Font Size

I discovered Lon Chaney and his work in the pages of Forrest J Ackerman and James Warren’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine which I began buying with issue number twelve in 1961 in Chipman, New Brunswick. When I asked the man who ran our small town (it looked big to me but was only 300 seats) movie theater he looked at me like I was a one kid communist plot to put him out of business.

Years passed. My dad moved us from Chipman to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. One day my mom saw an ad looking for someone to cut chickens for the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. She sent me down to apply for it. I did my best not to get the job. Naturally, they hired me.

Then an ad appeared in FAMOUS MONSTERS placed by a man named John Griggs. He offered THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1927) and a host of other silent films in 8mm. THE PHANTOM would cost over $50.00 plus shipping.

I got 1.5 cents a bird for cutting, 1.5 cents a bird for bagging. I used a band saw. “If you are frightened you won’t cut yourself,” said the boss, J. J. Hilsinger.

The fellow before me was frightened. He had cut off his fingers.

It was supposed to be a two person job but they had a hard time keeping people. I cut and bagged thus getting a full 3 cents a chicken instead of sharing the money.

Colonel Saunders, himself, came one day and watched me cut and bag. The boss had taught me how to cut the Colonel’s way. The manager showed me how to cut the fast way. “Don’t get caught,” he said.

I figured the smart thing would be to learn to cut the Colonel’s way fast. I must have mastered it ’cause I got no complaint after the Colonel watched me.

I cut a helluva lot of chickens to earn the money to buy an 8mm print of THE PHANTOM.

The first time I saw it was on my bedroom wall. My parents told me I should have put my money to more worthwhile things.

Naturally, the first time I saw the film it was silent.

When it was over I was awed. Nothing I had seen before measured up to it.

This, of course, was not an opinion shared by my friends when i ran the film for them. Anyone who has tried to share something they know is good with friends is all to aware of what a bummer that all too often is.

Around 1965 I arrived in Toronto. The late Captain George Hendersen invited me to show films from my 8mm library in his shop VIKING BOOKS on Queen Street West near University. For the first time I discovered the great joy of sharing something I knew to be good with strangers who appreciated it.

I precede my programs sometimes with talks. More than a few film buffs have said, “We would come to your programs if only we did not have to listen to you.”

Film buffs don’t come to my programs. I doubt any of the people in the city for TIFF will come. They have not in the past.

A very great many people have come to them. TORONTO LIFE magazine stated, “People come for the films. They come back for Reg Hartt. He is the principal attraction.”

On the street people constantly thank me for my work.

I look forward to meeting strangers. It is more fun as well as more rewarding than anything else I can imagine.

The attitude I most love is the one that kids have. They demand to be impressed.

One day a fellow showed up to see this film. “I have seen this film many times before including once with a full orchestra. I have all the books on Lon Chaney. I’m here to see if your presentation is any good. People tell me I have not seen the film until I see it the way you present it.”

When the program was over he said, “Wow! You nailed it.”

You will not see my programs at TIFF. You won’t see them at the alternate cinemas in Toronto.

You will see them here at my home. THE LONELY PLANET, the world’s number one travel guide places my home at the very top of its list of places to see in Ontario and in Toronto.

You won’t find the people who teach film at my programs. You won’t find the people who program TIFF here either (which is fine by me as those folks tend to be pretty full of themselves).

You would, when she was alive, find Jane Jacobs, the author of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES here.

Over several beers in her home one day she said to me, “The best part of what you offer is what you have to say.”

That is not an opinion shared by the film intelligentsia of Toronto. TORONTO LIFE also calls me Toronto’s most loved and loathed film connoisseur. That loathed part is important.

I’m particularly proud of that.

Liora Lind wrote in 1992, “Reg Hartt’s Cineforum is everything Jane Jacobs wrote about in THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES.” What makes that statement particularly true is that my work in this city has never been valued by the people who run this city. I have been under attack from the moment I started in 1968. Said David Beard in a Toronto Star piece from 1980, “Reg Hartt is overworked, under-financed and snubbed. We should be paying tribute to him”

That’s damned high praise. It does not get better.


–Reg Hartt.


« »