My love affair with movies started back in high school. Growing up in a small town, the local movie theatre was a primo source of entertainment—especially on long weekends and holidays when double or triple bills were the norm. But I never thought of movies as an art form until I started watching the Great Films series that debuted on a local PBS station in the early 70’s. For a kid who was used to seeing Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, The Alamo, and Zulu, a sudden steady diet of Truffault, Cocteau, Kurasawa, and Chaplin was a literal eye-opener. And in my last couple of years of high school, that same movie theatre that typically showed disaster flicks (Crack in the World—“Thank God it’s only a motion picture!”) and Carry On movies started hosting an international film on Sunday afternoons. I wasn’t quite prepared for Satyricon or Closely Watched Trains, but I kept coming back.
Four and a half years in Vancouver, working on my undergraduate degree, was kid-in-the-candy-shop time. The funky, gilded City Lights Theatre near skid row ran Bergman double bills; the Pacific Cinematheque provided world-class programming; and a friend from Hong Kong took me out to the latest Bruce Lee films and historical kung fu epics at the city’s three Chinese movie theatres. At Simon Fraser University, celebrated photographer Jeff Wall taught a couple of film history courses that I sat in on whenever I could.
By the late 70’s I’d had enough of academics, and took a couple of years off to work as a care aide and a labourer. I used the money I saved to head out to Paris for just over a year. I just wanted to work on my French; I had absolutely no idea that Paris was the cinema capital of the world. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was living in a city with over 300 cinemas within a short subway ride, a good percentage of them showing showing multiple films and changing their bills on a daily basis. There wasn’t a country or time period whose films weren’t playing somewhere in the city. Now I was the kid who owned the candy store— Solaris in the cavernous Soviet-owned MosFilm theatre, The Harder They Come on a sheet in a tent on the banks of the Seine, Les enfants du paradis in the Latin Quarter….
Back in Canada, I finished my teaching degree and landed a job in the rural Kootenay paradise where I’ve lived for over three decades. The nearest movie theatre’s an hour’s drive away. Now of course, with YouTube and streaming services, that kind of physical isolation is almost meaningless. Anyone with a tablet or laptop has access to more films than one can watch in a lifetime. But back in the early 80’s, when I first started teaching, watching cool films meant driving into town, renting them on VHS from the back room of Reo’s corner store, bringing them back home, and inviting a bunch of friends over to share the love and popcorn.
One of those friends, Alvin Dunic, had just started a small local newspaper in a room above the local grocery store, and suggested that I contribute a monthly movie review. The column was christened “Seldom Seen,” with a logo by another teaching colleague, Bruce Paterson. Seldom Seen debuted in April 1987, and is still being published. My thanks to the current, long-standing editor of The East Shore Mainstreet, Ingrid Zaiss Baetzel, for putting up with a contributor who’s never met a deadline he didn’t try to crawl under. My thanks, too, to those Mainstreet readers who have expressed the interest that has kept me writing.
Over the years, our local paper has changed hands and changed names a few times, I was out of the loop for a while, “Seldom Seen” became “Seldom Scene, ” and the length of the reviews went from 400 to 1500 words. I’ve drawn my inspiration from the passionate voices of film critics such as Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, Dennis Peary, David Thomson, Dave Kehr, A.O. Scott, and Dorothy Woodend. I’m no match for any of them at the top of their game, but I’ve tried my damnedest to share my enthusiasm and occasional insights.
Taking Seldom Scene online presents an interesting new challenge. I’ve no digital copies of my work prior to 1997, so considerable typing is in order. Nor am I interested in just dumping a mass of reviews in a website and stepping back. Instead, starting with the very first column from 1987, I’ve decided to broaden the scope of each review by adding the following:
- A link to a free online version of the featured film, if I can find one
- A brief description of a film-themed website, from the very long list of such sites I’ve gathered over the years
- A list of other notable films released in the same year (compiled with the help of Robyn Karney’s delectable Chronicle of the Cinema: 100 Years of Movies)
- A personal list of books, films, and songs whose content & themes —-
- Some snippets of other amateur reviews from the Internet Movie Data Base’s User Reviews
- My own second take on the featured film, based on a recent viewing and anything new I may have gleaned over the intervening years
Each actual review is presented as originally published, warts and all. I’ve tweaked the odd grammatical glitch. If I manage to publish one update a week, there’ll be new content on this site for a good long time to come.
My online skills are sadly lacking, so I’m very grateful to Geoffroy Tremblay at Studio Ponnuki for his invaluable work on the design and maintenance of this website.
My love and thanks to my wife, Brenda, who’s more into quilting than movies, but is willing to put up with floor-rattling surround sound whenever I go for that “real” theatre experience….
Riondel, British Columbia
December 5, 2016