"The three things a boy needs growing up are a bicycle, an air rifle, and a dog." My grandfather wrote this in the memoir he published at his local Kinko's before he passed away. This had purpose. My grandfather was raised on a farm and expected to be a farmer, and it was all he needed from the world. I grew up in the suburbs and preferred walking over biking. I'm also a terrible shot. Once, I ended a Boy Scout shooting match with 99 holes in my target. A neighboring scout finished with 101.
As a kid, I had no solid idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, but family was the first on our block to own a VHS player. I was an ace at watching movies, from the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard to the grindhouse gore of Roger Corman. I thought all a boy needs is a video rental card, a pizza and a dog to share them with. This had purpose, and this is how I became a writer. I read some when I was a kid, but I learned plot, structure and dialogue by watching films over, and over, and over again every Friday night. From Alphaville to Zombies of Mora Tau, the more I watched, the more I understood. An inciting event needs to come fast. Comedy is timing. Drama is emotion. Most importantly, I had my dog to hang out with and listen to my commentary while I watched.
That was twenty years ago. I have HBO now and a new dog. His name is Dusty and we watch movies together as well. He snuggles and listens while I give commentary. We will watch anything together, at least for a few minutes, but when certain movies come on the world stops and we watch from start to finish. When watching a movie with my dog he simply doesn't know what is going on (he never really does with any movie), but he feeds off my thoughts and feelings. Here are five movies I like to watch with my Dusty. I won't mention "dog" movies like Marley and Me, Turner and Hooch or Marmaduke here. That would be like wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to a Robert Plant concert. Here, you will find more swashbuckling silliness, and existentially questioning fare that make an evening of dog companionship and pizza eating just as much fun.
I consider Married to the Mob (dir. Jonathan Demme) to be among the most splendidly weird movies to erupt from the 1980's, an idiosyncratic and colorful New York City mob world that is one step to the left of our own actuality. Married to the Mob lives in a funhouse mirror and in a reality, I imagine, that dogs would find commonplace. At the center there are no real good characters or dastardly bad guys, just entertaining protagonists and antagonists I imagine a dog would love to come home to. I'm a playwright and have gotten to know one of the actors in this movie who meets his death. I always turn the channel when that happens, as I hate watching a friend die. And, yes, I just contradicted what I wrote in the previous paragraph.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (dir. Wes Anderson) is not my favorite Wes Anderson's movie (that would be The Darjeeling Limited), but it makes for an exceptionally poignant ride when your dog is with you. I always tell Dusty the structure is loose, but the themes of a lost father and son relationship between a vastly underrated Owen Wilson and Bill Murray is what makes this flick a must. The film has deliberately strange set-ups, which mirrors the peculiar relations most people have with their fur-covered sidekicks. The ending deals with regrets that are both universal and individual. At least, that is what my dog and I talk about when we watch it. I always regret leaving Dusty for so long when I leave the house.
I stopped drinking recently for various reasons (after the age of 30, it just gets boring), but one of the motivations was my dog turning 7. I understand we only have so many years before we say goodbye. Because of this I want to remember as many sights, sounds, smells and adventures we share before he goes. Stand By Me (dir. Rob Reiner) was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in the cinema. The themes of friendship in the film are amplified by the closing comments of Richard Dreyfuss as an adult Gordie, finishing his memoir and taking his sons swimming. After Dusty and I watch Stand By Me we go walking around our 'burb and by the pond across the street, often hunting for dead toads, stalked by the neighborhood cats. If Dusty could talk on these walks I hope he'd say he brought a comb as we debate the powers of Superman and Mighty Mouse.
Star Wars Episode... um... Let's Just Call It The Second Film: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Irvin Kershner) is easily the best Star Wars film. I often teach this script that makes plot points look like character choices. The audience needs to have some alone time for Han Solo and Princess Leia to fall in love, and what better way than to have Han land his defunct starship in a field of spinning rocks for repair? What makes Empire a great film are the quiet moments that occur with the supporting cast, and there is no greater supporting character in cinema history than Chewbacca. Sorry, Dr. Watson. Sorry, Mr. Spock. Sorry, Goose. Chewbacca takes the gold medal. The moment in which he rebuilds C3PO in Cloud City shows the softness only a dog could provide after a bad day at the office, and as Chewy rips apart Stormtroopers in the carbonate scene, Han calms him by appealing to his devotion, "I need you to take care of the Princess." In The Empire Strikes Back, Chewbacca sets the bar for foil faithfulness. He's even willing to strangle Lando Calrissian in the name of friendship. I often think of Dusty as the greatest sidekick today, but a long time ago in a galaxy far far away...
How To Train Your Dragon (dir. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders), a movie about two outcasts coming together, would have snagged the 2011 Academy Award for Best Animated movie if it wasn't for Toy Story 3. The film is nothing more than a thickly-textured coming of age tale devoted to camaraderie, action and adventure and the relationship between humans and animals. Dusty usually falls asleep before movies are over, and he had no clue why I was hugging him at the end of this film, and if you get to the last line of Dragon, you will know what I'm writing of.
When I go to Kinko's and publish my memoir, I'll place an emphasis on story, plot and dogs. The last make the best movie companions with the loyalty of a wookiee, the love of a mobster girlfriend and the willingness to listen to every theory, thought and idea you have on what you are watching, even if you are wrong (and I usually am). Except when I am talking about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, but that's another story all together.
Timothy Braun is a writer living in Austin, TX. His story "Four Legged Reason To Keep It Together" was published by the New York Times "Modern Love" column.