I have been a member of Toronto Film Society for many, many year. My parents were members and they introduced me to classic film from when I was very young. I remember my Mother taking me to see Black Orpheus before I could even read. So I have seen many films, and as well, have read many books on Hollywood actors, directors and the studios.
Through TFS, I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know the late film historian, William K. Everson. I would stay at his home in New York and it was a treasure-trove of canisters of film piled ceiling high. Mr. Everson was a very generous man, especially when it came to sharing his passion of film. I would walk around the apartment, glancing at the titles and pulling out the reels of movies and load them onto the projector that was always sitting at the foot of his living room. I saw films like You Only Live Once, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish and Ship of Lost Men in the days when videos were just coming into being and certainly before these films were found or unlocked by the studios such as Warners. I was visiting with him the day his friend, director Michael Powell came to visit and I got to spend the day together with him and Mr. Everson. I met Diane Keaton a couple of times in his apartment when she was doing research for her film Heaven as he was screening all the films that had a “Heaven” theme for her. She was very charming and very much like you would expect Diane Keaton to be.
The founder of Toronto Film Society also became a friend of mine, the late Gerald Pratley. He loved film and dedicated his life to his passion. After he left the board of directors of Toronto Film Society, he went on to create the Ontario Film Institute which was housed at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. You can catch a glimpse of him in the opening scenes of Gorillas in the Mist, the 1988 film about Dian Fossey.
A few years ago, I started screening my own personal film evenings inviting friends and along the way cultivating other film aficionados who have since become friends as well. I never thought of myself as a writer and although it was a lot of fun discussing films, always found it hard to write about them. I never even thought I had anything that interesting to say about them, just that I probably held a lot of knowledge about them from my readings. But regardless, because I found this so interesting, I wanted to pass on the history and ideas to others who either already loved them, or would like to do my best to “indoctrinate” my poor friends. I supplied notes to my guests on my film nights and if I had already seen the films that I was planning to show, I might have a few words to say about them. However, for the most part, where I found my strength lay, was in researching what others have said about the films. I love doing this. I have a somewhat extensive library of books which I begin getting information from, and now, of course, with the internet, I am able to find further writings about these films. When I include these findings as well as the material I get from the books I own, I always inform where the information has come from.
Years ago, TFS did a remake series. This meant showing two films that were based on the same story. I really enjoyed this concept and so for my first movie night, I showed the two films Sadie Thompson and Rain. What I found so interesting about these two films was multitude. First, Sadie Thompson was made in 1928 by and with Gloria Swanson, a huge silent star near the end of the silent film era. Then Rain, made only four years later in 1932 in my favourite film era, the pre-Code, starred the upcoming budding star Joan Crawford. I learned how difficult it was for Gloria Swanson to make this film due to the “pre-code production code” that existed prior to July 1934 and what she had to do to get around it. Joan, much less confident then she became in regards to her acting in later years, was almost sick with under-confidence when she saw herself on screen in this role.
However, the point of this blog is to post my notes from these film evenings for other classic film lovers to read. If you watch these films, hopefully you will find the notes add more information and therefore interest to what you are watching. So enjoy. And you can always let me know what you think.
A photograph of my grandmother and Marlene Dietrich. Marlene Dietrich was invited by one of the Jewish charities to help raise money by selling Israeli bonds. This photo was taken in the early 1960s.