Movies are a unique form of entertainment since the year 1896, when Thomas Edison aired the first movie, The Kiss (Also referred to as The May Irwin Kiss, The Rice-Irwin Kiss and The Widow Jones).. “They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time “ Thomas Edison Film Company Catalog.
The movie set off sparks of controversy, as it was the first time in that era that a long and passionate kiss was seen on the movie screens. It seems as if the roots of Hollywood sexualism were laid from the very first movie ever shown. Movies, of course are rooted in an age old tradition of theatre which goes back thousands of years to ancient Greece and Rome.
The origins of the Greek theatre can be found in the worship of the god of fertility and wine, Dionysus. The tragedy is an ancient concept around which much theatre to this day revolves, Romeo and Juliet, the modern West Side Story, to the ancient Greek tragedies have a resemblance. One explanation of the word tragedy is the Geek words “tragos” for goat, and “ode” meaning hymn or lamentation. Goats (tragoi) were the priests of god Dionysus and during festivals for this god, a goat was sacrificed while songs of lamentation were sun by satyrs, for the sacrificed animal. The satyrs were members of the chorus disguised as animals (goats). Another definition of the word tragedy is “a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure."
The word "hypocrite" comes from ancient theatre and means basically “to reply”. The hypocrite, or leading actor, was the one replying to the chorus. The word eventually came to have a more diabolical meaning, that of a person who says one thing but has something to hide on the other side. One can see how ancient actors were referred to as the “original” hypocrites.
From the combination of the lyric and epic elements, along with dances of the chorus, the tragedy, ancient comedy, and satiric drama was born, which are three types of plays that the Greek theatre featured.
Tragedies abounded in ancient theatre, even as they abound in modern theatre. Roman tragedies gave way to tragedies of the Rennaisance period, and finally the Shakesperean era. Shakespear’s tragedies included Anthony and Clopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Julet, Timon of Athens, Titus Ardronicus. Operas of tragedy have also been produced throughout the centuries.
Modern Films and Children's Movies
This brings us to modern film and children’s movies. There are countless modern movies of tragedy. Children’s movies also, of a tragic nature, capture the hearts of children, adults and teens. Perhaps two of the most well known examples might be Bambi and Dumbo. In both movies, deep emotional bonding takes place between the main characters, other prominent characters in these films, and their mothers. In both Bambi and Dumbo, the mothers of the protagonists are tragically killed, in Bambi’s case, after a wild and violent hunting scene, in the case of Dumbo, after the mother runs amuck, basically losing her sanity.
While Dumbo has always been a children’s movie, one of Disney's lower budget films, which, unlike some of his more extravagant productions, made money for the company, Bambi was originally an adult-oriented novel with a deeper message, thought to have been written by Felix Salten, (real name Siegmund Salzmann) an Austrian Jew in pre-Nazi times who fled the country before the Nazis began their assault, as many Jews of that time did. What was exceptional about Salten was that he also was the author of the German speaking world’s most enduring "pornographic classic" Josephine Mutzenbacher, The Life Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself, which to this day has spawned scores of pornographic movies, still being viewed in Germany and Austria. This work predates Bambi, (1926) and the novel Bambi was a serious book with both violence. and hints of sexuality and even dabs of incestuous love. As one librarian stated about Salten’s book, “I wouldn’t recommend it for children, you have to be a little older.” The movie Bambi is listed as 20th in a list of the top 25 horror movies of all time.
Time magazine states,
“Amazing that the first movies parents took their tots to in the 30s and 40s were the early Disney features. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo all exploited childhood traumas. Parents disappear or die; stepmothers plot the murder of their charges; a boy skips school and turns into a donkey. Kids were so frightened by these films that they wet themselves in terror. Bambi, directed by David Hand, has a primal shock that still haunts oldsters who saw it 40, 50, 65 years ago.”
When commenting on the violence of Spielberg movies such as Jaws and Jurassic Park, which is where one might get the idea that something is terribly wrong with the state of today’s children, in the suburban movie theatre where I saw Jurassic Park, the front row of little movie-goers jumped up in delight with their hands outstretched with joy, as the evil Tyranesouraus Rex ripped his sharp teeth through the roof of the Jeep holding a slightly goofy and somewhat obnoxious, none-the-less, not such a bad or evil oaf, reporter. Why did every ten year old in the audience find morbid delight in this murder?
While the violence of Jurassic Park and its effect on children has been debated, some have said, look at Bambi. "Which child's psyche was not permanently scarred by the hunter who shot Bambi's mother? Who didn't have nightmares about the Evil Queen in Snow White, or the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz? You began to wonder whether these experts were cloned in Hollywood by the Jurassic Park promotion crew.” PETER PRINGLE, writer for The Independent, New York, as he writes in Life and Style.
Spielberg is well-known for his quote on Bambi, how the movie made him both cry and loose sleep. Many children have commented on the nightmares they experience from “scary movies” as well as nightmares from classic children’s movies which have scenes of intermittent terror or horror. (Wizard of Oz is singled out by child psychiatrist Peter Neubauer as being the most disturbing movie for children, especially for children without deep emotional attachments. The transformation of neighbors into evil witches and menacing sorcerers is more than some little psyches can handle and can effect a child’s view of the world and of others, in his analysis.)
Horror Movies for Young Children
For a generation whose parents and grandparents were raised on the entertainment of Bambi and Dumbo, the violence taken to the optimum level resonates in the classroom of middle school and grade school city children, whose conversations often revolve around Chucky, the new Nightmare on Elmstreet movie, and the psychopathic Freddy Kruger. “I want to see Nightmare on Elmstreet and Freddy Kruger tonight,” Friday, discusses one middle school student with another. When I go home, “I’m going to watch Chucky,” three 7th graders agree, a movie that most 2nd graders in Newark are very well familiar with.
While some parents take their nine-year-old daughters to see Dawn of the Dead, there are a few who do set limits on their children’s bloodlust on television and in the movies. For these parents, one has to wonder, that when their children grew up, that these children might be more compassionate and well-adjusted than those who are saturated with the raw violence and horror that has its roots with children’s movies that we all grew up with.
Yes, violent and horror movies do affect the mental health of children, adolescents and even adults. For a more compassionate child and teen, stick to real nature flicks.
1. First Kiss in Cinematic History. Classic Movie Gab.(April 11, 2010).
2. Josephine Mutzenbacher, The Life Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself. Ehrfurcht.com. (Ehrfurcht Magazine celebrates the erotic aspects of the roaring twenties and some other classy decades). (Retrieved May 2, 2010).
3. Pringle, Peter. (June 19,1993). If you can't stand the velociraptor, get out of the kitchen: From Stephen Spielberg, a summer of prehistoric hype and terror in Jurassic park, America is already in its grip; on 16 July it begins to eat in Britain. A shaken Peter Pringle reports from New York. The Independent. Life and Style.
4. Schons, Paul A. (September 2000). Bambi the Austrian Deer. Originally published by the Germanic-American Institute in September, 2000.
5. Top 25 Horror Movies. (2010). Time Magazine.
The Association for Youth, Children and Natural Psychology (AYCNP) publishes the ADHD book Overcoming ADHD Without Medication: A Parent and Teacher's Guidebook. The AYCNP ADHD books are available in English and Spanish.