Fun for the whole family, the ad for the movie said. (I was relieved to know that it wasn’t zany or lafF-packed, although later I would have settled for that.) Our kids, then eight and 13, deserved a celebration for lasting through the final day of school before Christmas vacation, so, loaded with grotesque candy and Cokes, we took in Steven Spielberg’s inevitable Christmas offering, *Batteries Not Included.
The movie was made for kids, with obvious good guys and bad guys, an early hint of what everyone over six knows will turn into a romance, and the cutest little doe-eyed flying alien soup cans to hit the big screen since E.T. came out of the closet. Good clean fun. Watching our kids giggle, my husband and I smiled at each other in self-congratulation: we should do this more often.
And then the gigantic painted breasts lit up the screen and hung there for what seemed forever.
The movie wasn’t about breasts. It was about love and fidelity and determination. And yet someone making a salary in the high seven figures thought it necessary to move in for a 27-second close-up of that painting, those breasts looming larger than Volkswagens.
We’re to blame, I guess. We put the kids in the car and took them there.
Last year, near the beginning of Harry and the Hendersons, a truly gentle movie, the film-family’s young son shouted, “Holy s—t.” Our son, who can’t remember to turn off the water after he washes his hands (which, admittedly, isn’t often), remembered that word as we were driving home. He reminded us that it was wrong, which was gratifying, but for crying out loud, we took him to that movie. We wanted him to see it. What’s a kid supposed to think?
Then there was the night when he was suffering from chicken pox and feeling generally miserable. I rented the best medicine I could think of: a Disney movie about a baby dinosaur. He cuddled on my lap and watched (a) a savage human stabbing, (b) a baby dinosaur taken cruelly from his mother, (c) a long scene where shots were pumped into the mother dinosaur, (d) her agonizing death as Baby watched, and (e) endless minutes of full-backal and half-frontal nudity culminating in (f) a sweaty lovemaking scene. The person who invented fast-forwarding deserves a Nobel.
But it’s still those breasts that fill me with wonder. They were more gratuitous and more disruptive than anything I’ve seen in months. It’s not as though they were designed to entice adult males into the theater: no one who would pay $4 to sit in the midst of crunching runts and nerds and (inevitably) in front of a kicker, just to glimpse half a minute of a bad painting of breasts—no one who would do this is a major consideration of the moviemarketing industry.
For starters, moviemakers are prodigal idiots. They used to have our complete trust, and look what they’ve done with it. On the other hand, we’re the ones who keep taking our kids to see these movies. We’re to blame for not squandering three hours and spending upwards of $3.75 per person (slightly less for a tape) to screen, privately, every film we think our children would enjoy. Our only excuse is that life is short and kiddie art is long and expensive, but if that’s what it takes to be good parents, we should do it. (How about a special ticket for parents who want to screen movies, which will get them in for free the second time if they bring at least one child back with them? How about offering parents detailed written descriptions of movies? How about making “parental guidance” more of a realistic possibility, if it’s suggested by the movie’s rating?)
Something’s been lost before I ever had a chance to appreciate it. I remember being loaded into the back of a station wagon with my brother, both of us in our pajamas (and nobody was buckled up!), to go to the drive-in with our parents. It was Iowa summer, still hot and very light when we left the house, and as the cicadas throbbed we ate homemade popcorn until dark, watched whatever was showing until we got tired, and then lay on the foam my father had put in the back and punched each other until we fell asleep. We didn’t go to the drive-in often, but when we did it was an occasion made even more special by its impetuousness. Our parents were secure in their faith that Walt Disney or John Wayne or Jerry Lewis would be all that the family hoped for, and more.
It’s irresponsible for a parent to be impetuous these days. I still love the movies, but now if one merely makes me laugh or cry, I count it a success. I’ve stopped hoping for whatever it was we used to know we’d find. Integrity, maybe.
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