October 05, 2007

Film Club interview

from The Canadian Press. Here's an excerpt (emphases mine):
What [the book] details is a father's struggle to connect with a beloved son who is totally disinterested in homework and who, at six-foot-four, is a man-sized adolescent frequently skipping out of high school to wander about the big city at will.

"All we ever talked about was his poor performance at school," the Toronto author and winner of a Governor General's award for A Perfect Night to Go to China explains in an interview.

"And it really was turning him into a liar. And it was creating antagonism between the two of us. And finally I just said 'I can't do this, I've already done Grade 10. I can't do your homework for you. I can't do this. You're going to have to make a choice.' And to my horror, he said 'I don't want to go to school anymore."'

Gilmour makes a deal with Jesse, telling him he can quit school as long as he watches three movies a week with his dad and absolutely stays away from drugs.

"I was trying to salvage my relationship with him because I thought not only am I going to lose the school battle but I'm going to lose him over it."

Jesse Gilmour, now 21, is doing a few interviews alongside his well-known father as the book about his sometimes tumultuous adolescence is launched, and he concurs that dropping out was the correct -- and probably the only -- course of action for him.

"I hated high school, I hated it. I was completely happy to get out of there. And even now, I'm going to university now, which I like, but even if I could go back, I probably would do the same thing again," he says emphatically.

"For some people high school just doesn't work for them. It's just terribly straining and boring in a way that it becomes unhealthy to you."

But if high school was a strain for Jesse, the decision to let him opt out was nothing short of terrifying for his dad.

"I spent about a year waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning with my heart thumping thinking, my God, he's going to end up in a cardboard box in Los Angeles ... where can you go in this world with a Grade 9 education?" Gilmour says.

People of his own generation went to school out of fear because they were terrified of what would happen if they didn't have an education, he notes.

"Most of us got a B.A. because we were frightened of the consequences," Gilmour says. "His generation isn't frightened of that stuff at all. I don't know why they're not. But they're really not."

Gilmour, who has worked as a film critic and cautiously served up erudite observations about plot, direction and acting techniques to his son, doesn't even attempt to describe the three films per week as a substitute for an education.

"He really didn't get anything out of it except he got to spend time with his father, and what teenage boys really need is to spend time with their fathers," he says.

"We could've gone skydiving, or we could've gone scuba-diving. It wouldn't have made a difference. It wasn't really the films. It was an opportunity for the two of us to spend time together before he was gone for good."

As it turns out, the films worked as a kind of conversation-starter, and father and son would go outside on the porch, smoke cigarettes and "talk about everything under the sun" - including Jesse's attempts to sort out matters of the heart when he falls hard for one girl, and later, for another. There are troubled times, too, when Jesse breaks his vow to stay away from drugs.

But Jesse's opinion diverges somewhat from that of his father when he talks about the "nourishment" he got from seeing a range of movies, including some he describes as "great art."

"On The Waterfront," "Notorious" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" were among the many films the pair watched together.

"The more you learn about it the more you can appreciate it. So it's true the movies were more just kind of a jumping off point that me and my dad could spend time together, and have a real relationship during that time. But yeah, I think I got a lot out of the movies."

A few years after the film club began, Jesse decided to go back to school and signed up for a crash course in the required subjects, with tutoring by his mother. Last month, he began studying Italian cinema, classical mythology and world religions at the University of Toronto. ...

Gilmour, 57, says that during those "film club" years, his professional life was "a catastrophe." Now, he calls it an unbelievable stroke of luck because it gave him time at home with his son at a time when teens are "gradually shutting the door on their parents and they're keeping their private lives to themselves."

"It was like winning the lottery, and not recognizing it until about halfway through that this was actually a victory, not a life catastrophe."
You can read the rest here.

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