'The Film Club'
Thomas Allen Publishers
'A Year st the Movies'
This week I am traveling. I'm on vacation, of a sort, but like most vacations I take, it's one with a series of specific goals to achieve rather than a lot of leisure time: a wedding, a cross-country RV trip, and about a thousand relatives to visit along the way.
Not that I'm complaining. It's nice to get away, occasionally, but a trip like this does limit one's ability to see the latest Jack Black yukfest or Michael Bay sci-fi blowout. The gumption it would take to ask your father-in-law, a taciturn cowboy if ever there was one, to maneuver the motorhome up to a nearby 16-plex and hang out in the parking lot for a few hours while you run in and see the show is more than I possess.
So instead, I thought I'd change the pace a little this week and try something a little bit literary. Yes, it's a book, but it's a book about movies, so it counts.
David Gilmour, a minor television personality and occasional film critic has recently released a limited memoir chronicling the author's experiences mentoring and educating his teenage son though the medium of the movies. "The Film Club" tells of how, when Gilmour's 15-year-old son, Jesse's, grades began to plummet during his sophomore year in high school, a bizarre deal was brokered. Jesse could quit school and essentially live rent and responsibility-free on two conditions: no drugs, and he would have to consent to watching three movies a week, of his father's choosing, with Jesse's old man acting as professor and guide. The next four years would see a lot of bonding, a lot of growing up, and a lot of movies.
Though I was intrigued by the premise of this book, I have to say that I was fairly disappointed in the actual content. The idea that one might obtain a well-rounded education through a consistent diet of both classic and not-so-classic movies is, at first glance, kind of preposterous, but when you stop to think about it, maybe not. After all, high school is really more about learning how to learn, how to co-exist with others, and how to live with yourself than it is about the particular facts and figures you pick up along the way. That's the kind of stuff it would be possible to glean from a careful curriculum of movies, even if you'd be sorely light on actual hard information.
Still, it's not a plan I'd recommend, especially after reading this book. "The Film Club" is a supposedly unvarnished look at the ups and downs of a single father and his teenage son, but the vaguely self-satisfied tone of the author suggests that he thinks it all turned out better than I did.
The parts of the book that deal with films and their histories and the particular lesson to be imparted were well done and interesting. Unfortunately, much more of the book revolves around Jesse's seeming interminable series of hook-ups and break-ups, his drinking and near constant smoking, and his nascent rap career.
And his drug use, which seemed a shock to the author, but considering how few limits he put on his son, shouldn't have been. About a third of the way in, I realized that Gilmour and Co. are Canadians, and that the story takes place in Toronto, a fact that is not made readily clear early on. Perhaps a Canadian or European audience would not have found the tone of nearly limitless permissiveness so jarring, but it really made the book hard for me to read.
In the end, Jesse becomes just about what you might imagine, though David Gilmour's fatherly pride likely doesn't allow him to see it: affable, but lazy and prone to bad decision-making, woefully unaware of basic knowledge in, for example, history or geography, though with a terrific, if somewhat trivial, awareness of the language of film. The blurbs on the book jacket trumpet "The Film Club" as revelatory and "full of great ideas to use with your own kids," but to me it read more as a "How Not To" guide.
I enjoy books about movies -- reference books or "making ofs," but I also enjoy books about people watching movies, and though "The Film Club" was kind of a bust, years ago my wife bought me one that I loved.
"A Year at the Movies," by Kevin Murphy, is hilarious and full of fascinating tidbits. It documents an experiment by the author, an alum of the classic "Mystery Science Theatre" series, to watch a movie everyday for a year. While that doesn't sound terribly difficult, Murphy further limits his viewing experiences to movies projected on a big screen, or, in the case of one night in the South Pacific, a big sheet.
Not only is the book an interesting and insightful discussion of film, it's a blast following Murphy as he tries to fulfill his goal overcoming both mundane and major obstacles. One of my favorite scenes has the author and his wife sneaking an entire Thanksgiving feast into a Minneapolis Cineplex, unbeknownst to the teenage theater workers manning the box office.
This book isn't about moral lessons learned or lost, though there are some to be found, and it's not about personal growth, though there is that too. It's simply about a guy who bet that he could see a movie every day for a year and set out to prove it. There are worse ways you could spend your time.
Both "The Film Club" and "A Year at the Movies" are available in paperback.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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