A Life in films

Lois Siegel, filmmaker and reviewer extraordinaire

By Lois Siegel

I wrote film reviews for the Glebe Report for 17 years. It was a great run. As a filmmaker, I love seeing films that other people make and meeting those who make them. I was lucky to be able to do this for decades, either working on my own films or viewing films at the Montreal World Film Festival and other festivals.

Of course, there are some films I liked best. Here are some of my favourites.

War of the Worlds, the original 1953 version of the invasion from Mars, by Byron Haskin.

Soldier Girls, a 1981 documentary by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill about women training in the U.S. army. Nick came to my house in Montreal in 1986 where I interviewed him for Radio Centreville. In the middle of the interview, the power went out. I remember sitting in the dark talking to him. This gave me time to get to know him better. His film Lily Tomlin was playing at Cinema 5 at the time. Eventually, the power came back on.

Polyester, a 1981 comedy by John Waters, starring Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey and Mink Stole. A middle-class satire with “odorama” scratch and sniff cards.

Taking Off, a 1971 American comedy by Czech filmmaker Milos Forman. A funny look at American lifestyles from the point of view of two generations in New York City.

Norman Jewison Filmmaker, a 1971 documentary by Douglas Jackson. Behind the scenes as Jewison directs the feature film Fiddler on the Roof.

Hurt Penguins, a 1992 film by Robert Bergman about devious methods to finance a band.

Smile, 1975, by Michael Ritchie starring Bruce Dern, a comedy about a high school beauty pageant in Santa Rosa, California.

Freaks, 1932, by Tod Browning. A circus sideshow featuring a trapeze artist, a midget and other “deformed” friends.

Friedkin Uncut, 2018, by Francesco Zippel. A documentary about the life and career of William Friedkin, known for his films The Exorcist and The French Connection. I first met Friedkin in 1972 at an American Film Institute film school in Kent, Connecticut. I was working on a scholarship as a photographer. Friedkin was one of the presenters, showing outs from his film The French Connection. Sitting in front, I started photographing him. He grabbed my camera and started taking photos of me – that was Friedkin.

In 1986, he was shooting Cat Squad, a TV movie in Montreal. I called the film company and asked if I could photograph him and reminded them that I had met him once before. He agreed to let me photograph him in Old Montreal. Of course, he directed. I did a series of photos of him, and he bought multiple copies of all the photos I took.

I also worked on hundreds of films over the years.

Back in 1976, I was second assistant camera and a stills photographer for the National Film Board’s The Mad Canadian, featuring Canada’s most notorious stuntman, Ken Carter. Over the years, I played various roles including photographer, production assistant, apprentice editor or casting director on many NFB films such as Happiness is Loving Your Teacher, 1976; Back Alley Blue, 1976: Hold the Ketchup, 1977; The King Chronicle: Mackenzie King, 1987, for which I cast look-alikes for Hitler, Rudolph Hess and Rockefeller; Train of Dreams, 1987; and Welcome to Canada, 1988. I played similar roles over the years on many films by other production companies including the CBC.

I have also been location manager, director, co-writer and even a performer. In Fatman, 2020, I played a background role that had me driving my car in one scene; in The Plan for Christmas, I played a musician; and in A Charity Christmas, I played a photographer.

Lois Siegel is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, professor, musician and artist’s agent. She has reviewed films for the Glebe Report for 17 years.

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