Archive for February, 2009

Generation Gap at the Movies

February 15, 2009

I recently went to a screening of the movie Palo Alto, CA. Attending the show: about 60 high school kids and two other women my age; one was the director’s mom (I sat next to her), I wasn’t sure about the other. Probably, she, like me, was transportation.

The movie follows four boys, freshmen in college, home in Palo Alto for Thanksgiving weekend. The boys meet, then scatter; the movie follows each of their stories. Two of the plotlines mostly work, two mostly don’t.

But the surprise for me on the way home, discussing the movie with my teen and his friend, was that the teens completely missed the fifth, and, for me, the most interesting plotline.

For me this movie was, start to finish, homage to American Graffiti, a movie I saw in the theaters when it came out in 1973 and I was 15, the perfect target audience. My son saw it on DVD a couple of years ago and only remembers it vaguely.

The teens did get that the white T-bird occasionally glimpsed in Palo Alto, was a reference to American Graffiti, but that was it. They didn’t notice that one of the young actors looked an awful lot like a young Ron Howard, or wonder, as the white-haired old-lady character talked about her past, if she, maybe, had been the mystery girl cruising in that white T-bird back in the 60s. They didn’t connect bus driver, the only other adult in the movie, who drove around town in a deserted bus, appearing almost magically to spout philosophy, was an updated Wolfman Jack. And I’m sure there were other American Graffiti references I missed.

Though maybe, there weren’t. Maybe the young directors making this movie liked white T-birds, and the rest was all my imagination. If so, as Emily Litella used to say (another obscure reference that my kids wouldn’t understand), “never mind.”

Palo Alto without moms, kids, or strollers

February 15, 2009

51ZyAaihg0L._SL500_AA240_ It’s odd watching a movie about your home town. I just did that; I watched Palo Alto, CA., now out on DVD after a couple of showings at film festivals and in a few theaters. It gets even weirder when you catch occasional glimpses of your kid in that movie (quite a few Palo Alto teens stayed up until 2 a.m. many nights during the summer of 06, working as extras in return for free pizza).

Of course, Hollywood takes liberties when rendering any supposedly real place, so you know it’s not going to be completely authentic—while the streets and houses of Old Palo Alto were familiar, the downtown was magically imported from Los Altos, and I didn’t recognize the high school with the long indoor corridors at all. The lack of reality was a good thing in at least one instance; it meant that the beer bottle in  my teen’s hand was just a prop.

But the oddest thing was what was noticeably absent in the movie. Daylight, for one; the whole thing took place at night, late at night, on mostly deserted streets or in wild parties that, in real life, the police would have shut down by 10 pm. Police, for another; not that Palo Alto is crawling with them, but they do pass by occasionally. Adults in general were mostly missing; only two characters were over 20—a bus driver (played by Tom Arnold), and an old lady. And moms of any sort—pushing strollers, walking with children—were noticeably absent, though there was one reference to a mother inside a house (you glimpsed her silhouette through the window) as having a perfect life. This was not the Palo Alto I know.

Interesting, though, to look at Palo Alto through the eyes of young adults (the three directors were all college students), and to realize that while teens walk the same streets the rest of us do, they are truly living in a different world.

Where are the scandalous books when you need them?

February 3, 2009

0929071506.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1056507877_ “The best thing your kid can do is read for pleasure.” I hear this regularly; just about anyone who gives you advice about raising a successful student tells you this. And I do believe it, I believe that my passion for reading as a child gave me a huge boost academically (it sure wasn’t my high school’s academic offerings, anyway).

I expected my kids would be readers. When I had any free time at all, I picked up a book; my mother had to practically yank it out of my hands to get me to the dinner table. I figured, that, as a mother, I’d be in the same situation, telling my kids to put the book down already.

But, instead I’m dragging them away from the computer. When my kids have time to kill, the first thing they think of is going online, seeing who’s chatting, what’s new on  Facebook, or playing a game. The situation is getting a little better, they have friends who read, trade books back and forth, and at least are getting addicted to reading in bed. But they don’t seem to feel the panic I do if I don’t have a book in progress at all times; after all, the computer is always there.

I’m not blaming it all on the computer, though. I think a big part of the problem is that we haven’t had any really “adult” books create a scandal in a long time, the kind of books that everyone talks about in slightly appalled tones, the kind that kids absolutely shouldn’t be reading, so of course will at the first opportunity.

In the 50s, that book was Peyton Place. It caused endless scandals, and I’m sure turned many young teens into readers. (I read it recently for my book club, it wasn’t bad, but, these days, not so scandalous.)

I remember three from my 60s childhood, that I’d heard enough about before they came into our house that I was eager to sneak off with them as soon as I possibly could: Valley of the Dolls (1966), Lord of the Flies (originally published in the 50s but not a bestseller until the mid 60s), and Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). These three were full of drugs, violence, and sex (pretty much in that order). Completely inappropriate for a preteen, somewhat incomprehensible, but a great entry-level drug for a lifetime addiction to reading.

I’m not sure how far a book would have to go to scandalize folks these days—the books targeted at my kids (like the Traveling Pants books) are pretty explicit to begin with. But if one does come out, I plan on accidentally leaving it out (maybe on the bathroom counter) once I finish reading it myself.