COLUMN SIXTY-SIX, DECEMBER 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
ALL ABOUT TORONTO'S REG HARTT, FILM ARCHIVIST
[Reg Hartt is well known in Toronto as an archivist and a collector of classic silent films, cartoons and early "talkies," which he exhibits---accompanied by his lectures---in his so-called Cineforum, located in his house on Bathurst Street. Here, he sends two emails, one that tells how a local reporter sees him and another that tells---in a biographical statement---how he sees himself.]
An Article from the globeandmail.com Web Centre
Date: Sun, 5 Aug 2001 11:51:35 -0400 (EDT)
From: reg hartt <email@example.com>
is an article from the globeandmail.com Web Centre. A hatchet piece. This woman
obviously had an animus.
sees himself as an artist, a James Joyce or Henry Miller, whose work irritates
the film establishment. To be snubbed, writes SARAH HAMPSON, is affirmation of
says Reg Hartt, "ushering me past grimy French doors to a wooden institutional
chair in a narrow, black-painted room at the front of his dilapidated Victorian
row house on Bathurst Street in Toronto. "Put your feet up," he says,
turning around a chair and patting the seat.
like home," he continues, smiling his gap-toothed grin. The room, two
actually, a former living room adjoined to a former dining room, is cool, the
only air-conditioned space in his rented house. There is no one else in
musty-smelling books, on every subject imaginable, line two of the walls in red
plastic milk cartons. They have a presence, a heavy one, and it's that of
their owner's obsession. A sample: books on American literature, biographies
(Anthony Perkins, Garth Drabinsky, among others), a few tomes on the MGM story,
scholarly publications on French cinema, a book entitled Anatomy of Dirty Words.
he encourages, as I take in his wiggling bushy eyebrows, his penetrating
sloe-eyed glance, his baggy shorts, his homeless-style ratty T-shirt.
yes, this is one of those weird deep-downtown Toronto experiences. Hartt has
been called the godfather of underground film in Canada. He never went to
university or had any formal education in film. For 30 years, he has screened
films in a variety of locations: bars and public libraries and churches, at the
University of Toronto's Innis College and, since 1992---because he wants to be
"free of harassment? and 'to do things as I like?---in his house.
he's a godfather of something, sitting alone in his kitchen, or on his front
stoop, beer belly, sandal-clad feet and all, waiting for people to wander into
his brothel of cinematic ideas, which he calls Cineforum. He lays claim to being
the first to screen the porn classic, Deep Throat, with Linda Lovelace, in the
early seventies. He was arts programmer at the notorious Rochdale College on
Bloor Street, home of the hippies, when he was secretly approached to find a
bootleg copy of the film. He screened it at the college, charging $10 . . . or
nothing if people came naked.
is a provocateur, and he tries to get a reaction not just from the films he
shows, but from the things he says. He has kept me seated for a total of at
least two hours. I had come the night before to see the much-banned Haxan
(Witchcraft Through the Ages), directed by Benjamin Christensen. I was the only
patron, and when I introduced myself to him as he ambled along the dusty hall
from his kitchen, he started an extraordinary (unsolicited) extemporaneous
monologue about his life.
never did see the movie.
kitchen is filled with odd boxes and stacks of things: books, eggs, beer
bottles, sacks of flour, Styrofoam cups, old magazines, dirty dishes, boxes of
cereal. His mind holds odd bits of things as well. They're like film clips,
these odd bits of memory which he flashes before me. And many sound apocryphal.
I heard about when he was six years old and came upon a group of boys in his
hometown of Chipman, N.B., who "were doing weird things with their plumbing
that I'd never seen before." He told me, with a leer, that he is bisexual.
heard about a bus trip he took to Los Angeles in the early seventies, and a guy
he met at the end of it, a Charles Manson type, he explains, who slipped him a
elephant tranquilizer and told him he'd be dead by morning. He meditated, and
decided to write a letter to Mae West to pass the time.
let the drug pass through me," he explains to me, wide-eyed.
heard about his musings on the I Ching and on the Bible. "You are talking to
someone who fell in love with those ideas," he rambles on. He has had more
epiphanies than one person should be allowed, he says. Once, he spent a week
meditating on God in front of Douglas Fairbanks's grave. Why? It is lined with
cedar trees and there's a long pond, he explains.
and a cemetery is perfect for meditation," he continues without missing a
beat. "Dead men don't ask questions."
film, he is equally if not more effusive. One of eight children whose father was
a railway engineer, he moved with his family to Sault Ste. Marie as a teenager.
