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`Son! That was darn good!'

By Mashey M. Bernstein / June 13, 1986



I can trace my relationship with my father through our changing attitudes toward movies. I really owe my love of cinema to him. When I was a child, we always went twice a week together. It was a special time, sitting beside my father in the dark, enchanted by the action on the screen but also protected by his presence. Although a gentle person by nature, my father loved westerns best of all. We even had a little ritual. After a real good western my dad would put his arms around my shoulders, chew on the straw of his soda, and say in his best fake western accent: ``Son! That was darn good!''

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But that was to change. As I entered adolescence, I began like most teenagers to question my parents' values. Our dinner table became a battleground as we fought over every aspect of my appearance, my values, and my general attitude. There was little we agreed on.

To make matters worse, I had become a movie snob. I had begun to read movie magazines, not Modern Screen, but the intellectual sort like Films in Review, and my perspectives changed. No longer would a simple ``Did you like it?'' suffice. The movie (excuse me, ``film'') had to have some kind of redeeming value. I wasn't going to waste my time on any old movie. But my father was not keeping up with me, and soon we stopped going to movies together.

Then I entered college and rose to the eminent position of secretary of the Film Society. We were a highly cultural group devoted to the movies of Fellini and Bergman, not to mention Indian and Japanese films. If it was esoteric, we loved it. I would watch Alan Resnais's convoluted ``Last Year at Marienbad'' with as much interest and enjoyment as my father watched ``Gunfight at the OK Corral.'' The gap was growing ever wider.

Yet, my father would still come to me with the same question every time we talked: ``What should I see this week?'' and every time I would pack the poor man off to see ``The Seven Samurai'' when all he wanted to see was ``The Magnificent Seven.'' And every time, he would reply, when I asked him whether he liked the movie, ``Oh! I fell asleep,'' or ``I couldn't understand it.'' And every time I would rant and rave about his limited understanding and work myself up into an educated huff.

We carried on like this for years. I could never figure out why he asked my opinion or why he even went to the movies I recommended. But one day that was to change.

One week we went through the usual routine, and when he came home I asked the usual questions, getting in turn the usual response. As I began to rant and rave, I swear I saw him hide a smile -- and I knew. I suddenly realized that part of him did respect my opinion and part of him saw through my intellectual pretension.

But more important, our talk of movies, however upsetting, rather than being an attempt on his part to alienate me, was the one remaining topic that we had in common and we both loved in our own way. However strained the bond, it was still the strongest link between us. I also had learned an important lesson: to accept what I could not change. My father's tastes were not mine, but surely that was no more than a quibble.

From that day on, I looked at my father anew. To paraphrase Mark Twain: When I was 14, my father was the biggest fool on earth; when I was 20, he had become a genius. It's amazing how much he learned in those six years.

The following week, when my father came to me for my usual review, I said, ``They're showing a reissue of `Gunfight at the OK Corral,' Let's go together.''

And you know, dad, it was darn good.