David Gilmour, Parent, Movie Critic

By Brian Fawcett | November 1, 2007

David Gilmour, The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and Son. Thomas Allen, Toronto, 2007, 244pp.

A few years ago, Toronto novelist and film critic David Gilmour let his bored and diffident 16 year old son Jesse quit school on the condition that the boy watch three movies a week with his father.
That was interesting in several ways, not the least of which is that it involves a parent employing a high risk strategy to deal with a not-exactly-rare parenting problem largely inflicted by the approved-by-professionals parenting techniques currently in vogue. Gilmour also happens to be a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to movies, so he wasn’t just any old movie-obsessed Dad. He was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s television movie critic through most of the 1990s, and made controversial enough judgments about the films he reviewed that, I suspect, it eventually got him fired.

The Film Club is Gilmour’s account of the educational experiment, and the story it tells is pretty much what the book title declares: it is about fathers and sons, and it is about the movies. It isn’t a big or terribly ambitious book, and
it doesn’t really have any ground-breaking news in it. But it has topical interest and real charm, the writing is good, and the book does some difficult things extremely well along the way.

My initial interest came from the fact that Gilmour and I are about the same age, have each had several children with different women, and as writers haven’t enjoyed the sort of acclaim-for-conventional-behavior that seems to be this country’s cultural specialty. Readers either like what we do, or they loathe it, but either way, neither of us is part of the industrial scenery or, for that matter, “the scene”. He’s a guy I like, but he’s smoother and airier than I am, both as a social being and as a writer, and so I’ve never quite been able to get on the same wave length with him, as if our respective molecules have the same composition but oscillate at different frequencies.
Maybe that’s because he’s prone to David McFarlane-level rhapsodizing about the Beatles, of which there’s one fairly excruciating instance in the book, or that he’s unashamed about getting weepy, while I’m from the Gary Cooper school, at least in public.

With The Film Club, he’s written a book with twin subjects that interest me. One I know something about—parenting male children. On the other subject—movies—I’m opinionated but largely illiterate. The father-and-son part of The Film Club, I’m happy to report, is both entertaining and educative, mostly because Gilmour pulls off a couple of rare tricks. First, he manages to make two people who are at least a generation apart believable and substantial characters in his narrative. This is a rarity in any genre, including fiction, where most novelists are capable of a single sympathetic and believable character surrounded by set-pieces and carricatures or render all the characters as aspects of their own personality and prejudices. For a writer to deliver two whole human beings while writing about himself and his own son is an accomplishment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The second unusual thing Gilmour brings to the narrative is a sometimes-astonishingly emotional relativism: a willingness to treat Jesse’s post-adolescent sense of reality and the priorities it carries without a trace of prejudice. Among other things, that makes the book a true memoir, and not autobiography—it’s about watching movies with a sixteen year old, not about Gilmour’s feelings while watching films with his son. To get there, he takes his son’s hormone-twisted universe straight up, not once condescending.
He doesn’t ridicule the kid’s loony adolescent priorities or his emotional myopia, but rather, he presents it deadpan, with great clarity, precisely as it plays out, and deepens the impact by playing his own not-always-wise-or-comprehending responses with the same fidelity and control.

It’s clear he had good materials to work with in his son, Jesse, who’s as likeable and decent as he is goofy and self-absorbed. That the boy seems likely to survive early post-adolescence (I use that term precisely, understanding how long the whole term can go on) is in part due to his father’s love-driven parental courage.
What Gilmour has accomplished with all this good writing and good parenting, incidentally, hasn’t placed him above the usual dynamics of contemporary father-and-son relationships, as witnessed by an hilarious YouTube clip of Gilmour pontificating into a television camera while Jesse gazes at him as if he were looking at a vaguely embarrassing space alien. It’s a gaze that I know well, and it is more authenticating of Gilmour senior than, er, alienating.

The pedagogic model Gilmour employed is, by the way, as old as the hills: he simply introduced the kid to a body of knowledge at once specific and technical enough to make other experience and information adhere to it. He established, in other words, a context for his son to make appropriative understandings, without which everything is disconnected information or somebody else’s nonsense. This is a model that has fallen into disuse within a culture that thinks its experts know everything (and therefore ordinary dorks like you and I can know nothing) and where (therefore) all that really matters are one’s alignment with the ideological systems that determine what is correct knowledge.
Gilmour, by immersing his son’s feverish, distracted brain in good movies, subverted the correctness systems his son was rejecting on instinct, and gave him the tools to create his own system. He might have had similar results with orchids or auto mechanics if he’d had expert knowledge of them and if he’d been facing a kid with the right predilections. But since movies are about as close to the core of our culture as it is possible to get, the materials he and Jesse are working with make the book just that much more interesting.

Which brings us to the Film Club. Gilmour, it turns out, has an idiosyncratic if not exactly renegade view of movies. He’s primarily interested in acting and actors, directors and their scene-making, and quite a lot less interested in the ideas that movies dramatize or in the panoramics of history that they enact. That he’s selecting movies for a teenager means that more action movies likely made the list than otherwise might have, but Gilmour seems to be primarily about mimetic effects and gesture. He also has a predilection for mainstream Hollywood directors, and New Wave European directors. He lists just two Canadian films, one an early David Cronenburg film, the other a documentary film by Donald Brittain about Malcolm Lowry. I suppose there are likely a million possible points of disagreement with his Club selections, and even I caught myself thinking “Hey, what about….” more than once. But as noted above, he’s the expert, I’m the illiterate, and here, as with parenting, he has some highly worthwhile insights to impart.

