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At the Movies with my Dad

*Written in 2019*

I wanted to write something for my dad that was related to movies and here it is. This a very personal piece of my life and I understand the lack of desire you might feel in reading it. I’m not asking you to, I’m just asking you to be okay with me writing it and posting on Nerd Alert. If I’m the only person that ever reads any of this that will be enough. If you do read it, thanks. Maybe you can relate.


On March 18th of this year (2019) I turned the big 3-0; that’s such a crazy sentence to me. Unfortunately as I have gotten older so too have my parents and earlier this year, April 2nd, I faced one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with, the death of my father, Craig. He was only 61 years-old. As time inevitably carries on as it ruthlessly does I’m beginning to realize, as this is one of the first major deaths of my life, that one of the best ways to keep someone alive even after their passing is to simply remember them. I’m finding the easiest way to remember my dad is to recall his memory in context, to remember something he did or we did together.

I write film reviews, needless to say, movies are pretty important to me. To be more accurate they’re my favorite non-human thing in the world. I love the storytelling, the technical prowess, the unbelievably gorgeous cinematography, the simplest differences in editing creating the most minute or major detrimental changes to a singular moment thus altering the very course of the story; movies are sensational. I’m not one to forget where I came from and when it comes to movies and my obsession with that entire world I can never forget that it was my father who fostered my love for cinema, an appreciation that grows larger to this day. While his love for movies never quite reached the levels that mine have he still understood their worth and took every opportunity to show us new movies we hadn’t yet experienced. We went to the movie theater every single weekend. It was always the highlight of my week. A half hour in the arcade, a visit to the concession stand, the previews of what’s coming soon, and of course the main attraction; magic.

My dad didn’t waste any time showing me movies, a concept still very new to me at the age of four. But at this unripened, impressionable age, he took me to see my very first in-theater movie, the classic Jurassic Park. This is the first movie I recall ever seeing. There may have been others I saw at home but my first true theater experience was with the dinosaurs. From this point on it was off to the races. I couldn’t get enough.

Mrs. Doubtfire, Groundhog Day, The Sandlot, Cool Runnings, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Grumpy Old Men, Hocus Pocus, Last Action Hero, 1993 was a great year for movies. Of course my introduction to movies went well beyond this single year, Star Wars anyone? It wasn’t until 1995 that my dad decided six years of age was plenty old enough for some hardcore R rated fun and introduced me to the foul mouthed, John McClane in Die Hard with a Vengeance, my first R rated film. After getting passed the idea that people actually said the words they used in this movie and did so excessively, I was yet again shown just what movies can do, how enthralling they could really be. After this point, the whole rating system implemented by the MPAA was thrown out of the window in the Gifford household.

Much like most in this country they followed the backward ass rule of no sex scenes (cover those eyes) but have at all the gratuitous violence and action you can possibly handle in your tiny, still developing brain. While this can be seen as misguided, and it was, I am grateful to him, and my mom of course, for allowing me the distinct privilege of disregarding the ratings and experiencing cinematic bedlam in all of it’s celluloid glory. They made it very clear I was not to act out what I saw in these more grown up films and to cover my eyes when they told me to; assuming I was okay with this, and I was, I was allowed to watch and boy did I watch, with a new kind of intent.

When I was younger I loved the spectacle, the magic of watching something I had no possible means of understanding how they created what I was seeing. Of course this question of how made me all the more intrigued and infatuated with film as a whole. I wanted to learn more, I wanted a behind the scenes approach to film storytelling. Once Dvd special features became a thing I consumed every second I could of what it took to create this monster or that unbelievably massive film set, or what went into finding the perfect cast to tell a particular story, I wanted to know, all of it. Costume design, cinematography choices, location choices, computer generated imagery, it was all a kind of knowable magic and I wanted to be a magician of film.

As I grew older, still seeing movies every weekend with my dad (and mom), my love of cinema grew beyond the screen, I wanted the entire picture from immediate fruition to final release. I always heard people saying they never wanted to know how a scene was put together, it would ruin the magic of it. I came at it from a very different perspective, believing the knowledge of how it was made only enhanced the experience, it only made each scene and the movie overall a more memorable affair.

Having now watched countless films I sometimes reach a point where it feels I’ve hit a wall in terms of what my perspective of film storytelling will be. In other words, I start thinking my taste in movies is where it will always be, never to expand again. After nearly thirty years of watching movies, every few years a course correction takes place opening up my eyes to even more possibilities. I realize now that film is a gift that will forever transform and mutate creating new and exciting prospects.

Under the Skin, a film from Jonathan Glazer, a film I would have absolutely despised less than a decade ago, is now one of my favorite films ever. The slow, methodical approach, the lack of dialogue, relying heavily on Johansson’s facial expressions, and of course the unforgettable film score that permeates a constant feeling of unease, other world-ness and a looming doom would have made me want to gouge my eyes out not that long ago. As my perspective altered, my taste and opinion of what storytelling really could be changed with it and films like Under the Skin, Enemy, 2001: a Space Odyssey, and so on turned into must haves for my blu-ray collection.

I already appreciated the work of those such as Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese and Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Orson Welles, but this sudden opening into a whole new array of film territory I had yet to discover allowed me to truly delve into what made these men, these filmmakers such genius creators. (I hope to add some ladies to this list someday.)

I could talk about movies till I’m blue in the face so I’ll wrap this up. My point of writing this whole overlong, convoluted mess, is a means to remember my father. He is the person that helped nurture my hobby of watching movies into a lifelong obsession of watching and researching and reviewing and bothering everyone around me with useless movie facts. In a nutshell, he shaped me into the man I am today. I would say that’s pretty damn special. I think it’s safe to say my dad had a major impact on my life in a way that is still unraveling and surprising me to this day.

As his time came closer his ability to attend movies at the theater diminished to never. But we still had the memories and we still had the luxury of home viewing. What was a repeated trip to the theater over the years turned into private screenings in his bedroom. I loved showing him new movies just as he showed me when I was young. So when I think of movies, I think of my father and because of this, his memory, his presence will be felt in my life for a very long time, for the rest of my life. I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me to cinema, and now I will be eternally indebted to film because of its connection to my Dad. Thank you to the movies and everyone responsible for their creation, and of course, a big thanks to one of my favorite humans, my dad.

My Dad and I. 2005.

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