Classic Movies for Kids: TCM “Essentials, Jr.”

A recent Facebook exchange, initiated by one of my nieces, about good books to read to your kids got me thinking about sharing some of the classics with your children. It was a short mental trip from classic books to classic movies.

Why classic movies? Any story well told in a good movie is worth watching regardless of when it was made. Every approach to story-telling, great shot, effect, technique used in cinema, had a first; a film where new ground was broken, where other directors, cinematographers, composers and actors were inspired to use the new technique and give it their own unique twist; a new iteration which would go on to influence another. A movie that comes out next week may carry within it influences dating back to George Mèliés’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon.

Just last night I saw, for the first time, Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which includes the first use of “subjective camera”–the scenes you see are first-person perspective shots, so in this case, you see what Dr. Jekyll (played by Frederich March) sees rather than Jekyll within his environment. Mamoulian only used this technique in the first few minutes of the movie. Later, Robert Montgomery in another first, would use “subjective camera” for the full length of his 1947 film-noir Lady in the Lake to great effect. Mamoulian’s Hyde was also ground-breaking in make-up effects for the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde (Wally Westmore layered several colors of make-up that, when filmed through a variety of colored filters, transformed Jekyll’s face into Hyde’s and back again. Make-up artists today still mention Westmore’s artistry when talking about their craft. I’ve posted before about how much joy I get from seeing these inspirations and influence expanding, seemingly, endlessly from a great foundation. Connections and Inspirations and 4 Films, Four Documentaries About Film

So now, which movies? How and where to begin? Well Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been providing a great “starter kit” for parents and kids–well really any classic movies fan, since 2008: Essentials, Jr. It is timed to begin around the end of the school year and this year, as last, is hosted by Bill Hader. The movies aren’t always what you might expect. One of the things I love about this series is that children are given their due for intelligence and ability to appreciate and understand. Each week on Sunday a new movie is introduced with a context and explanation as to why it was chosen for Essentials, Jr. You’ll see some fun swashbuckling, screwball comedy, serious courtroom drama, social topics, and yes, foreign language films with subtitles here.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, this would be on my list of things to share with them. It is already on my list of things to watch. Even if I’ve seen the movie, I’m bound to learn something new and interesting about it as host, Hader, introduces it; not to mention that I’ll enjoy seeing it again. I have great memories of growing up and enjoying classic films with my parents. TCM’s Essentials, Jr. can bring your family together over the classics–check them out and enjoy!

Sundays beginning in early June, probably June 1, airing at 5 PM Pacific Time…the line-up will be announced on “TCM Essentials, Jr.”
For an example of what to expect check out last season’s great line-up: 2013 “Essentials Jr.” Lineup

TCM shows movies uncut and in their original format. (And commercial-free).

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