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OFS 2013-2014 Films

Reel devotion: Digital may have won the war, but the desire and love for film remains bigger than nostalgia

Where digital has taken over the profession has faded into obsolescence. Where it’s still needed, it’s never been more in demand. Read more...

Calum Marsh
National Post January 27, 2017

80th Season

80th Anniversary

50 years at the movies
This fall, Canada's first film society –  the Ottawa Film Society (OFS)/Cine-club d'Ottawa – began celebrating its 50th season of showing movies.

Lyle Stern
OSCAR - November 1984

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Foreign film buffs fuelled 50 years by Ottawa society
With close to 50 cinema screens in the capital region showing films from Hollywood and around the world – and sometimes, even Canadian – the Ottawa moviegoer is positively pampered.

Noel Taylor
The Ottawa Citizen - March 4, 1985

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Finding classics on Ottawa's big screens gets harder
Video has all but killed the market for old movies, writes Maria Kubacki, but determined film buffs can find a few screenings.

Maria Kubacki
The Ottawa Citizen

Friday, November 21, 2003

Elizabeth Hay and I are in the little study off her kitchen, mesmerized by the image of Ingrid Bergman recklessly tossing back liquor and sizing up Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious.

"You know something, I like you," Bergman growls and pours herself another drink.

He likes her, too, in spite of himself. You can tell by the way he looks at her, although he has a funny way of showing it -- later he karate chops her on the wrist to get her to relinquish the steering wheel after a crazy, drunken drive.

"It's very sexy, you know," Hay murmurs as Grant stands behind Bergman and slowly wraps a scarf around her waist to warm her up. Like the heroine of Garbo Laughs, her novel about a movie-obsessed family living in Old Ottawa South, Hay has watched Notorious over and over.

Garbo Laughs was nominated for the Governor-General's Award in literature.

In the novel, character Harriet Browning, her children and their neighbour, Dinah, watch videos of movies such as Notorious and Ninotchka, the Ernst Lubitsch comedy about a stern Soviet special envoy transformed by a trip to Paris, in which tragedy-queen Greta Garbo famously and uncharacteristically laughs. Hay did the same with her own son and daughter and a family friend, arguing about the best movies, best lines and best endings.

Increasingly, video is about the only way you'll see classics in Ottawa. Even the Ottawa Film Society had to resort to projecting a VHS copy for its recent Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin double bill. It was able to get Chaplin's The Great Dictator on 35-mm, but the distributor couldn't supply them with a print of Keaton's The General and so gave them permission to show it in whatever format they could find. In the end they had to make do with a VHS tape from the Ottawa Public Library.

"Thirty-five-millimetre is an endangered species for old movies," says long-time film society board member Lyle Stern. Often when existing prints get damaged they are not replaced.

It all comes down to the bottom line. Audiences want what's new. "We are very fixated on the present now," says retired Carleton University film studies professor Peter Harcourt.

"There's just no money in older movies," says David Holford, manager of the Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street, which is mentioned in Hay's novel, along with now demolished or empty theatres like the Capitol and the Somerset.

Once upon a time, the Mayfair had Woody Allen double bills, Humphrey Bogart nights and screenings of perennial repertory cinema favourites such as Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. That was before video all but killed the big-screen old movie market. The grand old theatre is now basically a second-run cinema, offering double bills of newish mainstream movies, as well as recent independent films.

The Mayfair still occasionally offers up an old standard, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Halloween, and recently had a French embassy-sponsored screening of a 1928 silent film, La chute de la maison Usher, accompanied by electronic music by DJ Joakim.

But Holford says Ottawa is not big enough for the old-movie market to be worthwhile. It's more viable in a larger centre such as Toronto, he says.

Bruce White, owner of Ottawa's only art house cinema, the ByTowne on Rideau Street, says experience has taught him the appeal of old movies is limited. He recalls screening the 50th anniversary print of Sunset Boulevard in his 670-seat theatre. "Fifty gay guys showed up."

White hasn't given up on repertory material entirely -- this summer he showed Casablanca -- but generally old movies don't do well, he says.

Like Holford, White says people don't want to pay theatre prices to see films available on video. At chains such as Blockbuster, classics are one-week rentals, costing a pittance to watch over and over again. Unfortunately, their selection is limited.

There are a few excellent independent video rental stores in town, however, including Glebe Video International on Bank Street, the Elgin Street Video Station, Video Mondo on Beechwood and Invisible Cinema on Lisgar.

Sit down with Hay's novel and make a list of the movies discussed. Chances are that knowledgeable staff can help you find many of them at one of these outlets. At Glebe Video International, Carleton University film studies graduate Peter Grey and former translator Paul Green steered me towards Ninotchka and such obscure gems as Max Ophuls' The Earrings of Madame de ...

Green even looked something up for me in Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies, which happens to be Harriet Browning's bible in Garbo Laughs.

Even a professional cinephile like Harcourt says he's happy to watch favourites on the small screen now. Aging 35-mm prints of older titles may not get replaced, but studios are restoring and remastering films for DVD and including bonus features such as previously unseen footage, interviews with actors and crew, and storyboards. Criterion, a company specializing in quality DVDs with lots of extras, has an impressive list of older titles, including a digitally remastered version of Notorious.

It's up to non-commercial groups such as the Ottawa Film Society and the Canadian Film Institute to keep cinema's past alive on the big screen. The film society, which offers subscriptions only (no single tickets), often features older films in its theme series. This season the theme is Actors Become Directors and includes last month's Keaton/Chaplin double bill as well as upcoming screenings of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter and other classics.

The Canadian Film Institute, whose mandate includes the preservation of film history, had its first ever Silent Film Festival this September, screening, among others, a brand-new print of F.W. Murnau's 1922 vampire flick Nosferatu, and two Hitchcock films few remember, The Lodger and Downhill. They did well enough that director Tom McSorley says the silent festival will become an annual feature. All films were accompanied by live piano music.

Coming Dec. 11-13 at the National Arts Centre is another silent film event, a screening of Chaplin's Gold Rush with live music by the NAC Orchestra. The NAC's Jane Morris says it's part of the orchestra's pops series, which in 1996 included sold-out screenings of Chaplin's City Lights.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2003

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