DANCING WITH MY FATHER
Excerpts from the introduction by Frank McCourt
at the Feb 8th screening:
Having covered the Irish and Northern
Ireland, Marcia Rock is now entering, maybe, even more dangerous
territory. I know the Irish arenít that adventurous
in exploring the psyche.
Marcia has been conditioned by what sheís
done in last years in Ireland and New York and what she has experienced
privately, intimately and personally. Sheís been encouraged
or forced to look a t her own life. We all do that. We all
look at our own lives, but most of us shy away from it. It might
be too painful. She sought out the pain, or maybe not sought it,
but it has come to her along the way. Now Marcia has gone
back into her own life, into her family and into her soul and what
you are about to see is the story of that journey. We hear
this all the time about personal journeys as part of the American
scene. But what I think sheís done is to take on something
pretty powerful. Way back, six or seven years ago she talked about
undertaking this project. It wasnít easy for her, but sheís done
it. She had to go to dangerous places. I donít think I could
have done it. At the end of this film you might ask yourself if
you could do it?
Now why reveal yourself? One answer is the
missionary story. You want to pass it on if there is any healing
in it, then so be it. But often there isnít any healing in it. Often
itís just stirrings, and there may be some stirrings of rage in
here tonight. This may seem like a nice film; itís seductive. But
beware, Marcia Rock is at work.
Responses to the Film:
Subject: "Dancing with My Father"
Dear Marcia --
What a special film "Dancing
With my Father" is. Congratulations! I have a sense of how much
of yourself poured into this project and the emotional toll it took,
but what rewards you are reaping! It was a brave endeavor.
At the end of the film, I was in tears and wishing so much that
I could have had the kinds of conversations with my father that
you've had with yours. I think many people will feel that way once
they have seen it. Perhaps your film will be a catalyst for
breathing new life into other parent/adult child relationships.
Please let me know if "Dancing with My Father" will be shown on
television... or elsewhere. I've told the number of friends about
it and they would really like to see it.
Best Regards --
Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2002
A note to say that I was very moved by "Dancing with My Father"
and that I admire you both professionally and personally for what
you accomplished there.
Truth to tell, there was much of my own family
up there on the screen: My own father (now 85) is an emotionally
remote, tough, frightening (to a child) man. Did he say "I
love you," I am asking myself as I write this, and I really can't
answer the question in the affirmative. Yet, I knew he did
(love me), I used to think. But I am also realizing now, as
an adult -- an adult still struggling with these issues -- that
I really was never secure in his love, which, I now realize, he
was really incapable of giving (and still is) except on his own,
very narcissistic terms.
And, yes, with parents like this (for my
mother was implicated in this family emotional economy, as well),
intimacy is a problem for me, too. It's not an accident that I've
told my kids, every single night of their lives, as I turn out the
light, or, now that they are teenagers, when I leave the room, "I
love you." It can't be said enough. But I haven't escaped the curse,
or, I fear, escaped passing it on, although perhaps in (mercifully)
What people fail to understand (or are perhaps
afraid to think about) is that by facing family issues one *is*
getting on with life" -- instead of sleepwalking through it.
Well, I'm writing more about my family than your film. But
perhaps that's the greatest tribute I can pay it -- and you.
Wow. What heart! What a legacy. Never second guess yourself
about this project. It's a great examination of the facets
of love and anyone who doesn't understand it will eventually, if
Our journey is so similar, in some ways, that your film provoked
new levels of awareness about myself and why I have been without
a relationship for so many years now. Thank you for your honesty,
persistence, unflinching introspection, and creative talents! I
do hope Dancing With My Father gets wide distribution. It
is a film that reaches into the heart and mind of its viewers.
All the best,
Brava! Brava! Brava! The movie is a beautiful testament to your
love of your father and of your family legacy- the good, the bad
and the ugly. I was especially impressed by its efficacy at so many
levels: it could be a primer for the analysis of family on
the historical, psychological, Jewish, sociological or journalistic
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 20:45:24 -0500
Subject: Dancing with my Father
I have just seen Dancing with my Father for the third time and am yet
again reminded of that old saying from the sixties that "the personal
is political." Somewhere along the way that saying got lost. How brave
of you to take such a deeply personal topic and explore it publicly -- and
how essential for these times. Dancing with my Father exposes your family's
deepest secrets with understanding and compassion and without judgment.
I believe your documentary signals a subtle shift
taking place as we move into the 21st century. I hope that in this century, we
will learn to apply all the political lessons we learned in the last one to our
personal lives, our families, our small tribes. We live in an era where the
world is more willing to confront violence and cruelty in political regimes, but
we still hesitate to share our stories of domestic violence and childhood neglect.
Dancing with my Father shows us that there is nothing to fear but silence, and
a great deal of reason for hope if only we will listen and learn. Thank you for
sharing your story so that others might see that personal change can, by degrees,
become social change.
I was very moved by your multi-generational story of the Rocks of Cleveland. You set out to make a point about your father's emotional guardedness, that it was hurtful, that it had a ripple effect which extended into your own marriage. With a very light touch and lots of feeling, you opened your arms and drew your father to you, as if you were just going to dance, go through the motions of intimacy. Then, once in his arms, you started asking questions. Explain your emotional distance, you asked, in a variety of ways. And in a fascinating, and unintended reversal, his thoughtful responses, patience and obvious concern, combined with an extraordinary photogeniety, tipped the balance in his favor. Not in way which made you squirm and not because his answers were brilliant. But, his struggle to meet his daughter halfway and yield to her questions while the world was, in effect, watching, established him as the hero of the film. And the spectacle of this accident gives the story depth and resonance. Surprise is drama. "Dancing with My Father" is a-twirl with it, a father/daughter fandango the music of which plays in your head long after the lights have come up.
It is great. I loved it and viewed it twice. There are so many dimensions to the story, so much richness in the various strands woven together, wonderful family film and video and, at base, a universal tale. It is, I think, a constant, if often unstated to ourselves, conundrum: how are we influenced, formed, shaped by our parents and how in our turn do we shape ours. Has the general shift to greater openness and expresiveness in the last 20/30 years changed anything? Is there an inevitable divide across the generations? Does being more open and modern mean really knowing. I don't know.
Your father was brave to take part in a venture which would inevitably involve you and your brother and sister analyzing openly and honestly him and your relationships with him. He was, as you say in the v.o., a parent of the 50's. He said it himself. There was a father's domain and a mother's domain. Can we escape from the models others have presented to us? Very difficult if the environment continues to endorse the received pattern. The curse of male rationality and the difficulty with dealing properly with feelings are alive and well.
I thought your narrative approach--yourself, your body, your marriage, your father, his origins, your grandmother's influence, back to your father, his wife and children, his amazing divorce and remarriage to your mother and his real emotion 25 years later in recalling her so early death -- was imaginative and sustained the story. It was also fascinating.
Unmistakably coming from this film, however, was the fact that your father loves his children, loves you. His willingness to consider how things had been was impressive. That is no small achievement for the film.