Font Size

In 1970 in Hollywood I was stopped by two police officers who pulled up in their car the moment I stepped off the curb on to the road to hitchhike.

“Show us your identification,” they said.

All I had was a Toronto Public Library card. For those who have forgotten, for those who never knew there was a time when we could cross the border between Canada and The United States with only a library card for identification.

After they read my card one of them  said, “What did you do in Toronto?”

I replied, “I showed films at Rochdale College.”

“Rochdale College? Do you mean Canada’s Communist Training Center,” said the biggest police officer.

In that instant I turned my back on seeking a career in the motion picture industry. I knew that if the police in Hollywood, the single most out of touch place on earth, knew about Rochdale College then Rochdale had to be the hippest place on earth. I determined to return to Rochdale.

A week later I walked into the office of then Rochdale President Peter Turner. I had met Peter in 1968 when Rochdale first opened.

“I want to be part of this,” I said.

“What can you do?” Peter asked.

“I can give you a film program,” I replied.

“Then you are Director of Cinema Studies. We have no money. We can’t pay you. We can’t finance you. We can give you a space,” said Peter.

“That is all I need. The program will pay for itself,” I replied.

As a young man in my teens growing up first in Chipman, New Brunswick and then in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario I had been encouraged by my teachers to become a writer. I saw motion pictures as the medium print had been in the 19th century.  I began to read books on the art, business and history of motion pictures.

One day I realized I should be looking at the films I was reading about. I asked my local movie theaters to show films like THE BIRTH OF A NATION, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN.

They looked at me like I was a one kid communist plot to put them out of business. Business people are the dullest people on earth.

I found in an ad in a magazine called FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND that I could buy 8mm prints of these movies. I began to do just that with money I got cutting chickens for Colonel Saunders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  Just as musicians once learned by ordering music from record stores like Toronto’s Jazz And Blues Center (the only place The Rolling Stones wanted to visit when they first came to Toronto) I studied film by studying great films.

Rochdale already had a few fellows showing movies to get money to buy drugs. They showed what they thought people wanted to see. They thought me foolish for showing films they thought no one wanted to see.

At the same time many movie fans told me, “If only you would not show your films at Rochdale we would come.”

They missed the point. Rochdale was why I was in Toronto instead of Hollywood.


Because Rochdale College really was the hippest place on earth. It was the boldest experiment in alternate education ever undertaken before or since.

I had first gone there in the fall of 1968 shortly after it opened. I knew nothing about it at that time. What I did know something about was a woman living there named Judith Merril. Judith Merril edited THE YEAR’S BEST SF collections. The stories she chose were first rate. Her brief introductions to those stories were even better. 22, pre-punk punk, rail thin, dressed head to foot in black, filled with passionate intensity I headed over to Rochdale to meet Judy.

“The first time I met you you scared the shit out of me,” said Judy  over thirty years later over a lunch she was treating me to. She had had a heart attack. She said that from now on she was only going to spend time on people important to her. I was privileged to be one of those people.

In 1968 when Judy found I had copies of great silent films like THE BIRTH OF A NATION, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, METROPOLIS, the first films of Charlie Chaplin and many others she said, “You belong here.”

Along with Bernie Bomers (whom I had met through Simon Waegemaekers) Judy sponsored my screenings at Rochdale.

There were two things about Rochdale that were uniquely radical.

The first was that there  were no teachers at Rochdale. Each Rochdalian was called to be their own teacher. What they did have was what was called Resource People. These were people who, having achieved success in their fields, were invited to live at Rochdale rent free with food covered on condition they makes themselves available to people who wanted to speak with them.  Judith Merril was the mother of modern science fiction. She was at Rochdale as a Resource Person.

Judy’s contribution to science fiction was summed up by J. G. Ballard (author of Crash and Empire of the Sun) in 1992: “Science fiction, I suspect, is now dead, and probably died about the time that Judy closed her anthology and left to found her memorial library to the genre in Toronto. I remember my last sight of her, surrounded by her friends and all the books she loved, shouting me down whenever I tried to argue with her, the strongest woman in a genre for the most part created by timid and weak men.”

The thing was that 1968 was also the year I met Jane Jacobs (author of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES) through my screenings at my then venue, “THE PUBLIC ENEMY” so named because every person who learns to think for them self is seen as a public enemy. 1968 was also the year I chanced upon the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of THE I CHING.

