Introduction: Hello and welcome to the Great Books Tent at Word on the Street… I thought I’d start by telling you a bit about why we’re all here today…
In addition to having just written The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen for ECW Press, I also host a movie review show called Reel to Real… it’s Canada’s longest running show about movies, and each year my co-hosts (Geoff Pevere and Katrina Onstad) review 200 plus movies, which means that I spend most of my time alone, and in the dark… and then, when I emerge into the light, I have to come up with — hopefully — clever things to say about them, which is harder sometimes than you would think…
I find the top 10% of movies and the bottom 10% the easiest to discuss… in other words the best and the worst are easy to review, but it is the middle 80% of mediocre films that are really, really hard to discuss… so when I was choosing the movies in the book I dismissed about 80% of the movies I have ever seen… much like most of the movies that were released this summer… so many sequels, it seemed like every movie that came out this summer had a number in the title… Charlie’s Angel’s 2… Legally Blonde 2… Bad Boys 2… Jeeper’s Creepers 2… there was a lot of number two at the theatres this year, if you know what I mean… anyway, I ruled out sequels from the book…
It seems that we are surrounded by bad movies… so to remedy that we go to the video store to find alternatives and generally all we find are more bad movies! Stats say that most people spend about 12 minutes in the video store when searching for something to rent, and never even make it past the new releases rack… so where do you think the chain stores put most of their energy???
So, keeping this in mind, and considering my job as a film critic, although I prefer “consumer advocate”… the Ralph Nader of cinephiles… I decided to put this book together, to help people choose good movies to rent… but keep in mind you must choose your video store very carefully!!! If everyone in the store is wearing the same colour t-shirt — a uniform — you’re probably in the wrong place… The corporate stores aren’t likely to embrace the movies contained within…
Look for the mom and pop shows and stores run by people who try and engage you in some kind of conversation… IE: When you try and rent Pearl Harbour… if the video store clerk doesn’t look at with a disappointed look on his or her face and then try and steer you toward maybe picking up Tora! Tora! Tora! instead then you are in the wrong store… anyway…
There are other reasons I wrote this book, and one of them is detailed in the introduction to the book…
‘Sometimes I feel like a blacksmith: Someone who used to do something useful.’
That was Richard Crouse — one of my all-time favourite people in the city — being characteristically demure over breakfast one not-long-ago morning. I’d asked him to breakfast at the Four Seasons, and he’d accepted, and so went the taut conversation, the sticky asides, the frays and fringes of opinion.
All of it, of course, delivered from behind those familiar Elvis Costello-ish glasses — the kind of specs that suggest that Richard might just break out in a wistful delivery of She at any moment.
My egg-eating companion, who’s been a presence on TV for years — talking and rating movies on Rogers — has a new show now. And it’s such a marvelous, not to mention instructive, idea that I can’t believe he waited so long! The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen is the program, based on a book of the same name that Crouse wrote some years ago. The overlooked, the under-appreciated and the ignored — that’s the topsy-turvy list, complete with clips, bits and interviews.
Which brings us back to that ‘blacksmith’ comment. What the assiduous critic means to say is that in an age of celebrity overdrive — in a channel galaxy filled with eTalks, Extras and Entertainment Tonights — the fact that he actually covers movies, and old movies at that, is pretty revolutionary.
Like a man who uses a Filofax or something.
“We live in an era,” Crouse tells me at one point, “when six or seven movies come out a week. It’s like the Springsteen song, 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).”
And so he’s here to sing from the mountaintops about such choice flicks as Delicatessen. And A Face in the Crowd. And The Pope of Greenwich Village. Also Ginger Snaps, Chelsea Girls and not to mention Tadpole!
And Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a sort of sequel to the Valley of the Dolls? He can’t be serious, can he? Quoting Roger Ebert — who actually co-wrote the film, as some trivia buffs might know — Crouse tells me that this is the movie “that got made by accident when the lunatics took over the asylum.”
He then adds a sound-enough argument: “I’d rather watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls than Man of the Year (Robin Williams’ newest one)!”
So, I ask him, changing the conversation, does he have a cinematic “blind spot”? Any movies that he’s embarrassed to say he hasn’t seen yet? “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” he answers quickly. Never got to it, for whatever reason.
Which then leads us to a close (and strange) encounter of the celebrity kind, one of Crouse’s very first — back in the ’80s. And certainly years and years before he was meeting celebrities all the time. (During the most recent Toronto International Film Festival, for instance, he did about 250 interviews for Rogers — everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Pierce Brosnan.)
This is the encounter he’s not likely to forget: He was standing in a movie line at the Cumberland and it was just after E.T. had come out, and he noticed a “little girl” being told she couldn’t go in to see that particular movie ’cause she was too young. After some interjecting from an older handler — “do you know who this is?” — the squirt was finally allowed in.
Who was it? Drew Barrymore, naturally.
(For the record, he thinks she’s turned out quite nicely, but no, none of her movies rank in The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen.)
Crouse’s latest, greatest, most absorbing show airs on Monday nights, by the way. It repeats generously throughout the week also. If you like movies, you’ll like this show!