"I want you to watch three movies a week with me. I pick them. It's the only education you're going to get."
After a series of conversations with friends on "the art" of watching movies, I come across The Film Club, a memoir by film critic and writer David Gilmour. He chronicles the three years he spent with his son, who dropped out of school, watching movies three times a week. Parenting and films make a combination that's too ideal, too sappy at least to a cynical eye---no, thankfully not a sequel to Tuesdays With Morrie---but David's candid prose shows it as it is, a father's love is awkward, and an awkward, second-guessing kind of love is more fascinating only because it is all too familiar. It's what great movies are about; it's why we stare at the ceiling on sleepless night. The father-son relationship that David draws at the beginning is naturally strange and detached, with nothing much in common, no actual emotional anchor, drifting rudderless. And then the movies arrive.
The film club begins with Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows. David explains, "I figured it was a good way to slide into European art films, which I knew were going to bore him until he learned how to watch them. It's like learning a variation on regular grammar." I loved the thought process that went behind every film he showed his son, Jesse.
If love is a mixtape, then David carefully prepared his with films; movies that became dialogues on morality and romance, cinematography that evoked buried regrets, acting tics that magnified the meaning of gestures, and plots that hinted at possible futures. Ranging from the thoughtful violence of Akira Kurosawa's Ran to the self-destructive fireworks of the documentary Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry, from the talky Annie Hall to the quiet musing of Chungking Express, Jesse was exposed to varying degrees of artistry and failures, of crucial movements in film history as well as guilty pleasures that resonated with sheer entertainment above vision or message.
The memoir's most urgent pleasure comes from David's contagious love for cinema and his critical eye that taught Jesse, and the readers of the memoir as well, how to deconstruct a scene or read meaning in frame compositions without sounding stiff (like I just did) and hifalutin. "Watch out for this scene," David usually goes and as fan of movies myself, I had to dig out dusty VHS tapes or DVDs so I could go along for the ride down Film 101. The writing is irresistible this way.
But at its heart, The Film Club is about a father who is learning to let go of his son, and a son finally realizing his place in the scheme of things turbulent and heartbreaking. The movies in between gave David and Jesse a common ground---a bubble, so to speak---where they could figure out what to do next together. The figuring out part turned out to be the best part in both their lives.
I could have finished the book in one sitting but this is the type to savor. And I assure you, you'll probably be popping Kurosawa's Ran or may be even Verhoeven's Showgirls in your player anytime soon.
Here they are, the Gilmour Boys.