day my son and I watched Safety Last starring Harold Lloyd, and he laughed out loud at the entire sequence of Harold climbing up the building and hanging from the clock. At one point, something makes Harold’s pants fall down. Better than cartoons!

Overall, I’d said anything silent is great, and anything with tap-dancing gets their attention. It’s so fun watching these classic movies with kids, really.

Jennifer Churchill is the Sonoma author of a children’s book about the history of classic film, Movies Are Magic.

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