John Harkness, 1954–2007
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John Harkness, 1954–2007

2007_18_12_harkness.jpgWe’re going to take a break from our usual Torontoist style in this post because the passing of John Harkness, the film critic for Now magazine since its inception in 1981, is something that has particular importance for me. As the writer of Torontoist’s weekly “Film Friday” column, which, as you know, very often quotes the reviews from local critics, I have probably quoted John Harkness more than anyone.
There’s a funny story in this, because although in the process of writing the Film Friday column I’ve met and got to know a fair number of Toronto’s critics, I was always too intimidated by John Harkness to ever introduce myself to him (even though I saw him at countless screenings and events). Last week, at the Canada’s Top Ten event, I spotted him chatting with another critic and thought, “Well, might as well introduce myself now, so it doesn’t have to be awkward any more.”
I walked up to him and told him that I was from Torontoist, and that I write the Film Friday column. He said, “Oh, the Torontoist. I’ve heard of you. You seem to be obsessed with me and Jason Anderson.”
A little flummoxed, the only thing I could think of to say was, “Well, I am.”
My introduction to John Harkness didn’t go particularly well, honestly, and if it wasn’t for the fact that, due to circumstance, I will never see him at another screening, it would certainly still be awkward. But I don’t regret telling him I was obsessed with him, because John Harkness was—is—Canada’s most important film critic. In a previous Film Friday, someone asked what there was to respect about a critic, and I said, “The ability to write well and express their opinions in a clear and interesting manner.”
In my humble opinion, that was the very least that John Harkness did.
Born in Montreal, John Harkness grew up in Halifax and Sarnia, and studied under Andrew Sarris in Cinema Studies at Columbia University. As well as writing for Now, John also wrote for publications including Sight And Sound and Take One. He was a huge supporter of the Toronto International Film Festival and Cinematheque Ontario. He was also, we’re told, really, really good at poker.
John Harkness was 53 years old.