So, I became a father last week.
Riley Hudson Turitz was born at 1:32 pm EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 29th, in Western Massachusetts. He weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces, and was 19 1/2 inches long. His mother, Jessica, was a warrior throughout the ordeal and is now at home resting somewhat uncomfortably with her first child. The boy’s father can’t stop crying with joy at how lucky he is.
There were long periods in my life when I genuinely thought this day would never come. More than once I told myself that I might just have to settle for being everyone’s favorite uncle, and that would have to be okay. Then, right after the pandemic started, I met Jessica. We got married exactly 17 months after our first date, and six weeks shy of our second anniversary, our family has grown with the addition of a tiny little lad who already has his father’s stubbornness and his mother’s charm.
Now, at nearly 53 years of age, I am a dad, and suddenly, I cannot imagine my life without this little person in it. In the weeks and months leading up to this moment, I thought long and hard about what kind of father I wanted to be. My dad did a pretty great job, as does my brother, and, well, most of my friends, and those folks have all been wonderful guides for the road I have ahead of me.
I am obviously going to teach Riley about baseball and the joy of being a fan of the Boston Red Sox. And, of course, I am excited to teach him about comic books and superheroes, especially Batman, the greatest of them all. We’ll encourage him to read books that spark his imagination, and we’ll be getting him on skis as soon as he can walk.
But most of all, I can’t wait to introduce Riley to the brilliant wonder of the movies and the magical experience of sitting in a dark room to watch stories unfold on a big screen. Some stories make us laugh, some make us cry, and some scare the bejeezus out of us, but all of them transport us away to a different place, a different reality… even when they aren’t so good and we wish we’d done literally anything else with our time.
The word “magic” is thrown around a lot, but when it comes to movies, it really does fit. I know how hard it is to make a movie, whether it’s good or bad (and I have done both), so I understand that making a good one, let alone a great one, is practically a miracle. And if that’s too strong — after all, having a baby is a real miracle — then let’s call it a magic trick, seeing as how movies make us believe in characters and situations that aren’t necessarily real.
The first time I saw a movie in the theater was 1975, and it was a re-release of Disney’s animated classic Sleeping Beauty. My mother and my aunt took me and a couple of my cousins. I was four, almost five, and was utterly transfixed. It was like a spike in my veins. I didn’t come close to fully understanding it, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked.
Remember, these were the days before VCRs and cable TV when there were just three networks and PBS. It was tough to see movies anywhere other than the theater, but even as young as I was, I was enterprising. Within a few years, I was able to convince my folks that it was okay to drop me off at the two-screen Cinema City a few miles from our house, or perhaps the Maine Mall Cinema, a few miles in the other direction, and then pick me up a couple of hours later.
Hey, things were different in the ’70s.
In 1977, Star Wars happened. And yes, I used that particular verb for a reason. It wasn’t released, that movie happened, and my gobsmacked six-year-old self somehow found a way to see it six times in the theater. Yes, really. A couple of years later, on ABC’s Sunday Night Movie of the Week, my father let me stay up late to watch Goldfinger with him, and that spy flick got me hooked on James Bond, another hopeless addiction that lasts to this day.
Throughout my entire life, from my difficult teen years in the ’80s to my college days in the ’90s and my own burgeoning film career as a younger man, movies were both a refuge and a celebration. The Red Sox were regularly terrible (this was years before the miracle of 2004 and their first World Series Championship since 1918), my dating life was hit or miss at best (mostly miss back then), comics were in a deep fallow period, and I was usually too broke to hit the slopes.
But movies never failed me.
Escaping a brutally hot New York City summer day in an air-conditioned theater with a giant soda? Bliss. Falling in love with one starlet or another, only to be snapped out of it once the credits rolled? What a fabulous fantasy. Roaring with laughter with a roomful of strangers who paid to see the same funny movie that I did? Enormously powerful. Even as some friends came and went, great loves were discovered and lost, and so many other things went this way or that, movies were a constant. They could be counted on. No matter where I was in my life, I had that.
Whether Riley loves movies as much as I do will be up to him. I won’t force my tastes on him, as I know that with great power comes great responsibility, but he will, at the very least, receive a real education about the stories that have had a monumental influence on my life, and ideally, my enthusiasm will rub off on him.
Of course, I know this could end up being tricky. Two of Riley’s cousins — my brother’s sons — are 12 and 10. They are great kids, both actors. They love performing and they love theater, but thanks to the shift in how kids get their entertainment now, they have a hard time sitting through movies. Their father has begun — a tad too late, it would appear, judging by their reaction — to sit them down and show them the films that he and I loved when we were kids, and we have both been appalled by how little they seem to care for them. The flicks don’t move fast enough, or they’re too long (even at a breezy 95 or 100 minutes, in most cases), and jeez, these kids could have seen a hundred TikTok videos in that time.
I worry that this kind of thing will become generational, and that because of the way entertainment is made now, by the time Riley becomes old enough to appreciate movies, he won’t even recognize them. They will be a relic of the past, something his doddering old man talks about like a great-great-grandfather might have yammered on about Vaudeville in the days of yore as young Riley consumes yet another video of some guy repeatedly kicking his best friend in the groin, or some other kind of nonsense.
I worry that when I ask him to sit down with me to watch an old favorite of mine — say, Goldfinger — he will not do so because he loves the adventure and the feeling that he’s traveling through time to hang with the coolest spy who ever lived, but rather because he wants to humor me.
While my heart will soar at his empathy and desire to spend time with his dad, it will break that his own heart may not be in it. Not really. Because the chance to lose himself completely in a two-hour story like that one could help to define him. It could take him down a path, whether he follows his father into this business or not, that will enrich him and offer him culture in a way that no other medium quite can.
Some years back, I went through a pretty dark time. My career was in the toilet, I was alone, had nothing going on, and wondered if I would ever get to where I’d believed I could go. At that point, it genuinely seemed like a pipe dream, a fruitless endeavor that was no longer something I could achieve. I felt a deep and terrible despair that it wouldn’t happen, that my life would come to nothing. I never seriously considered doing anything drastic or hurting myself, but that didn’t change my level of anger and frustration, or the self-loathing that one can feel when they start to actually believe that they’re a failure.
But even when things were truly awful, there were always movies to see. The new Bond. A new Scorsese film. Or Spielberg. Or Fincher. I could revisit the movies I loved, too — the ones that had given me purpose and could remind me why I made the choices I made and why I was so enamored with them in the first place, offering me a renewed sense of purpose. Movies as different as The Third Man, Almost Famous, All the President’s Men, Caddyshack, Barry Lyndon, Dazed and Confused, Chinatown, Casablanca, The Parallax View, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name just a few.
In a sense, movies save lives. They certainly saved this one. By extension, Riley is here because of them, too.
I can’t make my son love movies, but I can teach him enough so that maybe he will at least appreciate them. That education is one of the best gifts I’ll be able to offer him, and I can’t wait to get started. I’ll envy his ability to watch certain films for the first time, and that sense of wonder and discovery that he’ll no doubt feel, all while watching them again myself through a very different lens — that of a father. That will also be a cherished gift, one that Riley will give to me.
I didn’t understand any of this — not really — until I saw him come into the world and felt an intense and indelible rush, a sense that nothing would ever be the same, and that everything I’d ever done had led to this, the single greatest moment of my entire life.
The moment I met my son.
Welcome to the world, Riley Turitz. It’s wild and crazy and it’ll provide you with laughter and tears as it both breaks your heart and fills it with joy — hopefully not in equal measure. My own heart is now overflowing with joy at your arrival, and I’m beyond excited to show you everything that life has to offer… especially movies.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.