I couldn't wait to read David Gilmour's THE FILM CLUB. I expected a funny, witty diatribe on the strangely educational aspects of movies on modern life and, especially, on teenagers, those wild and woolly consumers for whom most films are focus-grouped. However, the book turned out to be a deeply affecting parenting manual --- one that speaks directly to my own dementedly-in-love-with-movies soul.
When Gilmour allows his 15-year-old son Jesse to drop out of high school, given his steadily lowering grades and obvious disconnect to all things academic, he does so under one condition: Jesse must watch three movies a week with him and talk about them. Now, that might seem entertaining to most kids. But Jesse knows that his father, a former film critic for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, values the cinema too highly to treat it as a passing fancy. And so begins the film club --- a disarmingly fun way for a grown man to connect with his young son, to bridge the parent-child gap between them by letting movies do the hard work, coming up with what they need to talk about, coinciding beautifully at times with incidents from Jesse's own tumultuous life (especially his love life).
Gilmour breaks down the films into groups --- movies that are overrated in his opinion, movies with "buried treasures" that most filmgoers may have missed the first time around, timeless classics and classic timewasters --- and they all have something to say. Or at least Gilmour has something to say about each of them. As his son slouches from one lousy love affair to another, Gilmour finds, more often than not, a bon mot in a single frame of celluloid that can help them talk about what is really happening in modern-day Canada. It's a brilliant idea (one I adopt with my seven-year-old when the going gets rough), but the fact that he can actually lead his son into the decision he makes at the end of the book makes it a particularly special and remarkable one.
I thought I would be weeping my way through this memoir, as Gilmour passionately throws his son onto the ropes of the greats, expressing what makes the moving picture so special, while dealing with the difficulties of helping a child leave the nest as well-prepared as possible to deal with real life. And the fact that Gilmour can find the spots in the fantasy life of the movies that reflect most wisely on the real world makes him all the more enchanting a guide. But he never lapses into the sentimental (except for one passage in which he takes on fully the pain of his son's romantic agony).
Gilmour's view seems to be that the most important thing we as parents can do is to show…and listen. Show them by example (or John Ford's example or even Quentin Tarantino's) how to handle situations and then listen as the child uses this help as a jumping-off point for his own philosophizing about his personal situation. Every time Jesse calls his dad in the midst of a crisis, I think about how lucky Gilmour is and hope that I, too, am so fortunate --- that in the course of a child's life, their answer to the Ghostbusters' famous question, "Who ya gonna call?" is mom or dad, even when they're well beyond a 7:30 bedtime.
You might learn a few things about movies here, but mostly you'll learn about risky parenting and how one man's decision to save his son without shielding him from the realities of daily life by using moving art to have it all make sense became his greatest achievement. THE FILM CLUB is a great memoir and will certainly find its way to a lot of dads around Father's Day. But just about anyone can benefit from its wisdom and soft-hearted belief that love really does conquer all, in movies as much as in life.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on May 6, 2008