Photo by Eugen Sakhnenko/Torontoist.
Anyone who goes to the movies in Toronto can attest to the quality of this city’s rep cinemas. In the downtown core, The Bloor, Royal, and Underground consistently provide quality second-run films, and more importantly, special presentation screenings designed to further expand the horizons of this city’s cineastes. Exceptional amongst these is The Revue on Roncesvalles, which gives way-westenders the rep cinema experience with a little education thrown into the mix.
Alan Bacchus struck a chord with Toronto film-goers with his Canadian Cinema in Revue program, which gave audiences a chance to see some underrated Can-con classics on the big screen and received Best Revival Programming honours from NOW in 2009. Bacchus is now preparing another ongoing series, Great Cinematography in Revue, which kicks off this Sunday with a screening of Terrence Malick’s epic 1998 war drama The Thin Red Line.
Nearly limitless in its scope and ambition, Malick’s film looks at the emotional and physical wages of war through the eyes of American soldiers stationed in and around the island of Guadalcanal during the Second World War. Featuring an ensemble cast including everyone from Nick Nolte, Jim Caviezel, Elias Koteas, Sean Penn, John Travolta, Adrien Brody, and George Clooney (briefly), The Thin Red Line may be the definitive masterpiece by one of American cinema’s undisputed (if under-appreciated) greats. Bacchus managed to contact the film’s cinematographer, John Toll (who took back-to-back Oscars for shooting Legends of the Fall and Braveheart), who will be appearing at the Revue for a post-screening Q&A period.
We talked with Bacchus about the Revue’s programming, Malick’s film, and the future of Great Cinematography in Revue.
Bacchus at an installment of the Canadian Cinema in Revue series.
Torontoist: It was exciting to find out that you guys are screening The Thin Red Line.
Alan Bacchus: That’s, like, one of my favourite films. A movie I can watch over and over again. I hadn’t seen it screened in Toronto in the last, maybe, ten years or so. I can’t recall another screening. So that was a no-brainer.
So how do you put together a program like Great Cinematography in Revue, or Canadian Cinema in Revue?
The cinema is a community-run cinema. It does second-run movies like other rep cinemas do, but there’s a strong sense of community involvement in the cinema. It was revived by a couple who lived in the area who put up the money to keep it from being abandoned. And they kept that spirit alive. They always welcome new ideas. I first got to know them by calling them out of the blue. When I met with them they sensed my enthusiasm and I pitched them the idea of doing a series where we screen Canadian films on the big screen. And the cinematography thing I just came up with and pitched them on it. In the spirit of community involvement, the cinema has been open to any ideas outside of just the usual second-run movies.
How much look-ahead goes into this? How many films and guests do you have lined up before you get a program like this off the ground?
The cinema doesn’t program too far in advance. They like to stay flexible. They’ll only program two or three weeks in advance. I’m not really sure what’s next. We kind of play it one screening at a time so it’s not too onerous for anybody. We’re all very flexible. We’re not mandated to do something every month or every two months, as long as we keep the fire burning. Everyone who works there—well, except for the manager and that—is a volunteer. It’s called the Revue Film Society, and it’s a board of directors kind of thing. With this screening, I made a connection with the Canadian Society of Cinematographers, which I assumed would be interested in helping to present these screenings. They helped with getting the connection to John Toll, the Q&A speaker.
Besides it being a favourite of yours, what is it about The Thin Red Line that works within the context of this series?
Obviously it’s a fantastic film. It’s a war film, but an art war film. It’s so ambitious. It kind of turns some people off. It’s not Saving Private Ryan, but it has a much deeper meaning. I have more emotional attachment to The Thin Red Line than I do to Saving Private Ryan. As a piece of cinema it’s just elegant.
I’m also really attracted to the making of the film—and hopefully John Toll can enlighten us on that—and this idea of Terrence Malick waiting twenty years in between his second film and this third film. And the fact that he doesn’t do another Days of Heaven, he does this hugely ambitious war film. I remember reading back in the day, and this is before internet buzz was commonplace, reports of this film and where it’s being shot and who’s being cast in this project that nobody really knew anything about. It had this kind of aura to it that really stuck with me. And that’s something I want to learn about more.
What you do at the Revue is interesting, because a lot of rep cinemas will do special presentations, but you seem to have an almost educational mandate. You’re teaching people about the art of cinema as a cohesive whole, whether it be through looking at the screenwriting process or cinematography. Is this part of any official directive or plan on the part of the Revue Film Society?
Not really. It’s just something I’ve been doing. Because I’m a filmmaker as well and I work in the film industry and that’s what I’m interested in. And I assume that if I’m interested in it, then there’s got to be a group of people out there who are interested in it. There’s no specific mandate or anything we’re actively trying to tap into. If anything, it’s a little sub-market of programming that’s under-represented in Toronto. There’s lots of great alternative programming here with what the Toronto Underground does, and what The Bloor does, and The Royal, and the Fox. Everyone’s doing their own cool little thing. And I’m just trying to do my own cool little thing that maybe some of the others aren’t doing.
The Revue (400 Roncesvalles Avenue) presents The Thin Red Line on Sunday, August 1 at 3 p.m. And you may want to pack a snack, given that the film is 170 minutes long.