9pm Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday (October 24 thru 29) @ THE CINEFORUM, 463 Bathurst, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 2S9 (416-603-6643).
I grew up in a small one horse town in New Brunswick where the horse died and its wagon burnt. The town had only one working woman. On Saturday nights men drove up and down the main street waiting for their turn so they would have something to confess in church on Sunday.
One day on the magazine rack of the town drugstore appeared a magazine which was to change my life for the better in the most wonderful way. That magazine was FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. It was published by James Warren. It was edited by Forrest J (no period after the “J”) Ackerman.
Mr. Ackerman had grown up in Hollywood with two other lads who would become important in the worlds of literature, fantasy, horror and science fiction. Their names were Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.
The pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS were filled with mouth watering pictures from movies I had never heard of but which having heard of I wanted to see.
I asked the local cinema to show pictures like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, METROPOLIS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. The man who ran it looked at me like I was a one kid communist plot to put him out of business.
Then one day in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS I saw an ad from a man named John Griggs offering 8mm copies of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and more.
I got a job cutting chickens for Kentucky Fried Chicken. By this time my father had moved us to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I got three cents a bird.
Naturally my family and friends thought I was wasting my money on these films no one but me it seemed wanted to see.
The first film I bought was METROPOLIS. The second was THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). The moment I saw THE PHANTOM the first time I became aware of how great movies too seldom can be.
When I arrived in Toronto in the mid 1960s the film scene in this city was dead. Finding out I had copies of films most could only read about people asked me to show them. It was then I discovered the great joy that comes from sharing things I know are great with strangers instead of friends.
Through my screening I met and continue to meet interesting people.
In this interview Shirley Hughes, of THE TORONTO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL, speaks about my work:
Q: Did growing up in Toronto influence your obsession?
A: My knowledge of silent films, German and French cinema, came an awful lot from Reg Hartt’s Cineforum. At first he showed films at Innis College, then he had a place on Mercer St. for a while. Reg showed some really incredible silent films, from Phantom of the Opera to D.W. Griffith’s films. His strength was putting incredibly good soundtracks on the films. He has a really good ear for movie music and back in the good old days when it was all analog, he would splice them together himself. (http://www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/2013/04/05/a_drink_with_shirley_hughes_director_toronto_silent_film_festival.html).
My approach to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is completely different from that of every one else.
Everyone scores this film with THE PHANTOM as a monster.
Is he disfigured? Yes. Is he a monster? To me, no.
I had found Gaston Le Roux’s novel of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in a used book store. In it Erik, The Phantom, is born with a face so ugly his mother made him wear a mask. I thought about the intense shame such a child would bear. I also thought about that child’s desolate loneliness.
To save himself the anguish of being rejected constantly by those who think themselves normal The Phantom has made his home deep beneath the Pris Opera House.
He is an enormously gifted and intelligent being this phantom (as is so often the case with people society turns its back on).
One day he discovers a quality in the voice of a girl singing in the chorus of the Paris Opera which reveals that she has a very great musical gift. No one else has heard this. No one else cares about it.
He introduces himself to her while remaining in the shadows. He becomes her teacher. Through him she rises to astound Paris when she replaces the star singer of the Opera.
The Phantom brings her down to his world. He tells her she will be safe so long as she does not remove his mask.
Which, of course, she does.
Seeing his true face the girl, Christine is repulsed. She runs from him. She betrays his secrets.
One of my favorite poems is Anna Akhmatova’s TWENTY-FIRST. NIGHT. MONDAY.
Twenty-first. Night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capitol in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing — who knows why–
made up the tale that love exists on earth.
People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings, fear parting,
and when they sing, they sing about love.
But the secret reveals itself to some,
and on them silence settles down…
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I’m sick all the time.
It was a cold night in Moscow when she wrote that.
I have always seen THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Lon Chaney not as a horror film but as the story of a man who, like so many of us, has given his love to someone completely unworthy of it.
That is how I scored it. In my version the girl not The Phantom is the monster.
Seeing his true face she says, “It’s good-bye, honey and I am keeping the money.”
Lon Chaney was uniquely suited for this role. Many think that is because he had a rare talent with make-up that led him to be known as “The Man With A Thousand Faces.”
In part that is true. There is also, however, a deeper reason.
Both his parents were deaf mutes. He learned the art of pantomime so that he could communicate with them. As well, at that time if we were born different (as, in truth, all of us are) we were viewed as a monster, a child of Satan.
Lon Chaney grew up knowing how it is to be viewed as a monster.
He brought that to his roles.
In a piece in THE TORNTO STAR published in 1980 David Beard (who ran the best cinema book store Toronto has ever had) said, “Reg Hartt is over worked, under financed and snubbed. We should be paying tribute to him.”
I, too, know what it is to be treated monstrously by those who are our inferiors in every way imaginable.
Rob Salem, an entertainment writer for THE TORONTO STAR, said, “Reg Hartt has had an amazing impact given the size of the venue and the esoteric nature of the programming. He’s had an incredible impact on the city. No one else is doing it. No one else has ever done it.”
I arrived in this city with just enough money to buy a beer. Drinking age was then 21. I was 18. I did not let that stop me.
In 1968 I discovered THE I CHING. That is an ancient Chinese oracle. It teaches that the superior man does not accept help from the government. I accepted that. I turned my back completely on grants.
“(REG) Hartt is acknowledged as a phenomenon in the film community. He is someone who does not rely on government grants, subsidies or institutional protection to generate his film activities. He depends entirely on his intelligence, talent and resourcefulness. His events are produced with care and good sense, in a clean and friendly atmosphere and with an almost avuncular consideration for his fans, As a film officer for the National Film Board of Canada for 30 years, I have seldom seen anyone who added so much substance and passion to the cultural fabric of our society as he has done with his lectures and presentations.” –DOUGLAS ELIUK, education officer NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, formerly Canada’s Cultural Attaché to America.
“REG HARTT is what living in a metropolis is all about. He personifies the city as a meeting place of ideas, as a feast of experience and discussion and debate, as a triumph of the original and provoking over the banal and soporific.”–MICHAEL VALPY, GLOBE AND MAIL.
For nearly twenty years I have watched one man do his best to bring me down. He has wall papered and is wall papering the city with posters meant to destroy me.
I have stood up for others he has attacked. I have listened as those I stood up for gave me their excuses why they can not do for me what I did for them.
That does not bring me down.
I learned long ago that we are called to be stronger than we can dream we are.
Like THE PHANTOM I, too, have given my love to people completely unworthy of it. So too have many, many others.
A young man at one of my presentations asked, “Have you ever had your heart broken?” I replied, “There is nothing left but glue. What do you think hearts are for?”
I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself.
The small bird will drop frozen dead from the bough of the trees
without ever once having felt sorry for itself.
–D. H. Lawrence.
It is only when we can risk having our heart broken that we can do something worth doing. It is only when we pick our selves up and continue after all we have cared for has been turned to ashes that we can leave behind in this world a gift worth leaving.
My presentation of Lon Chaney in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is for those the world condemns as monsters.
Said Jean Cocteau, “Whatever the world condemns you for, make it your own. It is yourself.”
That takes courage and strength. Those are two qualities that have always been in short supply.
Those who have those qualities are often seen as monsters.
Join me, my fellow monsters, for THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.–Reg Hartt, 1-/21/2015.
Here is a gallery of rare pictures and posters from the film. Enjoy them.