Now that my son is a true teenager, he’s been asking to see films made for mature audiences. Films like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” (which he learned from Ty Burr’s book “The Best Old Movies for Families” can be a hair-raising rite of passage).
Being the cautious, sensitive mom type, I’m wanting to hold off on “Psycho” a while longer. Same goes for the film rendition of the Broadway hit “Rent,” which my teen is also dying to view as soon as possible.
Instead, I’ve directed him towards old “Twlight Zone” episodes from the early 1960s that I’m renting from our local video store. Good call, if I must say so myself (and I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I didn’t say so myself quite a lot).
This thrilling old 30-minute mystery/sci-fi TV show was always narrated (and often written) by Rodman Edward (“Rod”) Serling. And it was the hottest thing on television in the early days of the Kennedy Administration. I remember watching the reruns religiously when I was a teen, and as I viewed some of them with my son this past weekend, I realized that Serling taught me lessons in narrative structure and ironic O’Henry-ish mechanisms like my own personal writing coach way back when.
Also interesting to me is the tidbit that Serling was born Jewish, but became a Unitarian. As an author, he pondered the big questions: Why are we here? How do we find meaning? What brings out the highest in humankind? Where do our goals stand in the scheme of time? Here’s a more elaborate profile of him as a spiritual thinker. He processed the biggest themes of his era through his televised program, and devoted whole episodes to the dangers of fascism, the role of the state, etc. Some episodes directly deal with the Holocaust also.
Serling’s thirty-minute “Twlight Zone” mind teasers always have moral lessons embedded in them, and I’m happy to say the shows seem to be reaching my new teen in deep places. I can see that he sort of feels “smart” as he watches, in the same way one might feel stimulated and challenged by a good game of chess.
This weekend, we saw the episode that features Burgess Meredith as the hen-pecked bookworm who wants nothing more than to be alone with his books. A nuclear war strikes, he alone survives, he makes his way to a library, and then–just as he’s about to embrace his solitary dream–his reading glasses break, and he can’t read a thing!
Sadly, Serling chain-smoked and demanded so much of himself as an artist, that he died of cancer in his early fifties. In these re-runs, he’s very much alive again, opening each episode with this famous intro:
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of a man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call the Twilight Zone.
This is spiritual parenting dream material! You can buy all 156 Twilight Zone episodes on Amazon.com for $170.