You and Me and the Silver Screen This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 3, 2014
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People file in, their shoes sticking. The lights dim, and the emerald screen bathes their faces with a collage of trailers lasting nearly half the running time of the actual film. Finally it begins. Five minutes into the film, my mouth full of popcorn, I look to my right. Not surprisingly, my father's neck is arched back, his mouth agape, his eyelids fluttering. His snoring is masked by the Dolby Surround Sound. I'm not surprised he's asleep; actually, I'm surprised it took this long. He's normally out by the second preview. Something about Dad falling asleep at the movies was comforting to me. It was a quirk I thought I'd always live with.
How do you write about your father's death? How do you write about any death and make it meaningful avoiding sentimentality and clichés? My father died a month into my freshman year from a subdural hematoma after a car hit him. He died in his sleep. The last movie we watched together was Disney's “Up.”
As much credit as I give my mother for introducing me to my favorite films, like “Bringing Up Baby,” it was my father who fostered my love of film. If not for him, I probably would never have set foot in a movie theater. I do not think he ever realize how important he was to my passion.
I would watch and he would sleep, but we'd do it together, like fathers and sons who play ball. Watching films with him was less about the movie and more about spending time together. It was soothing sitting by his recliner, or next to him in the theater. I didn't have to look to see if he was asleep. That roar wasn't from gunfire in the film – it was his snoring.
I suppose the aural battle between the snoring and the film's soundtrack was what helped me become more acutely aware of sounds in film. I had to strain at home when listening to dialogue, to make sure I didn't miss anything critical.
When I was in middle school, my parents separated briefly. Their fights would be painfully recalled during Sam Mendes' “Revolutionary Road” and episodes of “SpongeBob Squarepants.” My father moved back into his family house with his mother. I never though how unconventional this was; divorce was something I heard about in the movies. I never realized how close my parents were to it, despite slipping me books like “How You as a Child Can Deal with Parents on the Brink of Divorce” and “It's Not Your Fault, Even Though You're Probably Going to ­Require Years of Therapy.”
During their separation my father would still pick me up from school on Fridays, and we would go to the movies. We would watch anything and everything – from action flicks and romantic comedies to animated films. (My father never saw the fruit of his efforts: I am an unapologetic film snob.) And with each film, there was a kinetic bond between us; we weren't experiencing the same thing, but our connection was strongest when the pictures were moving.
The first times my father took me to the movies, I plugged my ears. At six I was too young for blasts of gunfire and the roar of dialogue by George Lucas. (“You'll never know the power of the Dark Side!” Senator Palpatine yelled.)
As the film played, I would look over at him, even though I knew exactly what I would see. This man, who wasn't so much rotund as potbellied like Santa Claus, would be almost reclining. He looked like Ted Levine in “Heat” or “Monk.” He always wore flannel and shorts, even in winter. I think he enjoyed the movies as much as me, partly because his multiple sclerosis did not permit him to stand for long and partly because it was our thing.
As the credits rolled, we would roll on out, often to Walmart. While my father shopped, I would hang around the DVD section. You can blame half of my collection on him. It was like giving someone prone to drug addiction their first fix. And I needed my fix to come with two discs and lots of special features.
What was strange about this was not that I enjoyed wandering around Walmart stacking DVDs in my arms, but that I made an acquaintance there. I'll call him Tom – with his shaggy hair and unkempt look and his Walmart uniform whose smiley tag would have been more appropriate upside down. We would talk about movies – it became a routine. Every Friday, I would head to the DVD section and there Tom was. He was nice enough and knew a lot about films. I was a budding film enthusiast. I had not started my blog yet, and I watched voraciously nevertheless. I made notes of his recommendations.
After somehow convincing my father to buy me yet another DVD, we would head to Hollywood Video, known as the Poor Man's Blockbuster. I'm old enough to remember when video rental stores were not only a thing, but the main way I discovered good, bad, and strange movies. I would talk to these clerks too, usually about what horror movies I'd seen. These were probably the only ones impressed with my ability to name all the James Bond films in backwards chronological order in under 30 seconds. Someone had to.
We would spend hours deciding what to rent. I had not yet developed a pretension for any type of film, so I was fairly open. By then, I was allowed to watch almost anything short of porn. Once I began my blog and it received recognition, my mother threw any meagre restrictions out the window, saying, “It would be like forcing the horses back into the barn after they'd entered the Kentucky Derby and started a blog about it. Just without the funny hats.”
Now, I have a rule not to get any food at the theater unless someone else is buying. My father and I shared a good traditionalism about snacks: popcorn with no butter and a soda. It was that simple. At home, we were ice cream guys. We would get pints from Cumberland Farms and indulge in our creamy and silky smooth pleasures. Only later did I hone my skills at crying into said pint of ice cream.
One rainy evening, my father and I were searching in the horror section for something to watch. We were about to settle on a film called “Mr. Brooks” with Kevin Costner. As we were reading the back of the box, a man walked up and said, “Are you sure he should be watching that?” I was probably 14, had watched “The Exorcist” at ten, and was a frequenter of the horror movie marathons on AMC. But I think I was more offended by my father, who quietly batted him away with an amiable “I think I know what I'm doing.”
This was not the first time someone would try to parent for my father about which films I should see. Once we were at a supermarket, and was set to rent “There Will Be Blood.” A woman asked my father, “Are you sure your son should be watching that?” Again, I was offended at the assumption that a) I was, like, nine years old and b) that at 14 I was not old enough to decide for myself. I glared at her, about to shout, “I'll see you at my Pulitzer Prize reception!” Fortunately, my father put his hand over my mouth.
My father was, by no means, irresponsible in allowing me to watch what I did. Actually, were it not for his somewhat apathetic stance on ratings, I would not have the view of cinema and art that I have. I knew what gratuitousness was and did not squirm through it, unless it were something like medical procedures or scenes that involved children being a nuisance to the adult protagonists.
On our trips to Cape Cod in Dad's RV, we would visit the Drive-In Theater in Wellfleet. I consider myself lucky to have had that experience. There were double features and cartoons, and it was like walking into the past. I experienced a nostalgia for a time I didn't even experience. It was after going to a drive-in eight years ago that I started my blog.
I never realized how important movies were to my relationship with my father until I thought about writing about him. Inadvertently, he exposed me to all kinds of films because he never limited what I could see. Most importantly, he supported and, in his own way, nurtured my love for cinema. Sure, he might have been asleep half the time, but there was something there, something that I miss. It may have been fate that I found someone for whom film meant as much as it means to me. When the lights went down and the speakers went up, and our faces – one rapt with attention and the other calmly nodding off – were bathed in the light of the silver screen, there was an undeniable connection between father and son. There we were, waiting for the coming attractions.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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