My favorite family activity is Family Movie Night. Since our first one, which was somewhat accidental, this tradition has become one of my favorites.
The 4 Unwritten Rules of Family Movie Night:
1. Family Movie Night is never scheduled.
I cannot bear having one more obligation so our kids movie night is whenever I call it. It’s infrequent and spontaneous.
2. It’s just the four of us.
No friends or extended family are invited.
3. We have special food.
We always have an easy dinner and a delicious dessert right there in the living room in front of the TV.
4. We only watch old movies.
This one is the best rule. And also a secret rule. I still haven’t explicitly told my kids that FMN is actually OMN (Old Movie Night). They’re catching on, but I think they’re hoping that I’ll slip in a little Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler. Fine comedic actors, both, but neither is invited to our special nights.
I didn’t set out to start an OMN. This happened spontaneously because my kids were bored and I was tired. Rear Window was on TV but they wrinkled their noses at the idea so I bribed them with sweets to keep them in front of the TV.
At first, my kids (then ages 10 and 12) couldn’t understand how the characters spoke, not just their cadence and inflections, but also how little they spoke. If you haven’t watched an older film in a while, you will be surprised, maybe even a little unnerved, by how little pressure the screen writers felt to plug every moment with dialogue. Old movies move slowly. They build.
The kids acted like they accomplished something important after they watched Rear Window. And yes, they slept that night, even though they often find excuses to come down because they “heard a noise”. Perhaps they didn’t feel tricked or spooked by Rear Window because it is so smart and it made them feel smart, too. Steadily it earned their approval, and so they felt like willing participants in the experience rather than hijacked observers.
From there we watched Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, and Young Frankenstein. This one got a lot of groans when we started because “It’s black and white!!” But as soon as Gene Wilder stabbed himself in the leg and slowly announced, “Class…is…dismissed,” they fell for it, hook, line and scalpel.
Older movies have a sharp sense of humor that current family movies don’t. Sure, I get a kick out of a fart joke every now and then, but how many before the whole thing just stinks? I want to expose my kids to smart humor, like when Butch and Sundance are in the middle of a gunfight with the Bolivian police and they run low on ammunition.
Butch: We’re going to run out unless we can get to that mule and get some more.
Sundance: I’ll go.
Butch: This is no time for bravery. I’ll let ya.
But most of all, old movies give us time to slow down our busy lives. They earn our trust. The pace is slow and the plot builds gradually.
In a time when kids are being trained to multitask everything and the media expects them to stay focused for no more than 3 seconds flat, I appreciate my kids being pleasantly stilled.