Long before becoming the father of a baby girl myself in 1991, I had been fascinated by the complex relationship between fathers and daughters that I would see or hear about, the often profound effect that fathers seem to have on their daughters' lives, often even long after the fathers themselves were gone.
In literature, works such as Dickens' Little Dorit, Sylvia Plath's Daddy or Shakespeare's King Lear have held a singular fascination for me, one that has been compounded by the tales told to me by the women I have come to know well in my life. The many different father-daughter dynamics seemed uniquely compelling, long lasting and fraught ¬- sometimes in wonderful, loving ways, sometimes with devastating results. So many women have told me: "I never got over my father" or "I married my father" or, as Barbara Walters repeatedly wrote in her recent biography: "I could never be with him, he reminded me too much of my father." Orson Welles stunned me one day as he sadly confessed out of the blue: "I never knew how to be a father to girls. I could have been a good father, I think, to boys, but I never knew how to do it with my three daughters."
So that is one theme that has been of lifelong interest to me. Now here's a second one: Ever since early childhood I have been fascinated - even obsessed may not be too strong a word - with movies in which, one way or another, Love beats Time: Portrait of Jenny, A Guy Named Joe, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Stairway to Heaven, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I have never quite gotten over the impossible and irresistible romance of these films.
Now I have a teenage daughter of my own and have come to understand the complex father/daughter thing that I mentioned earlier in a way that only the father of a daughter - or the daughter of a father - can fully get. It is quite something and I wanted to communicate it somehow in my work, as I have long wished to communicate the Time/Love thing of the movies of my youth. But how?
When I hired Harriet Schock to write the music for Irene in Time, telling her what it was about, Harriet - stunned - immediately said to me: "I married my father." And right there in my living room she sat down at the piano and played a song for me that she had written: "I'm Dancing With My Father." Tanna Frederick sang it together with Harriet's band in a club one night and suddenly all the pieces of what I was looking for seemed to fall into place.
What's more, I suddenly realized that this wasn't just about women and their fathers. Being a man didn't necessarily exclude me. A few years back, my therapist actually told me, as I was struggling with my second failed marriage: "You married your father and so did she!"
My father's influence on me and my life has been so intense, so profound, so powerful in some wonderful yet extremely difficult ways. Ever since his death at age 96, fifteen years ago, I have discovered that I too have been dancing with my father, in all the years that he is gone. I have old, silent, 8 mm home movies of me as a baby being held by my father, who is twirling me around in his arms, so incredibly lovingly. Somewhere in time I am still dancing with him, will always be, as I am now dancing with my daughter and my son, no doubt for the rest of their lives.
Big subject, I thought. Big feelings, it evokes. I'll try to make a movie about it, I said. So this is it. "I'm dancing with my father. Making circles in the room, I'm dancing, yes I'm dancing, with him..."