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Elwy Yost, 1925–2011


Growing up in the ’80s in Toronto, there were many ways for you to become a lifelong lover of film well before you were old enough to drink. There was CityTV, with its Great Movies four or five times a week. There was the Toronto International Film Festival, of course—but back then it was still the Festival of Festivals, and it still was first and foremost a collection of films from around the world that had premiered at other festivals first. Reg Hartt was already showing off Bugs Bunny’s dick at the Cineforum twice a week.
But above all there was Elwy Yost, one of the most dedicated film buffs the world has ever known, who died yesterday at the age of 86 in West Vancouver.


Yost hosted Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO for 25 years, and he was an institution, a proud film dork who could find a reason to love practically any movie made. (He was famous for saying that of all the films he had seen, he hated only two. He refused to name them.) He was not a snob: he loved genre flicks, B movies, old Republic serials that were slightly racist, and action movies. The last movie he ever presented on Saturday Night was Speed, Keanu Reeves’ movie about the bus that can’t drop below 50 miles per hour lest it explode. (His son Graham wrote it, and Elwy’s final interview was with his son.)
Yost himself presented every movie on both Saturday Night at the Movies and Magic Shadows—his other movie program, which chopped up classic films into short chunks and aired them over an entire week. (It was a different time, long before the click-now generation, when people actually considered this a great idea.) He would speak quickly and was always, always excited about the movie he was about to show us. His love of film was completely unironic: this was a man who fought in World War II and then decided to become a teacher, and then eventually became a teacher on television. He was the friendliest man on television who wasn’t Mister Rogers, because he had the best job ever: he got paid to talk about movies, and movies deserved better than cynicism and snark to someone like Elwy Yost.
TVO used its tiny budget for Saturday Night at the Movies as resourcefully as any television show has ever spent money in the history of television, amassing a huge collection of movie rights so that Elwy always had a new film to present and discuss: a massive trove of treasures from Hollywood’s golden age, foreign films from every country imaginable, indie and renegade films, and the occasional big-budget blockbuster. But, because this was TVO and therefore an educational channel, simply showing the movie wasn’t enough: Yost and his team also did countless interviews with actors, directors, writers, editors, and anybody else they felt could serve to teach the public about the craft and art of movie-making.
Today, that archive spans thousands of hours. It is widely considered to be priceless and one of the great treasures of film criticism. Saturday Night at the Movies digs into its archives frequently when presenting a film, because there’s almost always something in there that’s relevant to whatever they’re showing each Saturday night. Elwy Yost did that, and Elwy Yost helped build Toronto into one of the world’s film capitals by making us into a city of film lovers. He will not be forgotten.

Comments

  • z00m3r

    R.I.P., Elwy. My sister's crazy cat (R.I.P. Festus) used to watch him with great interest. It might have been something about the bright studio lights reflecting off his bald pate.

  • http://twitter.com/carlyrhiannon carlyrhiannon

    I remember watching Saturday Night at the Movies with my dad – who loved Elwy Yost – as a kid. Good memories. This is a great tribute.

  • Toronto_Dave

    A sad day for Canadian film fans. So much of what I know and love about films and cinematic history comes from all those hours I spent as a teenager, at home and dateless on Saturday nights, watching his program. TVO still airs some great films on Saturday nights and even dips into the archive for interviews. But since Yost left, “Saturday Night at the Movies” has never been the same. Truly sad to hear he's gone.

  • wanderoo

    This film not to be copied.

  • Jeremy Wilson

    He was a legend indeed.

  • SNAM

    Thank you for this tribute…believe me, it was the dream job for both of us…never really thought of it as a job…it was a privilege and a labour of love.
    So many memories…Risa Shuman (worked with Elwy for 25 years)

  • John G

    When I think of TVO I think of him and his deep voice. Love the title sequence and music instantly takes me back to those moments in time.

  • Nick

    I loved Magic Shadows as a kid. Thanks, Torontoist – a great tribute.

  • GBCINQUE

    A lyric in CFNY's song contest in 1982 or 83 had the line: 
    I like Magic Shadows,
    I like the host,
    He's so funny,
    He's Elwy Yost!

  • misstraceynolan

    Thank you for noting Elwy's passing.  Who didn't love Elwy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniela-Cindi/100002100756638 Daniela Cindi

    They don't make them like they used to. 

    Although you were not aware of what film you were going to see that night, what you knew with certainty was that you were going to see Elwy's warm and affable demeanor coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of film.  

    It seems fitting that, even though he is gone, he still lives in the world of film that he so very loved. 

    My sincere regards to his family. 

    Thank you Elwy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=751676426 Ziggy Pinkles

    He was a lovely man. I feel privileged to have known him. I cherish my copy of his book “Secret of the Lost Empire” that he signed and gave to me.