My father loved movies. His name was John Foote, but everyone who knows him to this day calls him Skip. He was not a famous man, never had his name in the paper or was mentioned on TV, did not graduate high school, was a blue collar guy who rode in the rodeo, worked in a factory all his life to support us. He was a good father and husband, the best man I know, honest and humble, I wish I was more like him. As I grew and got involved in the arts and began working as a film critic he took pleasure in what I did and what I became in my career, delighting in hearing the stories about who I was interviewing, being flown to LA and meeting the people I was meeting. He was dedicated to his wife and family, nothing meant more to him, nothing does to this day. He is not perfect by any means, but then who is ?
As a shift worker at the local General Motors plant for more than forty years he would often slip in to see a film on his own before his shift started and come home to tell us about it. Though a blue collar man, he was blessed with an active imagination and loved falling into a good movie and being swept away by the story.
One of the warmest memories of my childhood is Friday nights when we would watch Fright Night Theater. Dad would put my brothers and I to bed at seven, and wake the three of us up at shortly after eleven to watch the show, which was a broadcast out of Buffalo, New York of the old Universal Monster movies. There we sat, all of us on the couch curled under a comforter as the Frankenstein monster terrorized the villagers, Dracula worked his magic, the Wolf Man turned at moonlight or the Mummy walked the earth again after centuries entombed. Our favorite was King Kong (1933) which we saw many times on that couch. Wide eyed we sat on that couch watching the mayhem on the screen with the careful reminder from Dad, it was just a movie…yeah sure…tell that to an eight year old.
One night after one movie we climbed the stairs and my younger brother was so terrified that his knees were knocking in fear. Dad explained that they were not real, just movies and introduced us to the magazine Famous Monster of Filmland which we devoured each month. There were many trips to the movies, to drive ins, and when VCRs came out, we bought one, and Dad would stop and let me grab ten or twelve movies before going home for the weekend from college.
In 1972 Paramount re-issued The Ten Commandments (1956) back into theaters. In the days before home video, DVD and Blu Rays, this was a common practice. The studio would sit on a film for five to ten years and then release back into theaters to a whole new generation of audience who had not experienced the film before. He had gone on and on about this film, and at twelve, I was already pretty cynical and just did not think it could be as great as he was saying it was. On a Saturday night, he packed the whole clan into the car and made the half hour drive to the local theater where we found our seats, got our popcorn and settled in for the plus four hour movie.
Four plus hours later my life had been galvanized forever, nothing would ever be the same, there was no going back…movies were it for me. The film was massive in scope and size, just extraordinary. Charlton Heston was magnificent as Moses, leading his people out of bondage despite the efforts of Rameses, played to perfection by Yul Brynner to keep them in check. The Exodus sequence was unlike anything I had ever seen before, thousands of people on screen at once moving out of Egypt, and the best was yet to come. Trapped against the sea, the slaves look to sea the Egyptians bearing down on them. Moses, looking astounding in the long greying beard, his eyes bright with the word of God orders his people to move back Into the hand of God. A pillar of fire blocks their way and he turns to the sea, which is now raging. Roaring to them behold his might hand the waters part, leaving a dry path down the middle and two massive walls of water churning on either side.
My jaw hit the ground !
This was what movies could do ? Take us back to an event in history so that it felt like we were there experiencing what they had ?I came out of the theater a different person than when I went in. I knew, I just knew movies would be my life.
After that I consumed books on film, joined a club called the Movie Book Club out of the States, read everything I could on film, set my alarm to watch the late, late show to see films I had not yet seen. When I got my driver’s license I would visit the rep theaters and see films from years gone by, foreign language films, I educated myself on movies.
And today having seen thousands of films, interviewed the greatest actors and directors of their time, that love for film has not diminished one bit. To think it all began on a couch in small Ontario village called Seagrave where a father watched movies with his sons. Such a great memory.
And yes I now am aware The Ten Commandments (1956) is a hokey and creaky old film, though Heston is magnificent, but if it is on I cannot turn it off. Maybe it is the movie, maybe it is the memory…it means something to me. Dad and I still talk movies but it is harder these days because the films I admire are often too dark for him, and he longs for the movies they used to make, or maybe he longs for those days on the couch.