It had been only two years since I'd graduated film school, and I was beginning to get quite serious about a girl who was at UC Davis studying life sciences. Robin had a bright, empirical mind, balanced by a kind, adventurous personality, and I was in love with her. She was my perfect diamond — except for one, tiny occlusion.
One day, while visiting her at school, she casually informed me that she wasn't sure she'd seen "Jaws." My first reaction? She was putting me on. How could someone born and raised in L.A., who worked at zoos and frequented aquariums all her life, have missed "Jaws"?
I started to realize there was a slew of other omissions: Coppola's "The Godfather"; Scorsese's "Goodfellas" and "Taxi Driver"; Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," "A Clockwork Orange" and "Full Metal Jacket"; and the "Star Wars" trilogy. After a while, I learned to stop asking.
Then, six years ago, I got a call from a college friend, Lorraine, inviting Robin (now my fiancée) and me to dinner. One of our film school professors had just published his first course textbook, a study of Hollywood films from the post-World War II era, and he was to speak about it at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles.
Eight years had passed since I'd graduated from USC, but as I listened to Dr. Drew Casper, it felt almost as if I'd never left.
Casper was more composed here than in his classroom, where he was notorious for his booming voice, his tendency toward theatrics and his habit of getting in the face of any student who was suicidal enough to raise his or her hand. In his lecture hall, once that Pandora's box was opened, you were Casper's forevermore. You could not skip class, forget the reading, fall asleep, whisper to a friend, go to the bathroom, sneeze — or breathe — without hearing about it. That was why, in school, I had made a promise to myself: I would not raise my hand in Dr. Casper's class. Ever.
But this was a different kind of audience. Lorraine had us seated at his table, dining on mixed greens, pan-seared chicken breast and wine. Finally, I had the good professor captive. I could ask any question I wanted without any fear of any disruption to my life. Or so I thought.
I hadn't counted on Casper pouncing on my left-brained, science-minded fiancée when she admitted she didn't know very much about movies, despite having dated a film major for the better part of a decade. This had always remained a bit of a sticking point for me in our relationship, but to Casper it was downright unacceptable. To my surprise, Robin embraced his heckling, suggesting that we plunk down $60 on the spot to purchase a copy of "Postwar Hollywood: 1946-1962." Before we left, Casper signed his book. The inscription read:
Thank you for coming to the talk, Alex and hungry Robin — who didn't know what I was talking about. But perhaps she will want to find out by coming to class, and your union will be ever more felicitous. Best to you.
A few weeks following the dinner, Robin went to Dr. Casper's class and dragged me with her. We crashed an evening screening of "The Student Prince" on a rare 35-millimeter print. That was just the beginning. Robin began methodically skipping around the book's index, adding dozens of old films to our Netflix queue. Classics like "A Streetcar Named Desire" made her fall in love with Marlon Brando. "Sunset Blvd.," "Stalag 17," "Sabrina" and "The Apartment" sent Billy Wilder to the top of her favorite directors list. Prior to watching each film classic, we would read aloud all the excerpts about it from "the book." A ritual was born.
As I write this, I'm glancing at an Excel spreadsheet my wife made. It has every movie we've ever seen from the book organized by title, director, cast, year, studio and date of viewing. My wife loves lists like this, and ours now stands at more than 100 movies.
In the time we watched all these films, my "hungry" Robin and I got married, bought a house and had a son. On our wedding night, we watched Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Flying across Egypt, we huddled together on an airplane watching Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in "Summertime" on an iPhone. At the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, we went to a showing of "Lawrence of Arabia," projected in larger-than-life 70 mm.
I'm more thankful than I could have ever imagined that I finally coalesced with Dr. Casper. Not only was it a pleasant bit of academic closure but it also brought the person I am closest to in this world even closer to me. That inscription in the book wasn't just well wishes. Turns out, it was a romantic prophecy.
Alex Daltas is a writer and filmmaker. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Robin, and their 3-year-old son.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun