I was in my teens when I first began showing films in Toronto. As a young man my teachers encouraged me to be a writer. I saw motion pictures as the medium in our time that print had been in the 19th century.
Print had been huge then. It was huge not because people bought newspapers to read the news but to read the next chapter of the latest story by Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Count Leo Tolstoi and others.
Print has lost track of its origins. Today hardly anyone reads newspapers. The few who do don’t count for anything.
I read books on the art, business and history of motion pictures. I was lucky. At that time there were no film schools around for me to waste money and time in.
When I went to the local cinema first in New Brunswick and then in Ontario, Canada to see if they could show the films I was reading about (THE BIRTH OF A NATION, THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, etc.) they looked at me like I was a one kid Communist plot to put them out of business. They all said, “No one wants to see that but you.”
One day I saw an ad in the magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND for an 8mm copy of the 1927 silent film METROPOLIS by Fritz Lang.
My mother had seen an ad for someone to cut chickens for KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN. She sent me down to apply for the job. I did my best not to get it so, naturally, they hired me.
I got a penny and a half per bird. The money I cut from cutting chickens (with a bandsaw) letme buy my first copy of METROPOLIS. Of course, my parents thought I was wasting my money. Parents almost always think their kids are wasting their money.
The man from whom I got the film had a large number of other great silent films. I bought many of those as well. Soon, on my bedroom wall, I was looking at THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and many more).
The friends I invited over to see these films thought them boring. That was a bummer.
One day in the middle of my last year in high school the principal called me into his office. He shouted that I had the wrong attitude and would starve in two weeks if I left school that day.
That night I arrived from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on the streets of Toronto.
I had just enough money in my pocket for a beer. Drinking age was then twenty-one. I was seventeen going on eighteen.
No sooner had the waiter dropped a beer on front of me than the police walked in.
“Drink your beer and talk with me,” said an older man who saw the concern on my face.
“You are new in town. Do you have a place to stay?” he said when the police left.
His name was Billy Veltzell. He gave me a place to sleep that night. He helped me find a job.
A fellow I worked with took me to meet a man who sold old comic books, newspapers, movie magazines and film posters named “Captain” George Hendersen. When George found out I had 8mm copies of great movies most could only read about he invited me to show them in his store.
That moment I discovered the very great pleasure of showing films I knew to be good to others who knew that as well. That is how my screenings began.
Of course, all the established film society people told their patrons not to come to my programs because I was just some crazy kid.
People came anyway. They liked what they saw. They liked me.
Today the established film people still stay away from my programs. They still warn others not to come. That’s fine by me. Film teachers regularly warn their students not to come to my programs. When Jerry Beck, of Cartoon Research, was in Toronto I invited him by knowing in advance he would not show up.
THE LONELY PLANET is the world’s number one travel guide. If you go to its site, hit Toronto and hit ENTERTAINMENT the first thing that comes up is a page listing THE CINEFORUM. They write: “Though there have been a few attempts to shut it down, an off-the-wall experience (or perhaps on -the-wall) still awaits at Cineforum. Irascible Torontonian character Reg Hartt wraps posters around telephone poles advertising his cinema – the front room of his house where he showcases classic and avant-garde films. Animation retrospectives are his specialty, as are Salvador Dalí prints. Come prepared for idiosyncratic lectures designed to expand your consciousness (like ‘What I Learned from LSD’), sometimes delivered while movies are playing. Seats 20; bring your own food and drink.”
While the so-called “culturally elite” don’t come to my programs the truth is that the “culturally elite” don’t go to anything that is really vital. That is how it has always been with them. It is how it will always be.
When Norman Wilner, now the film writer for NOW magazine, began as an intern at The Toronto Star he phoned to tell me not to send THE STAR any more materials because they were being tossed unopened into the trash.
That is not say that there are not people who appreciate what I do at THE STAR. Of course there are. Rob Salem, the Star’s television writer, called me in 1980 when he began working on the listings there. “I was told by the fellow I replaced that, despite the paper’s desire to omit you from the listings I am to keep you in,” he said. But Rob is one of a kind. He is his own person. Said Rob in an interview, “(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.”
The Star’s Joe Fiorito wrote (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2010/09/15/fiorito_we_gotta_have_hartt.html ) “I am a friend of Reg Hartt. So is anyone who can appreciate a man who teaches film the way Neal Cassady drove a bus. I mean that, where you have style wrapped around content and tied with a ribbon of beat improvisation, there you have angels.”
It would be a mistake to think that this attitude of the so-called “culturally elite” is limited to Toronto. We find it everywhere. Speaking of the beats I was given a great collection of newspaper stories on The Beats printed in the day. The majority were filled with contempt and disdain.
Nothing changes. Everything remains the same.
A story from Miles Davis: “At the table where I was sitting, a politician’s wife said some silly shit about jazz, like “Are we supporting this art form just because it’s here in this country, and is it art in its truest form, or are we just being blasé and ignoring jazz because it comes from here and not from Europe, and it comes from black people?”
“This came from out of the blue. I don’t like questions like that because they’re just questions from someone who’s trying to sound intelligent, when in fact they don’t give a damn about it. I looked at her and said, “What is it? Jazz time or something? Why you ask me some shit like that?”
“So she said, “Well, you’re a jazz musician, aren’t you?”
“So I said, “I’m a musician, that’s all” [...] “Do you really want to know why jazz music isn’t given the credit in this country?” [...] “Jazz is ignored here because the white man likes to win everything. White people like to see other white people win just like you do and they can’t win when it comes to jazz and blues because black people created this. And so when we play in Europe, white people over there appreciate us because they know who did what and they will admit it. But most white Americans won’t.”
“She looked at me and turned all red and shit, and then she said, “Well, what have you done that’s so important in your life? Why are you here?”
“Now, I just hate shit like this coming from someone who is ignorant, but who wants to be hip and has forced you into a situation where you’re talking to them in this manner. She brought this on herself. So then I said, ‘Well, I changed the course of music five or six times, so I guess that’s what I’ve done and I guess I don’t believe in playing just white compositions.” I looked at her real cold and said, ‘Now, tell me what have you done of any importance other than being white, and that ain’t important to me, so tell me what your claim to fame is?’”
We find this same sterile attitude in the Pharisees (Politicians) and Scribes (lawyers) who confront Jesus in the Gospels. We find it in the men who sat in judgement on Socrates who ordered him to drink the hemlock. Having done this they left Athens for the summer. They left the door to Socrates’ cell unlocked. He was supposed to be gone when they returned. After all, “reasonable” men don’t take this stuff seriously. It is interesting how if we had a “t” to “reasonable” it becomes “treasonable.”
Of course “T” stands for The Cross.
Sooner or later if our life be about Truth we find ourselves either nailed to Calvary’s Cross or drinking from the cup that was given to Socrates.
That, to me, is the only goal worth striving for.
But I am a fool. Don’t listen to me. I take this stuff seriously.
A few years ago I was invited to The Thalia Theater in New York where I presented my SEX AND VIOLENCE CARTOON FESTIVAL (playing this Saturday at 9pm at The Cineforum in Toronto) six shows in a row.
The Thalia (http://filmint.nu/?p=10242 ) was the most perfect and most unique cinema in the world. It was especially designed as a repertory cinema with a unique seating plan that ensured no one’s view was blocked by someone else’s head.
I went down because it gave me the opportunity to honor a friend of mine in his home town. That friend was animation artist James “Shamus” Culhane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamus_Culhane ). I was being welcome to New York by the great Al Aronowitz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Aronowitz ).
Most of the people from the first show stayed over for the entire day. The same thing happened with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th shows so that by the time we got to the tribute to Shamus the place was packed.
At the end when it was all over an ancient Chinese man who had been sitting at the rear since the very first show said, “Thank you. You have given me the best day of my life.”
I thought of the shameful way Chinese of his generation had been treated over the years in both America and Canada. That was particularly potent praise.