He came across a magazine, Famous Monsters in Filmland, and saw an advertisement
for a copy of Metropolis, Fritz Lang's 1927 classic.
money he had made working part-time at Kentucky Fried Chicken, he sent away for
a copy and thus began his collection of films and animation classics.
owns the only print in Canada of D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation that was
shown at the Liberty Theatre in New York in 1915. He has the only complete print
in existence of Paramount's 1933 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a rare 1922 version
of Nosferatu (the first Dracula), a 1934 version of Ben-Hur, among many others.
His animation collection includes a complete set of original Technicolor
Superman cartoons and first appearances of Popeye, Daffy Duck, Betty Boop, Elmer
Fudd, and Bugs Bunny. He won't say how many reels he has nor how much
loves the role of iconoclast. That's what he prefers to discuss at length.
people don't like me. They're shallower than the shallowest creek in New
Brunswick," he says. 'they want to look at human beings on the screen, human
beings that won't disappoint you."
by contrast, wants to disturb his audience. He sees himself as an artist, as a
James Joyce or a Victor Hugo or a Henry Miller, whose work irritates the
establishment. To be snubbed, as Hartt has been by film elites, is affirmation
of his mission.
came here to see a silent film," an audience member once sniffed at a public
screening. (Hartt is notorious for his learned and rambling lectures before he
shows a film.) "He walked out and took his film and projector with him."
begins a long diatribe about his screening of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the
Will, Hitler's propaganda piece in which he is depicted as the Messiah, with a
story about a father and son who came to see it in his house. After Hartt's
talk at the start of the film the father looked at him and said:
a Jew, aren't you??
just smiled at him, as the father unleashed a vicious anti-Semitic attack.
"How could you just stand there?? someone later asked him, he recalls. "And I said, "You weren't seeing what I was seeing. For the first time, that son was witnessing his father's ugliness." That moment put a schism between them forever," he beams.
had to stop him on that evening of impromptu monologue about the life and times
of 55-year-old Reg Hartt. It was too much. I had to tell him that I'd come
back in the morning. Talking to him, or rather, listening to him, is like
watching too many Bergman films. Tomorrow, I said, show me a film of your
he smiled. "Phantom of the Opera!"
now as he lowers the lights, and the clicking sound of the 1925 silent film
running through the ancient projector fills the room, I wonder what message he
wants to impart by screening this film. He doesn't say anything other than,
'this is the film that turned me on to films." He also explains that he has
painstakingly put a musical soundtrack together, consisting of pieces of J. S.
Bach (Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor), Tchaikovsky (Swan Lake) and Richard Wagner
(Tristan und Isolde), among others, to accompany the film. When it was
originally screened, there would have been a 60- to 120-piece orchestra playing,
otherwise, Hartt sits at the back of the room, quiet throughout. At the
intermission, he plonks himself down beside me to offer his cornucopia of arcane
movie facts. Carl Laemmle, the producer of the film and head of Universal
Pictures at the time, happened to come to Paris in 1922 and picked up a copy of
Gaston Leroux's book, which was not deemed a success. Lon Chaney, who plays
the Phantom, was known as 'the man of a thousand faces? because of his skill
with makeup. The son of deaf-mutes, he had great empathy for people who were
considered outside the "norm."
Philbin, who played Christine, enjoyed her greatest success with this film. But
still, Hartt does not reveal why this is his favorite flick.
he wouldn't divulge until the end, until, in the cool darkened room, he
explained his love of the ending. In Leroux's original work, the Phantom was a
sentimental soul who accepts that Christine would reject him for his ugliness
and go off with Raoul, the handsome but witless suitor, played by Norman Kerry.
But for the film, the ending was changed to make it more dramatic, Hartt
Phantom is chased through the streets by a mob. He has the choice to jump into
the Seine to escape but he doesn't.
realizes that the world exists without love!" Hartt says exuberantly. 'this
film is my story. I felt like a monster as a boy when I first saw this at 14. I
think many children do."
that young age, he understood the message that there is no such thing as love?
yes. Oh yes," he breathes. Then, out of the blue, he quotes a line from
the message Reg Hartt wants to impart about his life and the reason for his
obsessive interest in film? Well, yes. It has iconoclasm written all over it, of
course. To a culture that feeds itself on the cozy ideal of love and
Hallmark-induced sentimentality, it is a contrary and bracing thought.
tells me he has given up on lovers of both sexes.
worth the aggravation," he scoffs. "I'd rather give out God's love."
