Sharing a Smile and a Tear With My Kid

KID, THE (1921)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I made a promise that I would share my love of music and film with her. All throughout my pregnancy I cranked up the classic rock, 80’s alternative, James Brown and Frank Sinatra. My husband and I sat immediately behind Robert Osborne during a screening of Steamboat Bill Jr. at the final Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival held in Athens, Georgia. I saw a beautiful 35mm print of Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which is one of my daughter’s favorites, when I was seven months pregnant. I swear she was tapping along to “Moses Supposes.” I was watching Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954) and I went into labor just as Sabrina and Linus embrace one another on the ship. She obviously wanted to hold out to see who Sabrina ended up with. Ellie shares a birthday with Buster Keaton, October 4th, and the TCM Star of the Month at the time was my beloved Fredric March. And Ellie, short for Eleanor, is partially named after Eleanor Powell (with Roosevelt being the other namesake). We even joked that she looked like Guy Kibbee with her pudgy cheeks and bald head. This kid never had a chance.

Ellie is now six years old, and I’ve enjoyed sharing so many wonderful films with her. From MGM musicals and Powell/Loy, to screwball comedies starring Cary Grant, it’s exciting to see those films through her eyes. For a while, every time she got upset or scared she asked to watch The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which she lovingly called “the airplane movie.” I get misty just thinking about it.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been slowly introducing Ellie to silent film, specifically comedies. She has seen a few Buster Keaton movies, such as The General (1926) and Sherlock Jr. (1924), some Laurel and Hardy shorts and select scenes from Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin films. On our family movie nights, I often let Ellie decide what we watch, sometimes giving her suggestions based on movies she’s already seen and liked. Recently, Ellie and I watched Charlie Chaplin’s first feature-length film The Kid (1921), currently streaming on FilmStruck under The Masters: Charlie Chaplin theme. Other than seeing a couple of clips of Chaplin from The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936), this was Ellie’s first real introduction to The Tramp.

KID, THE (1921)

Now, I will admit that I’m a sucker for a good sentimental story, and it doesn’t take much to make me cry. Yes, I’m that crazy lady in the theater who is always sobbing uncontrollably while clutching a box of Sno-Caps. When it comes to Chaplin, there’s absolutely no way that I’ll make it through dry-eyed. When it comes to Ellie and her reaction to emotional films, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. When we sat down to watch The Kid, I knew we were in for a good crying jag.

From the very first scene, Ellie was completely transfixed. She wiped away a tear as The Woman (Edna Purviance), desperate and alone, gave up her newborn son. She laughed hysterically as The Tramp and The Child hustle to make money in their elaborate window repair scheme. She howled during the hilarious fight scene in the alley, but made sure to tell me that she knows that fighting is wrong. During the film’s famous scene when the Child is taken away from The Tramp (arguably one of Chaplin’s greatest moments), Ellie’s eyes welled with tears. After The Kid ended, Ellie sat quietly, still looking at the television. I asked her what she thought about the film, and she told me she loved it. She told me about all her favorite parts, with the dream sequence being her absolute favorite; “It’s just so silly, and exactly what dreams are like, sometimes.” Ellie had a few questions, too, mainly about orphanages and why The Woman felt like she had to give up her child. Those questions prompted me to ask her what she thought about The Child being taken away from The Tramp: “It was so sad. I don’t know why they would be mean and take him away. That’s his daddy.” After we discussed the film, Ellie enthusiastically stated that she can’t wait to watch more of Chaplin’s films. Oh, what beautiful words for this movie-loving mama to hear from her child.

There’s a common misconception that children will be bored with black and white and silent films, or that they can’t possibly understand something that was made so long ago. While no two children are alike, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If given the opportunity with carefully curated content and guidance, children can love classic film. Although they may not understand more complicated adult themes or cultural references of the period, there’s almost always something that’s easy and accessible. Ellie didn’t understand the cultural significance of the unwed mother in The Kid, but she understood the mother’s sadness. She understood The Tramp’s love for his adopted child, acknowledging that family can be different things to different people. Now more than ever, it’s important to link new generations to the past. In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen a generation slowly disappear, cutting off our direct connection to these early films. I’m doing my part to make sure that a love for classic film is alive and well in my daughter. I encourage all of you to do the same.

