Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on June 16, 2011
“You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until it finally buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody who says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to.”
I recently became an aunt again so I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately and with Father’s Day right around the corner I thought I’d share some thoughts about my own dad and how the movies we watched together helped make me the person I am today.
My father loved movies and he shared his affection for them with me while I was growing up. Unfortunately he was killed in a car accident when I was a child so we didn’t have much time together but the hours we spent watching and talking about movies left an incredible impression on me. My dad’s family lived in Los Angeles during his formative years and being surrounded by the Hollywood Hills probably helped fuel his interest in film. He was particularly fond of westerns, monster movies and science fiction films. He admired James Dean, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Sean Connery but he also appreciated the fine art of Walt Disney and Chuck Jones. After he was killed my grandmother enjoyed telling me stories about how my dad would always beg her to take him to the movies and how he spent his money on “movie magazines” and “model kits” during his last years in high-school.
To my surprise I recently discovered that my father was also a member of his junior high-school drama club after coming across one of his old yearbooks that had been packed away in storage since his death. I was especially surprised to find a box full of old Super 8 films that he shot between 1961-1973. Some of them are family movies marked “Kim’s First Birthday” or “Kim’s First Car Ride” but many of them are unmarked and some date back to when he served in the Navy as a Signalman. He shot a handful of documentary-like films while he was in the Navy that my grandmother had transferred to videotape but I haven’t had a chance to look at them all yet. I plan on getting myself an old Super 8 projector soon so I can watch everything but I’m slightly apprehensive about it. Some of the emotions that get churned up will undoubtedly be a little raw because contrary to popular belief, time doesn’t heal all wounds. When you lose someone you deeply care about you just have to find a way to live with the loss. But sometimes after a vivid dream or an unexpected rush of memory the old wounds start to fester and it isn’t always easy to bandage them up again.
Thankfully movies have great healing powers and the films I watched with my father are wonderful medicine whenever I’m feeling a little low. The movies we watched together are vivid reminders of shared experiences that we had as father and daughter. Many of them also contained life lessons that I clung to after my father died. Growing up without a male mentor and a mother that wasn’t always emotionally available made me deeply appreciate the feelings and thoughts that were conveyed to me in the movies I watched. What might seem like a toss away line in some B-grade western became gospel and I’ve held fast to my memories of these movies over the years.
Two of the most pivotal films of my childhood were John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963). My father insisted that I watched them with him and it took me awhile to understand why. The heroes of Sturges’ films don’t wear white hats and they don’t preach morality but both films taught me a lot about the importance of freedom and speaking truth to power. They also stressed the importance of standing up for the little guy and served as potent reminders that we’re all in this together so we should learn to get along and lend a helping hand when needed. After my grandparents were divorced my grandmother moved her family to the Sierra Nevada Foothills where my dad learned to ride horses and ended up working on a large cattle ranch. Westerns became a part of his lifeblood but he was drawn to the more radical westerns produced in the 1960s which starred dust covered anti-heroes who probably seemed more real to him than the clean-shaven upright citizens that had previously populated westerns. He had a fondness for what were typically called “Spaghetti Westerns” and he didn’t view them as lesser entertainment, which was common at the time. Sergio Leone’s films were particular favorites around my house because they often starred Clint Eastwood who had appeared in the popular television show, RAWHIDE. Unlike the westerns made by John Sturges, which celebrated camaraderie, Leone’s films focused on lone anti-heroes who bucked convention while stressing the importance of independent thought and action. The Man with No Name understood the difference between right and wrong but he made up his own rules in films like A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) and he answered to no one but himself. Thanks to Leone’s films I learned early on that going your own way was never easy but it’s often the only path worth taking.
WEST SIDE STORY (1961) was another pivotal film that my father introduced me to. This modern take on Romeo and Juliet deals with the cruel and crippling effects of racism as well as classism. My dad dealt with racism first hand on a few occasions when people mistook him for being Hispanic due to his black hair and naturally dark complexion. I even witnessed it myself once after a stranger hurled a racist slur at my dad followed by, “Go back to Mexico.” My dad just laughed it off at the time and later when I asked him why he hadn’t told the man that he was Italian/Irish my father looked me square in the eye and said (as best I can remember), “Because it doesn’t matter where I come from or what nationality I am. What that man did was wrong and I’m not ashamed if he thought I was Mexican. You should never disrespect people or think less of them because of their skin color or because they were born in a different country.” I never forgot that important life lesson and WEST SIDE STORY seemed to encapsulate it for me. The interracial romance depicted in the film was a gentle reminder that love is colorblind and it stressed understanding and acceptance between people with different backgrounds and income brackets. It also taught me that you should try and solve your problems without using violence or weapons because innocent people can get caught in the crossfire.
I haven’t even touched on the horror films or science fiction films that my dad and I watched together or mentioned his fondness for Robert Altman’s MASH (1971), which I only learned of later in life after coming across a poster of Elliott Gould among his belongings. But hopefully I’ve managed to express how much the movies I watched with my father meant to me and how they shaped who I am today. I hope this Father’s Day you consider setting some time aside to watch one of your own father’s favorite movies. You might be surprised by what you discover about your dad and yourself in the process.
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