I was enlightened last father's day not only with the annual reminder that it was father's day, but with a touching memory.
Growing up I was given much liberty with what films I could watch. There were a few handful of out of bound flicks, most of which ironically became favourites of mine (such as Tarantino's), but otherwise I was able to peruse most of the ugly stuff. In fact, I was almost encouraged.
It's possible my memories have been tainted by warmful nostalgia or that these occurances were unrelated to my gore filled childhood, but I distinctly recall two instances of my father actually describing the stories of two 'grown-up' films beloved to him to me.
The first isn't the first story you want your child to be familiar with: the first Alien movie by Ridley Scott. Whilst he didn't quite give it the ten page children's bed time story adaptation, his telling of it was certainly not through the eyes of an adult living off the thrill that the Universe is a Godless vacuum with creatures bred to kill, be born, then kill some more. He didn't hide the more gruesome aspects, describing the chest bursting scene as if through the eyes of one of Kane's doomed crew members aboard the Nostromos. I was a tad frightened, but at the same time riveted.
When it came to watching Alien not long after, I felt as if I'd seen it before, or rather that I was watching one of my childhood stories brought to life on the big screen, only with sexual overtones courtesy of H.R. Giger. Seriously that guy is wonderfully fucked up. You know one of his paintings had vaginas on meat hooks? I digress...thank christ.
The second was the Rocky movies; all of them. Whilst quite a step down from mass death aboard a spaceship, the tale of a bum turned champion-worthy boxer has everything a growing lad would want in a hero. As I grew older I finally got the chance to see the movies themselves, and Balboa became the hero to my ages. Even though I started with the ridiculous Part III and moved upwards then back to the beginning, the outwardly comical meanness of Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago turned them into the perfect villains for my action hero to take on. Maybe that's too fantastical for a boxing movie, and it sure didn't make Rocky V bearable, but I can't imagine being introduced to those movies any other way.
So here's the crux of my post: could we stifle the youth's need for restricted material by imparting it with this method of storytelling? I fail to see the danger gruesome images can have on children (of which there is already meagre evidence) if it's only through the spoken word, explained in a context they can grasp. But it's not all about the gore either; what I recall most gleefully is how enthusiastic my Dad was to tell me these truly great stories. When you tell your friend about a great violent movie you saw, unless the film itself drew points for its violence (or say, in the case of Fritz the Cat, the fact that it had cats shagging) its generally not why you recommend it. Fact is life is brutal, blunt and full of unknowns, and the stories that best encapsulate the lessons we need to learn growing up often come hand in hand with what are considered 'adult concepts'.
Obviously I wouldn't want to charge full in with children's book adaptations of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom or The Human Centipede (as FUCKING FUNNY as the latter would be), but it's certainly a concept worth musing over. Children are fragile creatures; easily frightened and naive, but at some point in our lives we've had to deal and delevop these natural shortcomings. My suggestion is that we take the anti-Hemmingway approach: 'gradually and then more gradually'.