Friday, August 9, 2013

Philadelphia with Dad

By now you may be wondering if I'm still here.

The simple answer to that question is "Yes, of course I'm still here, because 'here' is defined as wherever you are at any given time."

But what you really mean is "Are you still living in the United States, and are you still writing this blog?"

I sure am, for 12 more days on the first question, and indefinitely on the second. But I have been super busy. Since I wrote my last post, I've wrapped up my last three days of my job, spent 4+ days in Chicago with Don Handsome, and hosted my dad here at my house for 3+ days of odd jobs around our house that will help prepare it to be rented. I haven't prioritized blogging in those 11+ days of inactivity.

However, how long can I really leave The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure at the top of my blog, before you decide to write me off altogether?

So I decided to tell you about a movie bonding experience I had last night with my dad -- one that I had the first time with him nearly 20 years ago.

Let's start 20 years ago. Or, nearly 20 years ago.

Philadelphia hit theaters on December 24, 1993 -- which may have been the last time I can remember a movie being released on Christmas Eve. I saw it in theaters, and was so enthralled that I watched it again on VHS within a year or two. In fact, it was likely on one of my breaks from college (I was in college until the spring of 1995) that I was sitting in my basement, taking in Jonathan Demme's movie for the second time.

My dad walked through the basement, probably on the way to his shop. He frequently walked through when I was watching something, and might linger for a moment to see what it was. However, he'd always move on within a minute or so, either to give me my privacy, or because the thing I was watching wasn't really worth more than a momentary linger.

Except not Philadelphia. With Philadelphia, my dad sat there and watched. For about 15 minutes.

I was at the age that this should have annoyed me, but it didn't.

In fact, I dug that he dug Philadelphia. "Dug" might be a bit of a frivolous word here, in both instances of its usage in the previous sentence. I was thrilled that he was as emotionally stricken by this movie as I was. There, that's a bit better.

I remember that after the scene where Denzel Washington's Joe Miller returns home to his sleeping family, after hearing Tom Hanks' Andy Beckett deconstruct the greatness of a Maria Callis aria (which he can still hear in his head as he ponders the great personal epiphanies of that evening), my dad turned to me and said "This is a really good movie." His voice was choked with emotion and enthusiasm.

My dad is not a huge movie fan, so I don't have a significant number of movie bonding moments with him. But that was one. And he didn't even see the whole thing. After that scene ended, he left me alone to watch the rest of the movie myself.

Flash forward about 18 years, and it's funny how things work out.

I'd been thinking recently about how it had been too long since I'd seen Philadelphia, and I wanted to see if the movie still left me an emotional wreck. So I ordered it from Netflix ... and then immediately became incredibly busy. So busy that I didn't know when I'd get a chance to watch it, especially facing three straight nights with my dad in town.

I figured, it's time for my dad to watch the rest of Philadelphia.

When I first made the suggestion last night, I'm sure it seemed out of left field to him. It was clear he didn't remember much about having watched the part of it he watched with me. In fact, he even misremembered the title as The Philadelphia Story, which, as you know, is an entirely different movie, one that came out the year after he was born.

Because he's not usually one to turn down a suggestion made earnestly, he quickly accepted the idea, and after dinner ended we started watching. As the opening credits played, I was second-guessing myself all over the place. "How random is it to be showing my dad a seemingly random movie from 1993? What if he doesn't like it? What if he wonders why I've chosen to show him a movie about AIDS and homosexuality? Does he expect me to follow the screening with an admission that I'm leaving my wife because I, too, am a homosexual?" (My dad is strongly in favor of gay rights, so this random fear had nothing to do with him.)

It didn't take long to realize I hadn't miscalculated. In fact, about 45 minutes in, I asked him if he wanted me to stop the movie to get us ice cream. My dad is always interested in ice cream. But he didn't want me to stop. He described himself as so invested that he couldn't pause for even a moment. I can't remember the last time I watched a two-hour movie at home without pausing once.

The movie slayed me again, as it did the other two times I watched it. This time, I noticed just how much Demme uses the technique of having the characters talk straight to the camera, and just how effective that is. Overtly, the characters are not talking to the audience -- they're just talking to another character who happens to be occupying the same physical space on the set where the camera's set up. But it has the covert function of having the actors address us, of confronting us directly with the powerful and invaluable issues at the movie's core.

And yes, I did cry again, at all the expected spots. I tried to keep it as subtle as possible, even though my dad is unusually receptive to that kind of display of emotion.

After it was finished, he unwittingly offered almost an identical assessment to the one he'd given back in '94 or '95:

"That was really, really good."

The funny thing was that he didn't remember having seen the scene where Joe Miller lies in bed with his sleeping wife, staring straight ahead as Maria Callis hits all the high notes in his head. He claimed to have only remembered the scene where Andy and his boyfriend Miguel (Antonio Banderas) visit the Beckett house and sit around with the family, warning them about revelations that may come out in a trial.

I know better. He's 73, so I'll allow him so faults in his memory.

I gave him my own little post-movie comment, one that was also attempting to offer an explanation for my fixation on a pastime that doesn't pay my bills, a pastime he probably can't fully understand himself. After finishing Philadelphia, he may have understood that fixaxtion just a little bit better.

"That is why I love movies" is what I said.


Don Handsome said...

well shit Vance. You've made me cry at work. I know you and I know your dad, but even if I didn't, I think this post perfectly describes the generation bridging power of cinema. Really really cool. Thanks for sharing.

(and yeah, Philadelphia is still really really good.)

Nick Prigge said...

Well, that was pretty much a joy to read.