I can't help thinking, as I stumble out of the darkness into the wall of
Toronto's humidity, that there is something self-serving in his delight in
this anarchy, this nihilism.
waves at me delightedly from his stoop, with his feet propped up on the
banister. He knows what I know. People who are what the rest of us cannot be are
always accorded some measure of admiration. They have a following, and in that,
there is some genuine, backhanded affection. ##
* * *
Date: Thu, 22 Nov 2001 01:40:26 -0500
From: "reg hartt" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Reg Hartt biography was prepared by request.
Reg Hartt was
born June 12, 1946 in Rothwell, New Brunswick.
was Roman Catholic; his mother, Church of England. At that time interfaith
marriages were as frowned upon as interracial marriages.
don't we leave it up to him," Reg's mother said when war broke out between
her choice of public school for her son and her husband's parents' choice of
Catholic School in Minto, New Brunswick.
want to go to Catholic School with the bad kids or to public school with the
good ones?" she asked later that night when they were alone.
Asked to draw
stick figures of men and women by his public school first grade teacher Reg drew
men with plumbing and women with breasts. The nuns could never have handled
an artist," said his first grade teacher who gave him bits of colored chalk
in trade for beans Reg found behind the local grocery store.
great teachers in the first and second grades who taught me everything I know.
After that the teachers were nice but they were dopes," the author of THE
DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, Jane Jacobs, said in an
two teachers read every day from THE BIBLE. When she saw his nudes she told him
he had a dirty mind. She beat him.
the world condemns you for makes it your own. It is yourself," said French
artist Jean Cocteau.
American Native people teach that to beat a child is to hammer the badness into
him or her.
moved to another town a few miles away from Minto that was not big enough to
sport two schools. There was one public school where both Catholics and others
Linda, played with the niece of the principal of that school.
As he brought
her to begin her school life, all dressed up pretty, Reg spotted the principal
entering the school.
'Hello,'" he told his sister.
When he went
to bring her home her face was red from tears. The principal had had her taken
to the office where she was given the strap for addressing her directly.
children were aware, as they walked home, of how powerless they were.
They had been
beat but they were not beaten.
and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the
planet," wrote New York State Teacher of the Year (1991) John Taylor Gatto,
"No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or
politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that
schools and schooling don't really teach anything except how to follow
Einstein, "It is in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern
methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of
inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly
in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a
very great mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be
promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."
want a future move to Ontario," Reg was told in school in New Brunswick. In
the middle of grade eleven Reg's dad moved the family to Sault Ste. Marie,
want a future, move to The United States," Reg was told there.
Reg knew a
country that tells its young to leave it to find life is a nation committing
suicide by cutting down into the arteries where the fresh blood runs.
gone far enough," he said to himself and determined, that moment, to build
a life in this country in spite of the country.
will starve in two weeks if you leave this school today," Reg's high school
principal one day said and then asked, "Where are you going?"
out if you are right," replied Reg.
That night he
arrived in Toronto.
underage but that did not stop him from waking into a tavern. He had just enough
money in his pocket for a beer. No sooner had the waiter dropped it in front of
him then the police walked in to the bar.
panic on his face the older man across the table from him said, "Drink your
beer and talk with me."
man you went home with last night is a terrible person," said a film
producer Reg met the next day. Reg was eager to get into the film business. When
this fellow said he would help he jumped at the offer.
way out of Toronto to the man's house.
is a bed in the basement," he told Reg who, when he had gotten to the
bottom of the narrow stairs, heard the man say, "Turn around."
In his hand
was a hammer.
what I want or I will kill you."
you have believed me had I warned you," said Billy, the man Reg met the
first night, that evening. "No, but I will from now on," said Reg.
going to celebrate your thirty-fifth birthday in a psychiatric hospital,"
said Billy, "after you lose someone very close to you. Do not worry about
it. When you come out you will become the richest man on earth."
eighteen and laughed. "No one can tell the future," he said.
know what is wrong with you?" said the head psychiatrist at McMaster
Psychiatric Hospital ion Hamilton, Ontario as Reg went to cut the cake his
sister had brought in to mark his thirty-fifth birthday.
replied Reg, "I am on time and on schedule. I am right where I am supposed
Just a few
weeks previously the body of Reg's brother, Michael, had been found in a
baseball park. Distraught over the loss of his girl friend, Michael had killed
himself. Concerned that he might follow his brother, Reg's family had him
Reg get a job with THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO SAVINGS OFFICE at the corner of
Dundas and University.
