Lights, camera, parenting insight?
My wife, two daughters and I recently toured Warner Brothers studio in Burbank, Calif., and I’ve been processing the intersection of movie magic and parenting ever since.
The theme of the tour was the power of illusions, beginning with the Hollywood sign itself. Our guide informed us that the original sign read “HOLLYWOODLAND,” which was the name of a real estate development in 1923. The “LAND” was dropped in 1949 but the misnomer became history.
Pulses quickened as our large golf cart entered the grounds and passed parking spots for The Big Bang Theory and the stage where Friends was recorded. Soon illusions multiplied as we explored city facades and interior sets containing Styrofoam snow, fiberglass bricks and wooden concrete. While my daughters were fascinated, I was starting to feel overly deceived by all the sleight-of-hand.
My wife and I were most surprised (and rather disappointed) by the tiny strip of grass where Phoebe’s clumsy jogging-in-Central-Park scene from Friends took place. Equally small is the strip of Chicago-style elevated train under which exterior scenes from E.R. were filmed. They say the camera adds 10 pounds; it seems to add 10 miles as well. Television was starting to seem more like tunnel vision, I lamented.
The most striking illusion for me, however, came from a surprising source: Annie (the 1982 version with Carol Burnett who “kill, kill, kills”). When we turned a corner and saw the fire escape façade where “It’s a Hard Knock Life” was performed, I admit I got a bit giddy. (As an at-home dad of two daughters for over a decade, I have been “forced” to watch that movie countless times.) While my eyes zigzagged down the staircases, the soaring soundtrack filled my ears.
Annie has always been special for me because when my oldest daughter was quite young, she had curly strawberry-blonde hair that wowed onlookers. Some would even inquire if I curled her hair. A few asked the preposterous question, “Is she wearing a wig?”
Because I was her proud father, I was also smitten with my daughter’s hair. In fact, one time a woman said “She is adorable” and in my reverie I lost my manners and replied with a smile: “I know … I mean, thank you.” It was one of those moments of blind, fully biased love that parents often feel for their children — a moment in which they leave all the drudgery of parenting on the cutting room floor.
Although I gazed lovingly at the fire escape a while longer, gradually my warm associations started to cool. As I inspected it closer, again I couldn’t believe how small it was. How could something so unassuming manage to project such a memorable illusion onto a screen and into our collective memory? I also chuckled at the irony of supposed orphans singing their hearts out on a million dollar set.
That’s when I realized I was missing the point.
These analytical observations came only after my initial moment of wonder, in which I was as smitten with the fire escape as I had been with my daughter’s curly hair. I realized then that viewing a favorite movie scene is in many ways like reveling in a treasured family memory. In a favorite scene, our eyes focus on and appreciate all that is part of the moment only. The darkened theater fosters this effect by literally blocking out as many distractions as possible. In a favorite memory, our mind does the same.
Tunnel vision, as it turns out, has its value. For parents, those magical “movie moments” from family life often lie dormant in our minds, just waiting to be evoked by an unexpected (or offscreen) association. And when they do, they have the immense power to redeem all the tedium, refresh all our energy, and remind us why we became parents in the first place.
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