“Reg Hartt’s Cineforum is everything Jane Jacobs writes about.”

I discovered THE I CHING by chance in 1968.

THE I CHING teaches learning and doing must be one or they are sterile.

I knew that is true.

The Rochdale concept fit completely with what I had gathered from THE I CHING.

There was one other aspect of Rochdale that could only have happened in Canada at that moment in time when Pierre Trudeau, the hippest head of state any nation has ever had, was Prime Minister of Canada.

In Rochdale any one could use hashish, LSD, marijuana, mescaline and peyote.

Rochdale had started out as a student high rise residence. It morphed into something truly incredible. Rochdale was 18 floors. The higher up we went the higher we got. When we got to the top floor sun deck our clothes fell off.

Rochdale was a bastion of everything good people hate.

“We only really learn in conversation after sex,” Judy Merril was fond of saying. She had had many great teachers. She knew what she was talking about.

“LSD is a chemical not a drug. People take drugs to escape themselves. People who take LSD are looking into themselves,” said film star Cary Grant.

He’s right.

I had no interest in LSD when I entered Rochdale. Everything I had read about it in the media made me want to avoid it.

“Reg, do you want to try acid,” said a fellow who walked in one night at a screening I was doing in Rochdale of Mae West’s first starring film, SHE DONE HIM WRONG. That picture and its follow up I’M NO ANGEL had saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy in the 1930s.

“No, I don’t want to do that,” I replied.

As he left a young girl on the screen who had just tried to kill herself said to Mae West, “I have gone wrong. What man is going to want me?”

Mae West answered, “Listen, honey, when women go wrong men go right after them.”

I laughed. Then I said, “Hey, you. Come back here.”

That night I took LSD for the first time.

It was once said that in The United States if we do LSD more than three times we are considered legally insane.

By that standard I am a raving lunatic.

When I become interested in something I want to know everything I can about it.

Naturally I read Aldous Huxley’s THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION/BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL. Years later, at the suggestion of Laura Huxley I read her book THIS TIMELESS MOMENT during the reading of which I felt the spirit of Huxley with me which prompted me to write her a stream of consciousness letter. After receiving it Mrs. Huxley said, “Do you come out to Hollywood?” I replied, “Sometimes.” She said, “Next time you do I would like to meet you.”

Reading Huxley I discovered that The Buddha when he had become enlightened had done so after he ate the fruit of the Bodi tree.  A Bodi tree is a fig tree. Long years of fasting had not only reduced Siddhartha Gautama to skin and bones, it had caused his teeth to become loose as a result of which he could only eat food that was very, very soft. He had eaten a rotten fig. Rotten figs produce ergot. Ergot is what LSD is made from.

Like myself half an hour later he saw the world around him become much brighter. As with myself when people spoke with him in this altered state of consciousness he could clearly see if they were lying or speaking the truth. As most lie he called this world a world of illusion, a world of lies.

It isn’t, of course.

Before doing LSD I had had an out of body experience. I was 17. It was during sex with a man I had met by chance. I said to myself during it, “Jesus! It is no wonder people like this!”

We as a society are at the mercy of thinking that sees the world not as a whole but as parts.

Said Jane Jacobs, “I had wonderful teachers in the first and second grades who taught me everything I know. After that, I’m afraid, the teachers were nice, but they were dopes…I have a lack of ideology, and not because I have an animus against any particular ideology; it’s just that they don’t make sense to me…they get in the way of thinking. I don’t see what use they are…University and uniformity, as ideals, have subtly influenced how people thought about education, politics, economics, government, everything…We are misled by universities and other intellectual institutions to believe that there are separate fields of knowledge. But it’s clear there are no separate fields of knowledge. It is a seamless web.”

Like Mrs. Jacobs my first and second grade teachers had taught me everything I needed to know. Not all the teachers after that were dopes though most were.

“School is an institution built on the axiom that learning is the result of teaching. And institutional wisdom continues to accept this axiom, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”–Ivan Illich.

John Taylor Gatto is doing his best to make us aware that the end result of our school system is to create slaves:


How public education cripples our kids, and why

By John Taylor Gatto

I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.

Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers’ lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?

Rochdale College was and remains the only attempt to break from that mold.

