Sunday, February 27, 2011

At the Movies

For us hardcore movie maniacs the signs at Blockbuster Video trumpeting a ‘Going Out of Business Sale’ were like manna from heaven. And from the look of things inside their stock may not last through the final six weeks. After a long and good look through the DVDs for sale I left empty-handed but knowing that prices will be lower on my next visit.

Movies on my mind, I wandered two doors down to the small Books A Million subsidiary and in their dollar box out front came upon a book with the tantalizing cover blurb, ‘The true story of a father who let his son drop out of school—if he watched three movies a week.’ Had I known they existed I would have begged for such a father.

The book is The Film Club, a 2008 memoir by David Gilmour, a brave and engaging story of a father’s decision to allow his sixteen year-old son to quit school. Jesse is a smart, bright sophomore in high school failing all his classes, unable to find the interest or drive to get passing grades. His father is perplexed, unsure of a solution but deeply concerned in his search for an answer. At a dead end finally, he comes up with an idea that would sound insane to most parents, but one that in his heart he believes will ultimately work out for the best. He allows Jesse to drop out of school, no need to get a job or to pay any expenses but with two conditions: He cannot do drugs and he must watch three movies a week with his father, all movies to be chosen by Dad.

Whatever deficiencies this plan may have, it does provide one hard to come by opportunity—the chance for father and son to connect at a time when most sixteen year-olds are doing the opposite and shutting out their parents. Gilmour uses movies to open a doorway of discovery for father and son, hoping that the movies will allow his son some release from the pressures and tangles of adolescence while also making subtle points about life and how it’s lived, good or bad. As a father (and former film critic) Gilmour understands that the power of stories can in many instances convey what can’t be articulated in other ways. He relies on the movies giving insights into life, letting the stories bring forward what fathers and sons need to talk about. It would be inaccurate to suggest that the movies become ‘life lessons’ for young Jesse, but they do serve the purpose of example, and in many ways open a window into the making of art.

In a large way the movie watching of father and son becomes nothing less than a three year seminar in film appreciation. Gilmour is an astute critic and throughout the book offers pithy observations of the movies at hand. He describes the classic Steve McQueen movie, Bullit as having ‘the authority of stainless steel.’ He recalls his first viewing of The Exorcist this way: “I remember emerging from the Nortown theater that summer afternoon and thinking that there was something wrong with the sunlight.” With another film it is the way Robert Mitchum ‘drifts through a movie with the effortlessness of a cat wandering into a dinner party.’

A part of Gilmour’s story in The Film Club is a reflection on fatherhood in the sense of watching and knowing that the day will come when a son outgrows the need for his father. Hard in this book’s 217 pages not to be strongly moved by the struggle and the courage of this father and son.

Jesse Gilmour passed his GED exam and is now a student at the University of Toronto.

For those wondering, at the end of the book there is a list of the 119 movies father and son watched together.


  1. Pulled out my copy and am 50+ pages into it and now know exactly why I bought it several months ago. I can never remember my father ever seeing a movie at a theatre. Surely he did at some point earlier in his life. Like you, we got our film educations (and other kinds as well) at the Paramount, Hart, Ogden, Gordon, and all three drive-ins of our youth: the Tiger, Rebel, and Airline.

  2. The decision on that father would one of the most difficult in the world. I would get so bored watching 3 movies a day. Interesting post.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America