Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Film Club--David Gilmour

David Gilmour was afraid for his son. Jesse was miserable in high school, and Gilmour's attempts to help were creating a rift between them. "You've lost the school battle," the author, in an interview with CBC TV, recalls his wife (Jesse's stepmother) telling him. "Don't lose the kid."

In an act of desperation, Gilmour offers his 15 year old a deal: if you'll watch three movies of my choosing per week with me, you can quit school. Jesse agrees, and the Film Club is born.

Thus begins the process of unschooling (or deschooling): Gilmour picks DVDs that contain what he thinks his son most needs. At times the focus is on film production, good writing or good acting. Other times, he picks a theme to fit the issues Jesse is dealing with in real life. Surprisingly, given that Gilmour is a former film critic, The Film Club gives a fairly superficial treatment of the movies themselves. Jesse himself seems less interested in his dad's opinions about movies, than his reassurances and reflections about girls, about what makes a real man, and whether Jesse's becoming one:
Then he said, "Do you think it was unmasculine of me to have cried?"
"When we were breaking up. She was crying too."
"I can imagine."
"But you don't think I was a baby or anything?"
I said, "I think there would have been something wrong with you, something cold and unpleasant, if you
hadn't cried.
For homeschooling parents or those considering pulling their kids out of school, Gilmour's film choices may not be the best guide. (Showgirls but not Schindler's List? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but not The Tuskegee Airmen? Robocop but not Roots?) But as a portrait of a father-son relationship in transition from adolescence into adulthood, this memoir is at once poignant, heartwarming, and distressing. Trading those last years of school for more freedom and more time together was a risk on Gilmour's part, but, as he says in the CBC interview, Jesse "was becoming who he is, and just because I couldn't tell what he was becoming doesn't mean he wasn't becoming something. I just knew enough to stand back and water this exotic plant and have faith that it would actually reach towards the sun, not towards the sewer."

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