Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lunch and a Movie

When I began home schooling my daughter Leah nearly two years ago, I had no plan and few ideas on how to guide her education. One day, desperately flailing about for an activity, I suggested we go to the morning movie at our beautifully-restored downtown cinema, the State Theater. Every Wednesday, the State shows a classic movie for 25 cents, the same price charged when it first opened as the Lyric in 1916.

This activity, followed by lunch at one of the many terrific downtown restaurants, has become a ritual for us. Regardless of weather conditions or our personal health, we walk downtown every Wednesday morning for a movie and lunch.

I have come to appreciate the educational value of films so much that I've referred to the State and Netflix as my two most important curriculum partners. Through film, to which my daughter responds with enthusiasm and attention that no printed matter comes close to inspiring in her, I have taken her around the world and through history. Her French lessons are supported by Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris; a unit on western expansion became visual, thanks to Netflix, through "Dances with Wolves" and (for the pre-enlightened treatment) "How the West was Won".

The Wednesday classic movies follow a monthly theme, often honoring an actor, director or writer, but sometimes a genre or inspiration. Previous months have celebrated Woody Allen, Lena Horne, John Hughes, and 1939. So far this year, we've had the themes of "great dads", classic romances, spring musicals, and Cary Grant. In the past two years of Wednesday classics, I'll roughly estimate that I've seen fewer than half of these films previously. Even when it's a film I know, screening it at the State is like seeing it for the first time. Watching "Out of Africa" on the State's magnificent screen, sitting in the most comfortable theater seats on the planet, was an experience that so eclipsed television viewing that it moved me to tears, almost through the entire movie!

Yesterday, segueing from Cary Grant month to what appears to be either Stanley Donen or Aubrey Hepburn month (entire May schedule not yet released), we were treated to "Charade", an exquisite film I'm embarrassed to say I'd never before seen in its entirety. Audrey Hepburn's hats! Cary Grant's charm! This film had everything: perfect direction, tight screenplay, witty dialogue, suspense, thrilling chase scenes (in high heels), romance, Henry Mancini score, and Paris. Two thumbs up, and I rate it 10/10.

Over lunch, we discuss the film and I'll mention scenes or features that I find illuminating. One of my favorite examples of film as a time capsule comes from Woody Allen's "Play it Again, Sam". He pays tribute to Humphrey Bogart and "Casablanca," references I had to explain afterwards to Leah as she had not seen "Casablanca" (although she soon became acquainted with Bogey when his films were featured). The most striking time warp aspect of "Play it Again, Sam" involved the use of the telephone. Great comedy was made of one character (the Laszlo equivalent) so devoted to his work that he couldn't be out of touch from his office; the first thing he did when he entered a house, restaurant, bar or gallery was to call his office and leave the house phone number. No cell phones back in the 1970s! We spent much time discussing how this comedic turn would need to be rewritten today.

When I mentioned to some friends last year that I was using movies as curriculum, one told me of another parent who home schooled his son using only movies and wrote a book about it. As usual for me, I read reviews of the book, The Film Club: A Memoir, by David Gilmour, who had a special expertise in the area as he is a professional film critic. Despite my lack of expertise, I've been comforted that a curriculum of only film could work out well for a teenager. (I've supplemented the films with a standard 8th grade curriculum from an online school this year).

Our mother-daughter Wednesday film club will be ending in September, as Leah has chosen to enroll in the nearby high school. These past two years have been among the most rewarding of my life, and I hope it has served her well. Although I'll miss her company beyond measure, I'm excited for her as she takes this important step into the world. And I know we will continue to enjoy movies together in the evenings and weekends.

My deepest appreciation to all the volunteers and donors who have made the State Theater such a gem in our community, and particularly the leadership and dedication of Michael Moore.


  1. Just lovely, Sharon. I am moved to tears myself and so happy that it has been a good experience for you and Leah. I am also very happy that she has decided to give high school a try. And on this Mother's Day weekend, I have to say how much I miss my mother who introduced me to a lifelong love of the movies.

  2. Thanks, Jill, and happy mother's day to you!