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FIRST-PERSON: Manners, respect and family return to movies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–In the recent theatrical release “Take the Lead,” a new teacher, waiting in the principal’s outer office, rises to open a door every time a lady approaches. This causes a student to ridicule him until the gentlemanly act finally hits home. At the end of the scene, the boy is also opening the door for the opposite sex. It’s called manners, and “Take the Lead” (PG-13, excessive language) is trying to reunite them with a generation that has learned etiquette from Homer Simpson and the stars of the “American Pie” movies.

The film is loosely based on the life of Pierre Dulaine, who formed a dance company that to date has taught 7,500 children free of charge. Dulaine participated in the making of “Take the Lead” and was respected by the moviemakers. “He’s easy to understand and treats everyone with respect,” said one cast member.

That was the key word from each interviewed –- respect.

In “Killer Diller,” (PG-13, language) the young protagonist speaks up for Christ when someone attempts to belittle those of faith. There are several other positive messages in this family comedy/drama, including looking out for one another and sacrificing for others. From the upcoming movie “Hoot” (PG, language) teen viewers and their younger siblings learn lessons about doing what’s right, and in Robin Williams’ comedy “RV” (PG, language) the importance of family is exalted. Says “RV” producer Douglas Wick, “There’s too much separation in our culture, families are looking to connect.”

There is an irony to this reawakening need for family togetherness and the other positive movie messages listed above. In the late 1960s, members of the entertainment industry began to rebel not just against political and capitalistic establishments, but against any attributes having to do with the previous generation. Admittedly, that celluloid rebellion was a reflection of the times, but if you watch the films of that era, you’ll see that Hollywoodland nurtured that pop counterculture (“Easy Rider,” “The Graduate,” “MASH,” etc.). And when religious folk balked at the media’s redefining of morals, they were ridiculed by the artistic community’s murmuring majority.

Today, the grandchildren of the free-love generation are aware that there is a problem with their culture. They just aren’t sure what it is.

But all is not lost. Despite the cinema’s often graphic crudity, there are people in show business who believe propriety and regard for others should be included in their stories.

“Sometimes society forgets about kids that are in urban neighborhoods and public schools … but if you put in a little attention and a little love, the results are magnificent. You can literally change society,” said Antonio Banderas, the star of “Take the Lead.”

“I loved the idea,” actor Robin Williams said of the family being brought together in RV, “The family is forced to deal with one another.”

Director Barry Sonnenfeld added, “What’s interesting about this project is that it gave me the opportunity to explore the nature of families…. Placing the family together in this recreational vehicle causes them to reconnect.”

Courtesy, civility and family togetherness are foreign to many due in part to a lifetime of media choices. Indeed, you’ll find very few movies or TV shows that cultivate these qualities. Those listed above are the infrequent exceptions. Sadly, I don’t see this trend changing in the near future. So what’s the answer, parents? You. Don’t accept bad manners or a belittling of family values from your kids or from your movie choices. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6.)

Sorry, nobody said it was going to be easy.
Phil Boatwright reviews movies from a Christian perspective. For his detailed reviews of the films listed here, visit www.previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright