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.