David Gilmour: The Film Club (2007) A Touching Memoir of a Father and His Teenage Son Watching Their Way Through Cinema History

It was an unconventional deal: Jesse could leave school, sleep all day, not work, not pay rent – but he had to watch three films a week … of his father’s choosing. Week by week, side by side, father and son watch the world’s best (and occasionally worst) films – from True Romance to Chungking Express, A Hard Day’s Night to Rosemary’s Baby, Showgirls to La Dolce Vita. The films get them talking – about girls, music, heartbreak, work, drugs, money, love, friendship – and they open doors to a young man’s interior life at a time when parents are normally shut out. Gradually, the son develops from a chaotic teenager into a self-assured young adult, but as the film club moves towards its bittersweet and inevitable conclusion, Jesse makes a decision which surprises even his father… The Film Club is a book that goes straight to the heart. Honest, unsparing and poignant, it is the true story of one man’s attempt to chart a course for his beloved son’s rocky passage into adulthood.

David Gilmour’s The Film Club was one of the few books that I bought following a recommendation in a book shop. You know those corners where the staff piles up the books they read during the year and liked a lot? Well, this was on one of them. It is not only a memoir – the non fiction genre I like best – but a book that speaks extensively about movies. It isn’t a literary masterpiece, it is no The Liar’s Club or The Glass Castle, but it is very, very entertaining and quite touching. Gilmour is very outspoken when it comes to feelings. He writes as easily about joy as about anxieties.

Picking movies for people is a risky business. In a way it is as revealing as writing someone a letter. It shows how you think, it shows what moves you, sometimes it can even show how you think the world sees you.

When Gilmour’s teenage son starts to show an alarming disinterest in school, Gilmour decides to let him leave school under one condition, namely watching three movies per week with his father. Three movies that his father chooses, of course. It’s an experiment and when they start Gilmour is as uncertain about the outcome as the reader.

Gilmour, a novelist and journalist, has come to a major turning point in his own life. He is out of work and desperately trying to get little TV assignments here and there. Being out of work, panics him, on the other hand it gives him a lot of time to spend with his son. Knowing very well that the boy isn’t going to stay with him forever he cherishes every moment. No wonder the book is full of nostalgia and has a very bitter-sweet tone.

I return to old movies not just to watch them again but in the hope that I’ll feel the way I did when I first saw them; not just about movies either, but about everything

During the three years that follow Gilmour’s idea of letting his son drop out of school, he shows him the greatest of filmmaking there is. They watch movies by periods, by schools, by themes, by countries. I think he lists at least some 80 movies including some from the French nouvelle vague, the New Hollywood movement, Japanese film making, Western, Horror, Comedies… The first few choices are far from succesful as Jesse, Gilmour’s son, finds them unbearably boring. He has no clue how to watch a French movie for example, doesn’t know which are crucial scenes to look out for in a Hitchcock film. Normally before showing the movie to his son, Gilmour will give some background information, a lot of it was very enlightening. He explains to him why certain actors are better than others, that the best of them are even great when they don’t even say a word, he shows him special camera angles, indicates pieces of dialogue. It takes a year until Jesse starts to see and enjoy the movies they are watching and develops a taste of his own. He loves Chungking Express.

True Romance has a eight- or nine minute encounter between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken that may well be, for me, the best stand-alone scene in film. (….) Christopher Walken announcing “I am the Antichrist”.

But this book isn’t only about movies. The movies also serve as basis for discussions about everything. And life goes on. Gilmour struggles to find a job, Jesse falls in love twice and both times end in disaster. The second heart-break is so intense, you have to be really hardened to not be reminded of something similar in your own life.

Showgirls,” I said to Jesse, “is something of a cinematic oddity, a guilty pleasure without a single good performance.”

It is obvious that the experiment described in the book helps them both. Jesse finds perspective. After living as a rap musician for a while, he takes a completely new direction and David Gilmour writes this book. The relationship between these two is unique. So much honesty, trust and friendship between a father and a son is wonderful. Not every parent has the chance to spend as much time with his kid, that is for sure, but every parent has certainly spent enchanted moments with his/her child and will be touched by this story. For us film lovers it’s a great way to remind us how many movies there are still to discover, how many to watch again and in how many different ways we can watch them.

Here’s a video in which they talk about the book.

David and Jesse Gilmour talk about The Film Club

19 thoughts on “David Gilmour: The Film Club (2007) A Touching Memoir of a Father and His Teenage Son Watching Their Way Through Cinema History

  1. This sounds REALLY interesting. It covers 2 things at once, it is for both book lover and movie lover.

    I like the quotes that you have chosen, they make me want to read more.

    What happened with the son now?

  2. An interesting approach to life. I think that watching films with someone is a test of the relationship. Doubt I’ll read this as I have so many other books in the stack, but I enjoy books with a focus on film.

    • I liked it, liked the whole idea of the experiment. Quite daring and trusting. It could have gone really wrong. I liked that he did never try to make his son belive he had all the answers, just tried to be inspiring. Movies were certainly better than books in this case. But I also like his approach to movies as high culture (do you say that in English?). People often think so much less of movies than books. I agree, we cannot read everything… I don’t want to go on buying any new books either… Got by far too many. Listening to music and watching movies is a test… Some tastes got me running in the past…

        • No, let’s not count it. I wanted to become a film direcotor at one point in my life, went to a film school in Paris for an interview but I was far too young to be admitted and had to study something else first. I did and then lost track of my plan… I wrote one or two little scripts at the time and was told I was too Truffaut… Funny. I was mortified. Looking back I am highly pleased. We change, our standards change… I’m on a trip down memory lane it would seem.

  3. I remember when that book was published, I liked the idea.

    “Picking movies for people is a risky business. In a way it is as revealing as writing someone a letter. It shows how you think, it shows what moves you, sometimes it can even show how you think the world sees you.”
    It’s the same for books. Reading someone’s favourite book is like a direct road to their soul.

    I’m not familiar with old movies and never knew where to start. This book might be of some help, in addition to the lovely father/son relationship.

    • Yes, I think, if you don’t know all that many older movies it is not a bad start but he isn’t systematic… They do not watch in chronological order. Their relationship is really nice… David Gilmour has also a very touching relationship with his ex-wife, Jesse’s mother, that his new wife accepts without any problems… Very mature people.
      Telling people what you really like in movies and books can be revealing. Not just what you think is good, but what moves you.

  4. I like the sound of this–I’d not heard of the book before your post. I know very little about films–what I watch is all hit or miss–whatever sounds appealing rather (as I sometimes do with books) than choosing something because it is the best of the best sort of thing–a classic. I should look for it, maybe it would be a good way to start picking/watching really good films?

    • I think it isn’t a bad start but I have watched movies for years very systematically. I treated them alwasy on a par with books, music or art. Therefore I don’t know how good an introduction it really is. On the other hand it is very playful… And the memoir per se takes up a big portion of the text. I am sure you would enjoy it.

  5. I absolutely have to get hold of this book to give to my husband. It’s my favourite genre too, the exploratory memoir and I think this sounds so interesting. Lovely review, Caroline!

  6. Pingback: Best and Worst Books 2011 « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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