By the time I returned to Rochdale from Hollywood in 1970 the resource people had fled the building. The use of drugs in Rochdale was daily damned in the media. It had become a place good people stayed away from. “It is good taste not bad taste which is the enemy,” said Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. “Whatever the world condemns you for make it your own. It is yourself,” stated Jean Cocteau. I’m with them.

Rochdale’s unsavory reputation acted as a buffer to keep the boring people out. I was grateful for it. The same thing today keeps the boring people away from my Cineforum programs in Toronto.

My uncle Douglas Hartt served as Director General of Public Works Canada. He wanted my film program at Harbourfront. He was furious when I said, “Only the boring people go there.”

He said, “There is only one person on earth I want to meet, Jane Jacobs.”

Mrs. Jacobs was a regular at my Rochdale programs. We had become friends when she and her family first arrived at my programs after seeing a street poster in 1968 the year the Jacobs family arrived in Toronto.

I said to my uncle, “She is my friend. I will introduce you to her.”

He refused to take up my offer.

Those film buffs who braved Rochdale’s unsavory reputation complained that they had come to see films not to hear the introductions I give before them.

“Keep them brief or we won’t come back,” they would say.

Leonardo Da Vinci, “It is true that impatience, the mother of stupidity, praises brevity as if such persons had not life long enough to serve them to acquire a complete knowledge of one single subject.”–Thomas Cahill, HERETICS AND HEROES pg. 90.

“People come for the films. They come back for Reg Hartt. He is the principle attraction. He can turn a discussion of Bugs Bunny’s genitalia into an eloquent dissertation on free speech,” stated TORONTO LIFE.

I keep the Rochdale Spirit alive today at The Cineforum in Toronto.

I encourage each person who walks through my door to become their own teacher.

This is a generation that  would like to stay in school,” writes David Mamet in TRUE AND FALSE.

He’s right. Better for many the safety of academia sheltered from the storm of life.

Hunter S. Thompson (author FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) wrote in his high school year book at 17: “So we shall let the reader answer the question for himself, ‘Who is the happier man? He who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?”

Far too many merely exist.

I love the storm.


Polite western society has long confounded scholarship with art. Scholarship is a reasoned endeavor; and the goal of scholarship, at least as it applies to the art of the actor, is to transform the scholar from a member of the audience into a being superior to it. “It is all very well,” the theatrical scholars might say, “to laugh, to cry, to gasp—it’s fine for the mob. But I will do something higher, and will participate only as a sort of cultural referee.”

That’s fine for a scholar, but for a working member of the theatre to reason thusly is to wish one’s life away. Here is the taint of scholarship in the theatre: a preoccupation with effect. That is the misjudgment of the Method: the notion that one can determine the effect one wants to have upon an audience, and then study and supply said effect.

Preoccupation with effect is preoccupation with the self, and not only is it joyless, it’s a waste of time. Can we imagine the Cockney street buskers studying what effect they wish to have on the audience at which portion of their turn? Can we imagine the African drummer doing so, the Gypsy guitarist, the klezmer? Art is an expression of joy and awe. It is not an attempt to share one’s virtues and accomplishments with the audience, but an act of selfless spirit. Our effect is not for us to know. It is not in our control. Only our intention is under our control. As we strive to make our intentions pure, devoid of the desire to manipulate, and clear, directed to a concrete, easily stated end, our performances become pure and clear.

Eleven o’clock always comes. In the meantime, may you know the happiness of working to serve your own good opinion. Invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school.—David Mamet, TRUE AND FALSE.

Yes, Invent nothing. Deny nothing. Speak up. Stand up. Stay out of school.

In 1992 a man at a presentation I had done on the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh said after every one else had left, “You are psychic.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

He said, “When you used the word ‘Buddhist’ you looked right at me. This place is like a university. People can learn here.”

I replied, “Some do. Most do not.”

He said, “You are a Crazy-Wisdom-Yogin.”

I said, “I hear crazy often enough. What does the rest of that mean?”

“It is the highest compliment I, as a Buddhist, can pay. It means you are living absolutely the life you are teaching.”

I replied, “I would not say that. I know how far below the mark I fall. Would you care for a beer?”

He did. We spoke till dawn of things few dream of but which nonetheless are true.

In 2002 I took Jane Jacobs to see the movie CHICAGO.

When I brought her home she invited me in for tea.

