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August 29, 2007
Getting to Know Your Correspondent

As TIFF approaches I find myself thinking a lot about the films that set me on the path to becoming a film critic/ historian.

I was a cynical 12 year old in a theatre with my dad watching a re-release of Cecil B. Demille’s “The Ten Commandments” in 1971, long before home video. When one wanted to see a film from the past again, we were at the mercy of the studio to re-release the picture. Dad, also a movie fan, had gone on and on about this movie, so much that, naturally, I was not expecting all that much. From the opening sequence I was hooked by the enormous scope of the thing, the size, the color, the spectacle. Charlton Heston was mesmerizing as Moses (could anyone else get away with speaking those lines?) and Yul Brynner was the perfect villain. The moment that seared into my mind and began this obsession with the cinema was the parting of the Red Sea. I honestly expected perhaps for the tide to go out, but the sky grew black, Heston looked magnificent against the swirling black clouds atop the rock, his arms stretched out, his voice booming, “Behold his mighty hand!” and the waters opened, two massive walls on either side, raging madly as the exodus crossed.

I was stunned by what had just taken place on the screen.

From that day on, I saw everything. I would set my alarm for the wee hours of the morning to watch a late, late show I had not seen before. My grandmother, bless her soul, took me to the library where I discovered the film book section, and devoured every book there. Trips to Toronto took me to the rep theatres where “Citizen Kane,” “On the Waterfront” and “The Searchers” played regularly.

In college, I studied film and theatre, with hopes of being an actor. But in the back of mind I knew what I really wanted to was write about film. A screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” opening day in Toronto confirmed that. I watched, hypnotized by Coppola’s imagery and left the theatre wanting to tell people, wanting others to experience what I had just experienced. I wrote for myself at first and kept diaries of the films I had seen, fully intent of launching a career as a critic.

It took a long time, but I finally did it in the late eighties and became a full time film critic and historian. I now write for several outlets in Canada and lecture at the Toronto Film School.

Over the years I have seen tens of thousands of films and still avoid being jaded about the product on screens
around the world. Each film I see might be the greatest film ever made. You never know.

I am now 48 years old, married for 17 years, the father of two wonderful girls ages 15 and 7, lucky to be married to my soul mate who shares this crazy love of cinema. A long time ago I learned that “The Ten Commandments” really just…isn’t very good, hokey in fact, but I cannot look away if it is on. Next year my study of Clint Eastwood as a director will be published as “Eastwood: American Filmmaker,” by Greenwood Press, followed by “The Great Under Appreciated Films of the Eighties in 2009.” Somewhere down the line I will write a biography of Steven Spielberg for Greenwood, as promised.

I am handicapped, the result of a devastating head-on collision six years ago that left me in constant pain and crippled, my legs forever damaged. My heart was damaged in the crash and I underwent open heart surgery before regaining consciousness one month after the crash. After five months in the hospital where they twice told my wife I might die, I left, and though initially there was concern whether or not I would walk…I do. I have vowed not to let my handicap interfere with my life and I do not, though the pain can be frustrating some days.

Asked which filmmakers I admire, I answer easily: Francis Ford Coppola (in the seventies), Scorsese, John Ford, Elia Kazan, Steven Spielberg (successful but still under appreciated), Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson, Ang Lee, Julie Taymor, David Fincher, Peter Jackson and Oliver Stone. I have never lost the acting bug and remain fascinated with that craft, which brings me to watch Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Holly Hunter, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Diane Keaton and countless others I admire.

I believe the single greatest performance given by a male is Robert Duvall in “The Apostle” and by a female, Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s Choice.”

And the most often asked question of a film critic?

“What’s the best movie you have ever seen?”

OK, there are a few.

“The Godfather Part II,” “The Godfather,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Schindler’s List,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Searchers,” “On the Waterfront,” “Apocalypse Now,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Jaws,” “Raging Bull,” “Cabaret,” “King Kong” (1933 and 2005), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The African Queen,” “Magnolia,” “Unforgiven,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Mystic River,” “Fight Club,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Pulp Fiction,” “JFK,” “Trainspotting,” “Blow Out,” “Reds,” “E.T.,” “Terms of Endearment,” “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Away from Her,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Blue Velvet,” “Manhattan,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “Shane,” “The Hustler,” “The Stunt Man,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Hair,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Shootist,” “All the President’s Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Tootsie,’ “City Lights,” and several others.

Now…you know me just a little better.


I absolutely LOVE your taste in film! I look forward to your Toronto analysis!

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