One of the
clients was a tall, thin effeminate man nearly everyone on the bank treated with
self-contempt at his own bad behavior led Reg to finally contact the man. They
met. The fellow told the fascinating story of his life and of the play he had
written out of that life.
know, tomorrow, when you walk n to the bank I am going to treat you the same way
we always do," said Reg as they parted.
have to grow at our own speed," said the man.
were just the fertilizer Reg needed to grow the extra quarter inch that
separates a boy from a man.
that was poured on Jack Brundage's back by the staff was now poured on Reg's. It
was a light burden. He had gotten rid of his self-contempt.
Reg left the
bank shortly after.
Jack Brundage's play, FORTUNE AND MEN'S EYES, went on to make an
international name for itself and to make the name JOHN HERBERT into that of
While at the
bank Reg had been invited by one of his co-workers to walk down to an old
magazine and bookstore on Queen Street West called VIKING BOOKS.
owner, "Captain" George Hendersen found out Reg had a small library of
8mm prints of great silent films like THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, THE
BIRTH OF A NATION, METROPOLIS, NOSFERATU, THE GOLEM, THE
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, etc., he invited Reg to show them in his store.
Wark Griffith's INTOLERANCE is the film maker's manual and Sergei
Eisenstein's THE TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD is the film maker's
text," Reg had read, at sixteen, in a book on motion pictures.
he should be studying the films he was reading about.
In the pages
of a magazine called FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, edited by
showed these pictures to friends they quickly became bored.
For the first
time, in a small room in the back of a used book store, Reg shared these
pictures with people who knew what they are.
he got from their enthusiasm cannot be measured.
He also found
out he could make as much money (and more) in one night with his films as he
could in a week at the bank. And he did not have to endure homophobic anuses.
The die was
store moved to Mirvish Village on Markham Street. Reg worked there part time. He
created The Memory Lane Film Club.
In 1967 Ron
Simpson and Jennie Wright, owners of a little shop called THE LITTLE QUEEN
VICTORIA SLEPT HERE BOUTIQUE invited Reg to run films from a large space they
Thus was born
THE LITTLE QUEEN VICTORIA SLEPT HERE BOUTIQUE AND CINEMA.
exactly thirty-nine steps above a pool hall on the east side of Yonge Street
where Yorkville Avenue began. This was when Yorkville was the Yorkville of
legend not the embalmed corpse it has now become.
When Ron and
Jenny left for England Reg took over the space and renamed it THE PUBLIC ENEMY
after the James Cagney film.
One day a
happy family walked up the thirty-nine steps to see Lon Chaney in the original
1923 THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
It was the
family, newly arrived from New York, of Robert and Jane Jacobs. Thus was begun a
friendship that endures to this day.
Reg knew Mrs.
Jacobs only as a friend at that time. It would be a few years before he found
out she was author of the pivotal book, THE DEATH AND LIFE
1968, saw the first of many full-page features on Reg's work in THE GLOBE AND
to Reg Hartt," wrote THE GLOBE's film critic, the late Wendy
Michener, "Toronto is at last becoming a movie city."
that the city was finally beginning to see the birth of small and interesting
showcases for films other than those run by the commercial chains.
bad," thought Reg, "for a fellow who was supposed to starve to death
in two weeks."
word for film show is "S?ANCE DU CINEMA."
holding late night s?ances in THE PUBLIC ENEMY. One fellow told him of a woman
in newly opened ROCHDALE COLLEGE who knew a lot about the subject.
Her name was
knew the name of Judith Merril from THE YEAR'S BEST collections of science
fiction, which she edited. The stories were always interesting but what was more
interesting were the intros Judith Merril wrote to those stories.
pre-punk punk, dressed head to foot in black and filled with passionate
scared the spit out of me the first time I saw you," Judy told Reg many
might have been but when she found out Reg had prints of THE BATTLESHIP
POTEMKIN, METROPOLIS, THE LAST LAUGH, THE CABINET OF DR.
CALIGARI, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, INTOLERANCE and more, Judy
said, "You belong in here as a resource person."
College was a unique experiment in self-education. There were no courses or
programs offered as such but any one who wanted to could start a program. Also,
people like Judith Merril who had established themselves in their fields were
invited to live there as resource people who could be consulted with.
Thanks to the
government of the day, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, within the walls of
Rochdale College the use of hashish, LSD, marijuana and mescaline was permitted.
Rochdale College was in a building that had eighteen floors. The higher up we
went, the higher we got.
Douglas Hartt, was Director General of Public Works Canada in the government of
Pierre Trudeau. Reg visited with him in Ottawa where he wound up moving. He
began a film program out of the LE HIBOU coffee house across the street from the
Prime Minister's residence.
Picking up a
book on the occult at an Anglican bookstore Reg was told by the girl behind the
cash register, "If you are interested in that there is a group meeting
tonight you should check out."
Reg walked into a hall filled with people. Sitting in the rear, he scanned the
crowd while the speaker, a large English woman named Dr. Winifred Barton, spoke.
When a man on
his right in a red plaid shirt sitting by the exit door caught Reg's eyes on him
he did a STAR TREK and faded from view, which, of course, Reg found very
interesting. Reg observed this three times during the hour the woman spoke.
approached the woman afterwards and told her what he had seen.
here," she said as she left the room to return with a photograph. "Is
this the man?"
the caretaker. He died yesterday. Where you saw him was his favorite place to
sit during our meetings."
to forget the formalities and she invited Reg to become a member.
This was a
decision they were to regret.
The year was
1969. At its end Reg returned to Toronto and Rochdale where a friend, Spock,
invited him to come to Hollywood. The previous night Reg had dreamed of both a
yellow brick road and Elvis Presley.
In January of
1970 Reg took the bus to the city of illusions.
returned to Toronto the day after Reg arrived.
In 1968 he
had discovered the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of THE I CHING, an ancient
And, on the
bus ride to the City of Angels Reg read cover to cover five times an excellent
translation of THE NEW TESTAMENT he had found at his uncle Douglas'
no reason to live," said a young man who got on the bus in Detroit.
explained his one ambition in life had been to fellate Jimi Hendrix.
He said his ambition had been fulfilled.
get a new one," suggested Reg.
A fire filled
the fellow's eyes as he said one word, "Elvis."
Reg spent his
days meditating at the grave of Douglas Fairbanks in Hollywood cemetery. Here he
read, undisturbed, and pondered the teachings of Jesus in relation to THE I
CHING. He found them to be identical. "Resist not evil,"
couple of weeks a fellow in the house where Reg was staying said, "Why do
you go to that graveyard every day?"
the dead don't ask questions," replied Reg who, that day, decided he had
spent enough time among the dead.
have to help with the rent," said the fellow who ran the house, which was a
bordello (that is not an Italian desert).
They had a
client who fancied Reg. Reg could have sex with either gender. He just could not
get it up for cash. A failure as a prostitute, he answered an ad that promised
MAKE ALL KINDS OF MONEY FAST.
morning found Reg, after a twenty-mile walk, on an empty stomach, at the front
door of a mission.
As he turned
to go back he reflected that, while he wanted nothing to do with these folks, it
was a long way back. He had not had breakfast and would have, that day, not
lunch, dinner, or supper.
have to have coffee and doughnuts," he said to himself.
mission he filled out their forms with the truth---that he was Canadian and did
not have a working permit---as he knew that way they could not hire him.
himself with coffee and doughnuts.
Canadian, aren't you?" he was
asked when he walked into the office of the man who headed the mission.
a working permit?"
these were stupid questions as he had already written out the answers on the
form. He did not try to hide his complete lack of interest.
can't hire you without one. What are you doing here?"
living in a house. It is time to pay the rent. It is either peddle my ass or get
LORD says I am supposed to help you. The LAW says I cannot. What do I do?'
then I guess I have to hire you."
he realized there are two laws---God's law and man's law.
says I am my brother's keeper.
says, "Who is my brother?"
Man's law, a
fence around God's law, seeks to impose limits on that which is infinite.
Who we become
depends entirely upon which law we choose to break.
If we break
God's law it is we, ourselves, who are broken.
If we break
man's law, man will do his utmost to break us.
A few days
later, on his way home with a beer in his belly and his first week's pay Reg
stepped off the curb to hitchhike.
At once a
police car appeared out of nowhere.
Reg was a
skinny 125 pounds with only a Toronto Public Library card for identification.
did you do in Toronto?" asked the police.
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