Inside she went to the fridge, pulled out a couple of beers and said, “I think you’d prefer this.”

We had a few beers together that afternoon.

Out of the blue she said, “The best part of what you offer is what you have to say.”

I thought of all the people over the years who have told me to shut up. I said, “Hearing that from you is better than receiving an Academy Award.”

Jane replied, “I would not say that.”

I told her, “I know the caliber of the people who vote on those things. I would.”

“You have no talent,” his teachers told Salvador Dali.

Dali replied, “You are not fit to judge me.”

They weren’t.

My high school principal called me into his office one day. He shouted, “You have the wrong attitude. If you leave this school today you will starve in two weeks. Where do you think you are going? I have not given you permission to leave!”

I told him, “To see if you are right.”

Had I not left I would have starved.

That night I arrived in Toronto. It was the dead of winter. I thought I had a friend. I found I did not. I had just enough money for a beer. Drinking age was twenty-one. I was then eighteen.

When the waiter dropped  a beer in front of me the police walked in.

An older man said, “Drink your beer. Speak with me.”

The next night a much better dressed man said, “You should not have gone home with that man last night. He is a bad person.”

This man was, he said, a film producer. He offered to help me get a job in the industry.

“Turn around,” he said when I got to the bottom of a very narrow stairwell in his home in the middle of nowhere.

I looked up. I saw him standing at the top of the stairs with a hammer in his hand.

He said, “Give me what I want or I will kill you.”

We are born loving. We are taught to hate. Those who hate hate themselves for as The Buddha taught, ““Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

By chance I found a posting yesterday on the web about the screenings I had done of Wakefield Poole’s landmark films BOYS IN THE SAND (1971) and BIJOU (1972), the most acclaimed male films in the history of the cinema. I had first read about BOYS IN THE SAND in one of the world’s then most prestigious motion picture magazine, Britain’s FILMS AND FILMING.

Intrigued by what I read I found the film featured in another prestigious magazine, “AFTER DARK.”

That magazine had ads for 8mm copies of the film.

I ordered one.

Then I scheduled it for Rochdale.

The folks in charge asked me to cancel the screening. I did. I told the first fifty people the film was cancelled. I told the next 500 it would be on in a few weeks. I then contacted the film’s producer  Marvin Shulman to get a 16mm color sound print instead of the 8mm silent copy I had.

While it was illegal to show the film for an admission price it was not illegal to show the film for free to a private audience.

I offered people private memberships in my Rochdale program. That allowed them to come to BOYS IN THE SAND.

I posted flyers all over the city. Many of the men who came to see it had never been in the presence of others like themselves ever. After the screening people came up to me in tears to thank me.

One night the world famous “Happy Hooker” Xaviera Hollander came.

I was not there that night. My friend, the spectacularly endowed Bobby Naismith, was. Today Bobby, a prominent figure in Toronto’s cultural scene, lives at The Cameron House.

Xaviera Hollander pronounced BOYS IN THE SAND the most erotic film she had ever seen. Audiences at my ROCHDALE WET DREAMS FILM FEST were encouraged to watch the films naked. Bobby never needed much encouragement. Part of the Rochdale experience included nudity. Bobby was naked. So impressed by both the film and Bobby’s manhood Xaviera Hollander gave Bobby for free what heads of state had paid fortunes for.

All this and more is available in my self published THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED ROCHDALE COLLEGE.

Drop by for a beer and pick up a copy. Become your own teacher. –Reg Hartt 2017/05/13.

Jane Jacobs was a regular at my programs from her arrival in Toronto in 1968. The man who wrote, ‘This place is a combination of the academy of Athens, the factory of Andy Warhol, the salon of Gertrude Stein and the original Paris cinémathèque of Henri Langlois,” he said. “This place means a lot to a lot of people, even if it means nothing to most of Toronto.’ Unassuming as ever, I see, Reg. Best, G.” was never a regular.

Not many got a fan letter from Jane Jacobs. I got several.

The awesomely endowed Bobby Naismith of whom John “Lone Wolf” Sullivan said, “I dreamed of sucking his cock.” Xaviera Hollander did not dream. She gave Bobby what heads of state had paid fortunes for.

One of the thousands of posters put up around Toronto by James Gillis (aka Dr. Jamie) in his vain attempts to bring violence down upon Mr. Hartt., .

« »