Jill Blake

KID, THE (1921)

9 Responses Sharing a Smile and a Tear With My Kid
Posted By Susan Doll : January 28, 2017 2:13 am

You are absolutely right about children and young adults loving classic film once they are properly introduced to it. I see this every semester when my students watch classic films in my classes. And, parents who show their children only Pixar and Disney are missing a wonderful opportunity to introduce them to a variety of movies that will entertain and delight them.

Posted By Doug : January 28, 2017 8:10 am

Thank you, Jill, for this. And also:
“Although they may not understand more complicated adult themes or cultural references of the period…”
True; as a young adult ‘alleged’ grown up I saw plenty of movies which I didn’t understand. I hadn’t lived enough to recognize themes and references. Revisiting those movies now are revelations.
So good to hear that you are passing your love of film on to your daughter-search for Laurel and Hardy’s “Bacon Grabbers” to see a certified gold silent. It even has Jean Harlow!

Posted By Emgee : January 28, 2017 2:56 pm

A six year old who loves The Best Years of Our Lives ; i love it!
That’s some good parenting says i.
She’ll be ready for Fellini and Bergman in no time.

Children are most receptive when they are very young; they become more susceptible to peer pressure when they enter puberty.
But if they learn to decide from a young age for themselves what they like or dislike, chances are they will keep that attitude for life.

Posted By George : January 28, 2017 4:03 pm

When I was younger, my favorite Chaplin feature was either CITY LIGHTS or THE GOLD RUSH, depending on which I had seen most recently. But for the last several years, THE KID has been my favorite. It’s so pure and poetic, it really is a timeless film.

It does help to have a parent or another relative who is into classic films — a gatekeeper or mentor who can introduce you to these movies at a young age. Otherwise, you might end up as one of those people who excuse having not seen the classics by saying “That was before I was born.” As if the world began with your birth.

Posted By EricJ : January 28, 2017 4:27 pm

Kids adjust better to silent comedies than you might think–Even when you’re watching a regular movie, they’re always asking “What’s happening?”, and you end up with a fun running explanation of what the character is doing in every scene.
With silent films (and you may have to read the intercards with younger kids), it becomes a fun activity that you HAVE to explain what the character is doing or “saying” through pantomime, and then an easily apparent Chaplin look or gag is funnier.

(Our youngest N&N became re-hooked on my Saturday-morning past when we dug up the old UA pantomime-gag Pink Panther cartoons on disk and Hulu–The Panther was unapologetically based on Chaplin’s mix of help and disaster, but we never had a chance to see whether the crossover appeal would have worked.
“The Kid” obviously has a hook for young kids, and so would “The Circus” and “The Rink” short, and Modern Times would work but City Lights might be a bit mushy. From there, it’s only a step to Buster Keaton (I remember seeing the “Seven Chances” bride-stampede wacky-narrated on a local station), or Harold Lloyd’s “Safety Last”, which they might already know from Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”.

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall (Caftan Woman) : January 28, 2017 6:40 pm

My daughter is also an October 4th baby. At the age of four she sat on my lap watching Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As he was being whipped she sobbed “my heart is broken”.

At a friend’s eighth birthday party she brought along a CD of The Best of Danny Kaye. By the time she was in High School she was encouraging peers to “just try” White Heat and Foreign Correspondent and Laura (Boy, did she fall hard for Dana Andrews).

Janet will soon have her Bachelor of Animation.

Many parents do many wonderful things for their children. I can’t leave her a million dollars, but I introduced her to movies.

Posted By LD : January 29, 2017 6:56 am

My son was introduced to JAWS by me. He says it was a factor in his deciding to become a marine biologist.

Posted By Jill Blake : January 29, 2017 2:44 pm

Susan– One of the first classics my daughter saw (and remembers) was BRIGADOON. Far from my favorite film, but Ellie was so taken by the bright costumes and music. I think musicals are a great gateway for little ones as most animated films feature music. It was also when she fell in love with Gene Kelly.

Posted By George : January 29, 2017 6:34 pm

Having a person in your life to introduce you to classic films is probably more important than ever. We’re long past the days when local TV stations routinely aired movies from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

In those days, as film journalist Todd VanDer Werff put it, you could ACCIDENTALLY develop an interest in old movies. You just watched what was on TV in the afternoon and late at night, and it was often Bogart, Gable and the Marx Brothers.

Now you almost need someone to point you toward the classics (and hopefully toward TCM). And, as someone mentioned, it should happen before people reach their teens and feel pressure to watch the same “cool,” “up to date” and “hip” entertainment their peers are immersed in.

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