Being the first in a very occasional--who's surprised?--series of posts on film-related books.
If I'm being honest with myself, and with you, I probably first learned of David Gilmour's brisk memoir The Film Club in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, a magazine I started reading during my video store days and to which I continue to subscribe so that I can front to the young people about pop culture without actually, you know, having to watch fucking "Family Guy."
Anyway, Gilmour's book details the three years during which he and his teenage son Jesse watched three movies a week in lieu of Jesse continuing to attend high school. Dad gets to pick the flicks, son can live rent- and job-free as long as he watches and stays off drugs. Awesome, right?
But Gilmour's not gunning for some sort of adolescent-awarded Dad of the Year prize. He's just trying not to lose his not-cut-out-for-school son forever. His proposed curriculum might not fly with most parents, but Gilmour's fortunate to get on well with his ex-wife [Jesse's mom] and to be married to an understanding woman. Also, when the cinematic home-schooling begins he's a little lost, too, scrabbling for writing gigs and trying to keep all the balls in the air. So, the guy's got the time.
They begin with The 400 Blows ["A bit boring"] and, for dessert, Basic Instinct ["You have to admit it, Dad--this is a great film."] and go on from there. Setting up each film sees Gilmour toggle between self-aware pedant and seducer, psychologist and parent. Between screenings, Jesse gets mired in his first poisonous relationship, goes off the rails, gets another girlfriend, goes off the rails, gets some shitty and shady jobs [of his own accord], and starts writing music.
Otherwise, he and his dad watch movies. After Crimes and Misdemeanors: "I think I'd like Woody Allen in real life." Later, crushing his boomer father, Jesse deems A Hard Day's Night, "Dreadful. And John Lennon was the worst of the bunch." Still, Gilmour presses on, picking movies arbitrarily and making up games like "spot-the-great-moment. This meant a scene or a bit of dialogue or image that snaps you forward in your seat, makes your heart bang." Following from there, he designs a stillness unit, examining "how to steal a scene from all the actors around you by not moving." Some of his choices [Around the World in 80 Days] don't live up to his own memories, others occasion all-too-rare-at-that-age serious conversations with his son.
The Film Club is a quick read, affectionate and frank. But I have to admit what moved me most was the faint traces left by another reader of the book [which I borrowed from the university library]. After I came across this passage
I noticed a faint crease at the top corner of the page, where someone had dog-eared it. From there, I hunted for others, finding four more, including the page with the bit about Woody Allen above, a description of Hitchcock as "a bit of a prick with a mildly unhealthy thing for some of the blond actresses in his films," and a passage saying that The Godfather II's Al Pacino "has the poised, 'held-in' feel of a moray eel at the mouth of a cave."
But better still were the faint dots next to some of the titles in Gilmour's filmography at the end of the book. Had one of my former students been the mysterious reader? Could be--Butch Cassidy, Casablanca, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, and Singin' in the Rain each got a dot. At the least, I'd be willing to wager the reader was an undergrad, given that certain titles [Blue Velvet, Pulp Fiction, Tootsie], to me seemingly inescapable simply by virtue of being alive and a certain age at the time, remained unmarked.
I'm fighting the impulse to divine somehow this book-defacer's identity, to urge him or her to watch Notorious on [horrors] VHS if necessary. Instead, let me recommend The Film Club to you, as a beach read and an idiosyncratic syllabus for rainy vacation days. If you buy the book, consider leaving it behind at the summer share for others to discover. If you borrow it, don't despair: I've transcribed The Film Club filmography for your continued reference after the due date rolls around. So don't write in the library's book!