Supported by

The Atlantic Selects

My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes

Aug 22, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Charlie Tyrell

When his father died, Charlie Tyrell realized he knew next to nothing about him. Tyrell and his reticent father hadn’t been close; as a young adult, Tyrell had been waiting for “the strange distance he felt between them to close,” as he describes it in his short documentary, My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes. Now, he wouldn’t have the chance.

Still, Tyrell thought that there must be some skeleton key to his late father’s experience of the world. Greg Tyrell had been something of a modest hoarder—what if, like a mosaic of memory, Charlie could piece together who Greg was through the “weird stuff he had left behind?”

“I had this lingering impulse to make a film about him that looked at our relationship. Then, I found [his] porno tapes,” Tyrell told The Atlantic. “I thought it would be an absurd and funny way to approach the subject. It's hard to talk about a deceased loved one without sucking all of the air out of the room. So, by approaching it with a sense of humor, I found a way to invite people into the story in a less weighty way.”

Told through a mixed-media style that combines scrapbook animation, narration performed by David Wain, interviews with Tyrell’s family, and footage of places that were meaningful to Greg, My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes is a spirited cinematic elegy. Through the process of making the film, Tyrell would indeed discover who his father was—particularly, the tragic family history that had caused Greg to behave in a way that seemed impenetrable to his children. What begins as a story about what Tyrell describes as “some of the tackiest video pornography the 1980s had to offer” becomes the story of the courage to extricate oneself from a vicious cycle of abuse.

“It was emotionally draining at times,” Tyrell said. “This was me exposing mine and my family's relationship with our dad. But the process of looking at our relationship and shaping it into a story for a film allowed me to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.