Watching movies was an integral part of my father’s life and of our relationship. Since his sudden death in 2016, each time I see a movie I find myself wondering what he would think of it, and sad that I can’t talk to him about it. There are many tragedies, large and small, surrounding his life and his death, but one I have become fixated on is that there are so many movies he will never see.
Dad was by far the biggest movie fan I ever met. And if you set aside people who work in the movie industry or in film scholarship or criticism, I believe he may have been one of the biggest movie fans ever to live. He was an early adopter of home movie tech, and began in the early Eighties to amass a collection of roughly four dozen Betamax and VHS VCRs and DVD and Blu-Ray players (but never Laserdiscs, which he correctly predicted wouldn’t catch on). His collection of DVDs and Blu-Ray masters numbered somewhere in the low thousands, and although we didn’t count the bootlegs, it’s probably a similar number. But Dad was most active as a collector in the heyday of VHS, and for a good 20-year stretch, he acquired just about every movie that was released in the United States. On Tuesdays, when video stores put out new releases, he would drive 45 minutes to the nearest large town, hit each of its 5–6 video stores, and rent them all. Then he would go home and put his VCRs, organized into 10 or so play–record pairs, to work making copies throughout the night. We don’t know precisely how many bootleg Beta and VHS tapes he accumulated, but we estimate it at more than 12,000.
Dad loved any and all movies, of all genres, from all countries. He accepted a wide spectrum of quality. For Dad, a movie just had to have either a good story, good acting, powerful emotions, or great cinematography or special effects. If it had more than one of those attributes, even better. If it had none, it was still a thing worth watching and considering, even if the eventual verdict was that it was garbage.
I think movies were chiefly escapism for my dad, a complicated person with ghosts in his past. For someone with many fears and anxieties they were also, I believe, a way of safely connecting with and working out the world, and of creating an image of himself. For the two of us, movies were a rare commonality, a neutral ground where we could meet and share an experience. Our relationship was rarely simple or easy, and at times we felt completely unknowable to each other. But even when we weren’t speaking the same language, we could always talk fluently in movies.
If I could still talk movies with my dad, this blog is probably something like what I would say. It’s probably not exactly what I would say. I hope it will be more honest, and include the kinds of things I found it hard to say, positive or negative, when he was alive. The idea is for this to be part elegy, part creative outlet, and part free therapy. Let’s see how it goes.