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Family Valued 9.14.05 

Charlie, Buster, and the scragamuffins

We all realize that children should be seen and not heard. That's why we plant them in front of the latest Disney mishmash while we eat a quiet meal by ourselves, for once. Quite a bit has changed since that adage was first uttered, including cinema. What about the movies the wee ones watch?

Unless you're pushing 90, you don't remember the silent film era. However, you could be a parent considering self-asphyxiation by stuffed animal if you have to spend another minute with Barney or Arthur or Elmo or whatever else P.Blodeon blurts into our national juvenile consciousness. On the other hand, The Matrix may not be the best choice for the little scragamuffins.

Consider the humble silent movie. Expose your kids now to films that challenge expectations, and maybe the day will be closer when they sit still in a restaurant or talk intelligently with you about... whatever. So, what can you possible watch that will entertain the children and not expose your own silent-film-phobia? 19th-century film was heavy on short documentaries, which nowadays serve as travelogues, geographical and chronological.

Comedy is especially good. The Dryden Theatre shows silent films on Tuesday nights, often in better condition than you'll find anywhere else. On October 18, Harold Lloyd stars in Safety Last!, a classic for any era. Before then, do some warm-ups with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton on DVD or video. If you're feeling particularly bold, a lot of entertaining experiments are out there: Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and the films of Georges Méliès.

Be aware that the silent era was pre-code and many misguided and misanthropic films were made. On the other hand, these films often display the joy of creation. Such now-ubiquitous techniques as moving cameras and close-ups were brand new ideas, abused less and loved more.

--- Craig Brownlie


Septembers are poignant times in the lives of parents and children. At summer's end we first send our 5-year-olds off to school. They say goodbye to the cocoon of early childhood. Every September they step up to new grades, schools, and independence. Teens fall in love with autumn's renewed friendships. Then, suddenly, they're grown and off to college, travel, work: their lives. Gone. Parents keep letting go a bit more every September. Kids keep pulling away. Every September we learn that endings are new beginnings, once we let go.

Why don't these separations ever go well? Our kindergartners cry or simply run off to their new classroom, forgetting to say good-bye. We embarrass our kids at the bus stop. We linger too long or leave too soon at the college dorm. We can't ask our kids to understand what it is like for us to let them go and, try as we may, we can't really know their yearnings to leave. The contrasting pulls of bonding and separation require these moments to be both painful and sweet. There is no graceful middle.

A few weeks ago, friends asked me what it was like to "drop off" my daughter to start college. "Drop off" seemed too passive a phrase. I said, "I did not drop her off. She cut the tether on the catapult she had been stretching back for 18 years." Off she soared. I can't wait to see where she's headed.

--- Laurence I. Sugarman, MD

This week for families:

On Friday September 16, Robin Pulver, author of Axle Annie and the Speed Grump, will be atBarnes & Noble, 3349 Monroe Avenue, at 7 p.m. Free. 586-6020

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