After eighteen years, thousands upon thousands of film screenings, and thousands times more 8½” x 11″ posters littering the city, Reg Hartt‘s Cineforum is taking its final breath on Bathurst Street.
As Hartt explained in a post on the Cineforum’s website yesterday titled “The Last Christmas at the Cineforum,” 463 Bathurst—Hartt’s home, and, since 1992, the site of his film screenings and mini-festivals—is going to be put up for sale.
It’s a quiet and anticlimactic end to Hartt’s four decade–long pet project, a project that has received sustained attention from nearly every publication imaginable and that has turned Hartt into a local legend, like him or not. Hartt, who first started showing films in Viking Books on Queen Street in 1966, took over the Little Queen Victoria Boutique in Yorkville in 1968, renaming it The Public Enemy (because, he told Torontoist, “as Henry Miller points out in The Cosmological Eye, ‘Every English artist of any worth has always been seen as public enemy number one’”). As Hartt told us, The Public Enemy earned a memorable regular:
Shortly after I took it over a family walked up the thirty-nine steps and into my life to see Lon Chaney Sr. in the original 1923 film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “This is just like Cinema 16 in New York,” said the wife who, when she found out my name is Reg Hartt, asked, “Can you get a picture called ‘Roxie Hart’?” They came back every week after that. Silent films were often shown with color tints. One of the sons gave me a huge set of color gels to use.
Two years later I saw the mother’s picture in the newspaper. It was then I found out she had written an important book titled The Death and Life of the Great American Cities.
That woman—Jane Jacobs—would come to be Hartt’s friend, a regular patron of the Cineforum as it shifted from venue to venue, a valuable defender when the City shut it down for several months after Hartt moved it to his home, and the person who told Hartt that “the best part of what you do is what you have to say.” Jacobs’s advice has stuck with Hartt, and the Cineforum’s last scheduled event is, fittingly, “Urban Wisdom,” all about her.
In true Jacobsian fashion, there is still the possibility of life after death for the Cineforum. It may, Hartt wrote in his goodbye, rise Phoenix-like “anew out of the ashes of the old.” But for that, the sixty-two year old curator needs money and space: he’s selling his collection of 16mm films and looking for another “large empty house” with an accommodating landlord. When he first started screening films at Viking Books, he says, “for the first time in my life I experienced the joy of sharing what I knew to be good with others who shared that knowledge. That joy is intoxicating.” And, as of 2009, indefinitely postponed.
Hat tip to the Toronto LiveJournal Community. Photo by Ned Lyttelton from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.