Some parting reflections from a film columnist

Paul Green has reviewed films for the Glebe Report for almost eleven years, since April 2010. His reviews have complemented those of co-reviewer Lois Siegel. He
brought his insights and knowledge to bear particularly on foreign-language films, with emphasis on French films, and rendered them with grace and eloquence. Here
are his farewell thoughts.

By Paul Green

I recognize that my last film review of Arch of Triumph (Glebe Report, January/February 2021) was something of a departure from my regular columns. It is after all an American (i.e. Hollywood) production, almost entirely in English. Still, with its European provenance and universal themes, it retains an international flavour. It has long been a personal favourite and offers plenty of weighty themes, the sort of thing a columnist likes to try to come to grips with. An eminently suitable swansong, if you like.

I have long known that the day would come when I would be called upon to talk about what I have been trying to achieve on my half of the “At The Flicks” page in the Glebe Report, a page I have had the honour of sharing with my supportive colleague, Lois Siegel, for more than a decade. But to be honest, I didn’t think the end would come so soon. Coronavirus is certainly a factor; it has exacerbated and accelerated underlying trends that have been at work for years.

Since I lacked a film studies background, the problem of just how to approach a column was not without its challenges. When I first started writing the column, each looming deadline occasioned more than a little stress. I soon learned that the best approach was simply to plunge straight in, sometimes by finding a “hook” that would serve to get me started. As often as not, I would emerge from the ByTowne Cinema thinking, “Well that was pretty good, but what on earth can I say about it?” Once the first paragraph was on paper – yes, I have always handwritten a first draft before typing it up and editing for wordiness on the computer – the column would then almost write itself.

I know I have always relied on a certain amount of plot summary to get started, while trying whenever possible or appropriate to provide context or historical background. The cinematography in a black-and-white film would lend itself to such clichéd terms as film noir and chiaroscuro. Such terms have their place, though it is tempting to overuse them. The notion of the “framing device” is also handy as many directors will use it as a way to structure their work.

I am putting pen to paper at this time because, as I have explained to my supportive editor, Liz McKeen, I am in the odd position of being a film columnist who no longer enjoys access to international (or almost any other) films. With the apparent and tragic demise of the ByTowne, I am almost at a complete loss; I do not subscribe to cable, Netflix or any streaming service whatsoever. With rare exceptions, I have always preferred to watch a film – any film – on the big screen in a collective setting. As for Netflix and the rest of them, they offer convenience as well as access to interesting series. But they have also hurt independent cinemas and neighbourhood video stores – at present, only three (I think!) are up and running in Ottawa. And to my knowledge, Netflix still pays no taxes in Canada. It is devoutly to be hoped that that will soon change.

And what do I watch on my 39-year-old Japanese television set? I have a modest collection of DVDs and VHS cassettes and still enjoy access to the collection at Glebe Video. I use the TV as a monitor for screening movies and nothing else. Sometimes I read, but that is another story.

A friend in Alberta tells me I am a Luddite and a film snob. There is perhaps some truth in this. At any rate, I am anxious to see if the Mayfair will return soon and, if so, what sort of fare will it offer?

In closing, I should like to thank each and every one of you who ever read my column. And a special note of gratitude to those who commented in person or in random encounters on something I had written. Such spontaneous and unsolicited comments were perhaps the most encouraging.

I look forward to seeing some of you at the Mayfair. Au revoir.

Paul Green is a former translator and a film aficionado who has served as a Glebe Report film reviewer for more than a decade.

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