|Gerald Pratley (1923-2011)|
As a film critic, it didn't really matter to him whether he agreed with you or not (as Gerald's tastes were often more conservative than mine). What mattered was your sense of integrity, or perhaps, the idea that he still had things to learn from others, just as he could impart to others much of what he knew from a different era with different values. In a profession today that has its share of poseurs and careerists, Gerald was one of the real guys. He didn't set out to be a star which may be why he doesn't have a stronger presence in contemporary film culture. (Like me, he didn't have much patience for film theory, either, which represents another pole of contemporary film culture that he's exiled from.) But Gerald Pratley did build a foundation here for film culture and Canadian movies that made possible all that we see vibrant today. Ironically, I suppose, Gerald wasn't Canadian born.
|Pratley with Miklos Rozsa in 1977 (Photo by Mike Quigley)|
|An annual award from the Film Studies Association of Canada|
In later years, when Gerald served on juries at the Toronto Film Festival viewing a vast assortment of Canadian films (he would even write a substantial anthology titled A Century of Canadian Cinema: Gerald Pratley's Feature Film Guide), I spent many days with him in those screening rooms watching him go from being elated to being appalled. But even if some outrageous work offended his sensibilities, Gerald was never vindictive or patronizing with that offense. He had that very British way of sighing in sometimes profound disbelief at something that just escaped his understanding. The night he came to my book launch of Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of Zappa in 2002, I was particularly gratified. Frank Zappa wouldn't have been one of Gerald Pratley's musical highlights, but he came anyway. When I told him that evening that David Raksin, who had scored Laura (1944) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), was close friends with Zappa, his sigh turned to strange wonder. How could two such radically different artists ever find a common ground, his expression told me. But Gerald's friendship played a huge role in establishing a common ground for myself and many others. He made it possible for me to accommodate views that at first were seemingly alien, or movies also seemingly foreign to my tastes. Yet Gerald Pratley's sigh was most definitely an expression of love, a true compassion for those things that are built to last. Besides being irreplaceable himself, he, too, was built that way. That's why, as I'm writing this today, I know exactly why I'm gonna miss him.
Roads to Perdition) at the Revue Cinema in Toronto in March looking at the Femme Fatale.
|Gerald Pratley, honoured at the Genie Awards in 2002|
What I’ll always cherish about Gerald was his genuine nature and that perhaps more than anything is what I took out of our friendship. (Some of the same observations I had are also being made by Kevin in his tribute to Gerald.) He was sincerely interested in what I was up to, an attitude which is not all that common in our film environs. I’ve lost count of how many times I have had Canadian film folk talk at me about what they were accomplishing but neglect to ask me what was happening in my world. Gerald was never like that, and he unfailingly always asked me how my girlfriend Rosa was doing, this after having only met her once. He was also pleased with my success at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, where I was Director of Programming, even writing that when he autographed my copy of his book A Century of Canadian Cinema. He also never condescended when I mentioned liking a film that appalled him. Like many of his generation, which included my late father, he couldn’t make his peace with the explicit violence, sex and coarse language of the more recent cinema. Nor did he namedrop immodestly, even though he was friends with filmmakers like John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds) and Lindsay Andrson (If…, O Lucky Man!). If I knew that Gerald had contributed so much to our Canadian film culture, it was through others’ testimonies, never because he boasted of his many accomplishments.
I agreed with many of his friends that he was treated quite shabbily by his successors at the Cinematheque Ontario, which barely acknowledged his contributions. A mention of him as founder in the program guide, which has even been dropped from Bell Lightbox’s current program book, and the odd opportunity for him to introduce a film or program wasn’t, to my eyes, showing sufficient respect to him. I resolved therefore, to acknowledge him in my own way. Thus, I profiled him in Performing Arts in Canada magazine, a now-defunct local cultural publication. (Apparently, you can order that article online.) And I was honoured to be able to host him at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, in 2004, when he came to the city to introduce and handle the question and answer session for a documentary called Dziga and his Brothers. That film, about the Kaufman siblings, among the Soviet Union’s and later America’s’ foremost cinematographers, was a perfect fit for Gerald. But my most cherished memory of that visit wasn’t the gig so much, which went fine, but his sheer enjoyment of the previous night’s film, Paul Morrison’s Wondrous Oblivion. That drama, chronicling the relationship between Jewish and West Indian neighbours in 1960 London, was just the type of old fashioned, straightforward film that he most cherished and I was so pleased that he was able to catch it while at the festival.
I’m sorry that the vagaries of his ill health meant that Gerald wasn’t ever able to update his 2003 book on Canadian cinema and more than a little angry that he wasn’t properly feted by his peers while he was alive. (Fortunately, the media coverage of his death has largely been thorough and respectful.) If Toronto’s cinema culture is so rich with foreign films, Gerald is one of the main reasons why that is so. I’ll miss him as a friend; Canadians should miss him as a film pioneer who contributed so much of value to our city and country.