Judith Merril was the mother of modern science/speculative fiction. Before she moved to Canada to become part of the boldest experiment in alternate education ever, Rochdale College, she had been part of a group called HYDRA composed of the very best writers of science/speculative fiction. She decided to give birth to a HYDRA NORTH composed of people important to science/speculative fiction in Canada.
One writer said, “Reg Hartt does not write science fiction. Why have you asked him to be a member of this group?” It was a good question well asked for I wondered myself the same. Judy replied, “Reg is THE most creative person working in film in Canada.”
Those who knew Judy know she did not lightly give praise.
My father’s brother, Douglas Hartt, served as Director General of Public Works Canada. That is as high as one can go in the civil service in this country. One day he said to me, “There is only one person on earth I want to meet.”
I asked, “Who is that?”
He replied, “The author of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, Jane Jacobs.”
I told him, “She is my friend. I will introduce you to her.”
He refused to accept my offer.
Mrs. Jacobs was a friend of mine from her arrival in Toronto in 1968 until her passing. Shortly before her death, over a beer in her home, she said, “The best part of what you offer is what you have to say.”
I contrast that with a local “hip” journalist who said, “When I go to his programs I take a lunch because I never know whether he is going to talk for a minute or a day.”
Pierre Berton was one of Canada’s great thinkers and writers. He gave his last public reading in Canada here at The Cineforum. James Adams, of THE GLOBE AND MAIL, asked Berton’s manager, “Why is Pierre Berton giving a reading at Reg Hartt’s rowhouse on Bathurst.” She replied, “Pierre loves Reg.”
Martin Knelman is an arts writer for THE STAR. In 2000 I brought in a 16mm print of the 1931 German Film by the great G. W. Pabst, THE THREEPENNY OPERA from the musical play by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill. The year 2000 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth and 50th anniversary of the death of major composer Kurt Weill. Weill cared not for acclaim by critics. He much preferred the love of cab drivers. I have known Martin since the late 1960s. I thought of him as a friend. When I called to let him know the film was on he said, “Cinematheque Ontario showed that last year.”
I replied, “Yes, once to 200 people.”
Said Martin, “I am not writing about your bootleg screening.”
I had gotten a legitimate print of the film from a company in New York that sold 16mm prints to colleges, schools, museums and universities. It was not a bootleg. I had not called to have him write about it. I called just to let him know it was being shown.
The medium of motion pictures owes a great debt to bootleggers and pirates. For too long film producers did not value their history. Far too many films (the vast majority) simply rotted away. It was bootleggers, pirates and private collectors who preserved them.
That night I had, as I often have, only one man out to see the film. “You are getting a private screening,” I told him.
“Do you mind?” he said.
“No, that is why I like doing stuff here. When I used spaces I rented I had to focus on putting bums on seats. When I used bars I had to focus not only on putting bums on seats but also on getting them to drink. Here I show films I know are great to those who appreciate their greatness.”
The man said, “You have been doing great work for the art and culture of this country for a long time.”
I said, “Some see it that way. Most do not. What do you do?”
He gave me his card. Reading it I saw that he was a member of the Privy Council Of Canada who had served as both Minister of The Environment and Minister of Communications in the Canadian government. He had been coming to my programs since the days I began them in 1970 at Rochdale College (although they go back before that).
I am not writing this to impress you with what I have done. Remember I was told by my high school principal way back when I was 17, “You have the wrong attitude. If you leave this school today you will starve in two weeks.”
Had I not left I would have starved. Worse, I would not have known what I missed.
The “culturally elite” are always going to be with us.
If you are content to be a copy, an imitation, a fake they will welcome you.
Don’t complain. Don’t cry. Don’t whine.
If you are fortunate enough to have the wrong attitude you are made of much finer stuff than they are.
There is no reason for you to feel ashamed because you are alone, an original, one of a kind.
Don’t ask for love. Don’t look for love. Always be ready to give love freely for only whores charge.
Professionals are prostitutes. ‘Nuff said.