Unfortunately for everyone, the book only enumerates some of the films the Club viewed, and the way they’re listed is inconsistent and haphazard, sometimes noting the director and year, but often missing one citation or both.
At very least, the press should have fleshed out the list of films named, with both year and director, as an appendix. Instead, all we get is an unhelpful alphabetic index of films mentioned.

As a courtesy to Gilmour, and testimony to how seriously I took the book, I’ve gone to the trouble of extracting the movies he mentioned from the text.
It’s below, listed alphabetically (and, I hope, accurately) by director. It’s likely not the full list of movies he and Jesse watched, but it’s a very interesting list.

You’re welcome.

David Gilmour’s Film List

Woody Allen: Annie Hall (1977)


Hannah and her Sisters

Another Woman (1988­)

Crimes & Misdemeanors

Michael Anderson: Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Hal Ashby: The Last Detail (1973)

Warren Beatty:
Ishtar (1987)

Robert Benton: The Late Show (1977) Gilmour’s favourite

Bertolucci: Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Luc Besson: La Femme Nikita (1990)

Donald Brittain: Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death
of Malcolm Lowry (1976)

Tim Burton:
Beetlejuice (1988)

Frank Capra: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

David Cronenberg: Shivers (1974)

Francis Ford Cuppola: Duel (1971)

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather II (1974)

Michael Curtiz: Casablanca

Brian De Palma : Scarface (1993)

Blake Edwards:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Federico Fellini: The Dolce Vita (1960)

Mike Figgis: Internal Affairs (1990)

Richard Fleischer: Mr. Majestyk (1974)

John Frankenheimer: 52 Pickup (1986)

William Friedkin: The Exorcist (1973)

The French Connection (1971)

Samuel Fuller: Pickup on South Street (1953)

Glazier: Sexy Beast (2000)

Howard Hawks: To Have and to Have Not (1944)

The Big
Sleep (1946)

Werner Herzog:
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

George Roy Hill: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Alfred Hitchcock: The 39 Steps (1935)

Notorious (1946)

Psycho (1960)

The Birds (1963)

Tobe Hooper: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Huang: Swimming withSharks (1994)

John Huston:
Night of the Iguana ( 1964)

Elia Kazan:
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

On the Waterfront (1954)

Stanley Kubrick: Lolita (1962)

The Shining (1980)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Akira Kurosawa: Ran (1985)

Charles Laughton: Night of the Hunter (1955)

Georges Lautner: The Professional (1981)

Spike Lee:
Jungle Fever (1991)

Sergio Leone: A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Richard Lester:
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

George Lucas: American Graffitti (1973)

David Lynch: Blue Velvet (1986)

Adrian Lyne: Lolita (1997)

Louis Malle: Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Vanya on 42nd
Street (1994)

David Mamet: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Michael Mann: Thief (1981)

Garry Marshall: Pretty Woman (1990)

Jean-Pierre Melville: Un Flic (1947)

Le Samurai

Mike Nichols:
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1958)

Arthur Penn: Night Moves (1975)

Frank Perry: Mommie Dearest (1981)

Roman Polansky: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Chinatown (1974)

Sydney Pollack: Tootsie (1982)

Ted Post: Magnum Force

Robert Redford: Quiz Show (1994)

Carol Reed: The Third Man (1949)

Burt Reynolds: Stick (1985)

Martin Ritt: Hombre (1967)

Joseph Rubin: The Stepfather: (1987)

Fred Schepisi: Plenty (1985)

Martin Scorsese:
Mean Streets (1973)

Tony Scott: True Romance (1993)

Kaneto Shindo: Onibaba (1964)

Vittorio De Sica: The Bicyle Thief (1948)

Don Siegel: Dirty Harry

Steven Soderbergh: Out of Sight (1998)

Barry Sonnenfield: Get Shorty

Sylvester Stallone: Rocky III (1982)

George Stevens: Giant (1956)

Quentin Tarantino: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Fiction (1994)

Brown (1997)

Francois Truffaut: The 400 Blows (1959)

Paul Verhoeven: Robocop

Basic Instinct

Showgirls (1995)

Orson Welles: Citizen Kane (1941)

Billy Wilder: Some Like it Hot (1959)

Kar Wai Wong: Chunking Express (1994)

Ed Wood: Plan 9 from Outer Space

William Wyler: Roman Holiday (1953)

Peter Yates : Bullitt (1968)

The Friends of
Eddy Coyle (1973)

Terrance Young: Dr. No (1962)

Zinneman: High Noon (1952)

1764 w. November 1, 2007


  • Brian Fawcett

    Brian Fawcett (1944-2022) is a founding co-editor of dooneyscafe.com. He's the author of many books, including "Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow" (1986), "Gender Wars" (1994), "Virtual Clearcut, or The Way Things Are in My Hometown" (2003), "Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney's Cafe and other Non-Globalized People, Places, and Ideas" (2003) and "Human Happiness" (2011).

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