Lights, camera . . . opinion

Bob Wakeham
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A somewhat peculiar letter to the editor last Saturday from an apparent wannabe film critic has given me an excuse to again delve into my lifelong love affair with movies, an addiction that reaches its “Lost Weekend” status, saturated and consumed with flicks, a 12-step rehabilitation program in the offing, during the Academy Awards bash which takes place a week from tomorrow night.      

Not to brag, but I’ve been involved in the making of upwards of 80 documentaries in my time and have been given at least a slight taste of what it takes to transform hours and hours of tape or film into a decent product that a sizable audience would want to view.

But, alas, Steven Speilberg and Martin Scorsese never had to worry about little old me trying to gain entry into their magnificent world of movie-making (as much as I would have liked to), and my actual time spent on the periphery of big-time films has been minimal.    

I lost my movie-viewing virginity way back in the ’50s in Gander when Mom would give a few of her older offspring a dime for admission to the Crescent Theatre on Saturdays and five cents for candy, a relatively small price for a couple of hours of peace for her, a couple of hours of escapism into westerns and cartoons for us.

Later in life, as a young journalist, I had the odd bit of contact with movies. Richard Harris, in Newfoundland to film the god-awful “Orca,” once gave me the bum’s rush on a wharf in Petty Harbour, dismissing me as if I was an insignificant nobody from the local paper who could do little or nothing to promote him or his crappy film (which, come to think of it, was true). There was also the time when I actually got to respond to “Action” when I was given one line (typecast as a reporter) in Mike and Andy Jones’ film “The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood” (everybody and their mother had a cameo in “Faustus”).   

I did do a movie review once a week for CBC’s “Morning Show” for a while in the mid-’80s, but the novelty wore off quickly and playing the role of the critic took the fun out of going to the theatre. So I quit that gig and spent my valuable journalistic time making fun of politicians,

a much easier chore given their clownish ways and their habit of constantly leaving themselves wide open to cheap shots.

And a couple of years ago, a local film company used our living room with its spectacular Flatrock view for two days to shoot a brief scene for the movie “Grown Up Movie Star.” My wife and I were like youngsters when we saw the final product at the mall theatre, chuckling when our house appeared on the big screen, and pointing like teenyboppers when a photograph on a dining room wall of the two of us was visible for a split second. (It was a fine, fine movie, by the way, courageous in many ways, and well worth seeing if you get the chance).  

Anyway, that letter to the editor last week to which I referred earlier struck me as a little odd; its message to us, the readers and potential movie attendees, seemed to be that we should ignore a lot of critics, especially those who liked a particular film the letter writer found to be terrible. But, at the same time, he wanted us to take his word as gospel that the film was trash.

A rather conflicting message, I thought. Dismiss the critics, but not him.                      

Movie viewing and movie reviewing are always subjective. In my case, I like to make up my own mind (that’s not to say I don’t avoid a movie that’s been universally panned or make a point of seeing a flick that receives an abundance of four-star ratings).

But if a movie comes along that has gotten, as they say in the business, “mixed reviews,” I’ll see it and draw my own conclusions.

Another couple of rules I go by: I never try and convince someone that my views are definitive; by the same token, I don’t accept anybody else’s opinion on movies as definitive, if it’s all the same to you.  

Also, I go to movies to be entertained, not for moral edification. If I happen to be enlightened along the way, that’s just a bonus. I’m there in that theatre with my bag of popcorn for fun and pleasure.    

For what it’s worth (and because I can), here are just some of my favourite movies: “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull,” “The Wild Bunch,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Taxi Driver,” “Unforgiven,” “The Godfather,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Martha’s Museum,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Fargo” (and every single film made  by the Cohn Brothers), “Schindler’s List,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Apocalypse Now” (I could go on forever with what is obviously a baby boomer’s list).    

This past year, my No. 1 movie — the envelope please — was “Silver Linings Playbook,” although I thought “Lincoln” was a class act, and that Daniel Day Lewis’ performance was out of this world. I was also captivated by “Amour,” and thrilled and moved by “Flight.”    


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Crescent Theatre, CBC, Movie Star Cohn Brothers

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Gander, Petty Harbour Mike Martha

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Recent comments

  • Keith Hannaford
    February 16, 2013 - 14:25

    Mr. Wakeham, As the writer of the letter to which you refer, I felt I should correct an impression it inexplicably left on you: that I feel that all critics who admired Cosmopolis should be rejected. Not so; I even noted that some critics I recommend within my letter were themselves fooled by that film. Furthermore, I only ask to trust me those readers who feel we have certain tastes in common and would therefore trust my judgement as coincident to their own. As for your assertion that movie (re)viewing is subjective, I thoroughly disagree. While tastes differ, certain rules of filmmaking are either broken or unbroken and, if the latter, either for an apparent purpose or due to incompetence. I admire any film critic that can reasonably and perceptively back up their conclusions about a film. I would like to think that my arguments against Cosmopolis demonstrate that it breaks rules and thus damns itself. Debate about film is no fun if we are too post-modern to acknowledge that there is such a thing and good and bad art.

  • Winston Adams
    February 16, 2013 - 13:23

    Bob, you reveal a bit of yourself in your pieces. Your a journalist. but you don't seek movies that may have a moral flavour. But surely Schindler's list has such a flavour, and some others you mention. I would want to see Lincoln with a sence to see the moral dilemina he faced with almost a half million soldiers sacrificed. But you want the entertainment value. What I wonder is, is morals of more concern to journalists than for the average person? We may have passed each other at the movies when you stayed in Gander. I had a aunt and cousins there. It was a great adventure to travel by train to Gander from Spaniard's bay in the 50's. And on saturday we were given some money to go to the movies there. Gander seemed so modern and advanced . Our cousins were well off for those times. The kids had a wagon. There was a canoe out back, the older cousin had a motorcycle. The train had this water fountain and little paper cups. At home we carried water from a dug well and filled a barrel. So the water on the train was a marvel it seemed. as the train chugged along, my younger brother, about 5, would go back and forth asking, Do you want a little drink?