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My film education began here....
madsagittarian from Toronto, Canada
24 July 2006
How does one begin writing comments about something like this, which
for most of my years on this planet, was the instrumental thing that
nurtured my passion for cinema, and showed me the rich diversity of
film history. It isn't just enough that this show continues to show two
films every Saturday night since its inception. It simply goes without
saying that this show would not be the legend it is, had it not been
anchored by the love, lore and enthusiasm of Elwy Yost.
Although "Saturday Night..." had already been on television a few
years, I had actually first discovered Elwy by way of his serialized
weeknight show, "Magic Shadows" (see my review). So, when I was old
enough to stay up late on Saturday nights (or for that matter, strong
enough to wrestle the TV away from my babysitter's Saturday night
staples of (ick) "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island"), I was thusly
introduced into an even broader spectrum of movie-making.
Even more, between and after the two films (which were often paired as
themes for studying genres, directors, actors, or social matters), we
were greeted to a "who's who" of movieland- interviews conducted by
Yost correlating to the films at hand. In his annual pilgrimage to
Hollywood, Elwy had the good fortune to interview stars, directors,
writers and technicians from Hollywood's golden age before they had
passed on. For that matter, he also sat down for conversations with
some of the young lions who were then making names for themselves in
the present-day movie world.
Southern Ontario viewers never had a better crash course in cinema than
they would get with this weekly show. Elwy took you increasingly
further into the magic of the movies, and you came away with much more
substance than that thin "Entertainment Tonight" pap that passes itself
for TV journalism these days. He would take us out to see how those
bullet holes in THE WILD BUNCH got made, behind the scenes for the stop
motion animation of THE LOST WORLD (1960), or he would check in on an
editor hunched over a Moviola. While you would turn on knowing who
Henry Fonda or Bette Davis were, you would leave also learning about
Preston Sturges, Franklin Pangborn, Nunnally Johnson, Powell &
Pressburger, or Sven Nykvist... to name only a few out of hundreds.
Still, it is important to note that Elwy was more than just a host-- he
was a surrogate friend on the other end of the cathode ray tube. With
his warm demeanour and natural gift for storytelling, he emerged as
more than simply a well-read scholar, he was first and foremost a fan.
Through Elwy you were introduced to films without bias or reservation.
Whether his films of the week were Ingmar Bergman, or Dorothy Lamour
sarong pictures, it ALL mattered. And with his wide-eyed enthusiasm, he
was eager to share it with you. Needless to say, we eagerly took it all
In 1999, Elwy Yost had left the show. His retirement was certainly well
deserved, but he left a long shadow to be filled. Nonetheless, Shelagh
Rogers, to our delight, was a fine replacement (I believe, hand-picked
by Mr. Yost)- an affable, knowledgeable host, with a wonderfully game
approach to the material. However, (if my memory serves) after one year
she had to leave the show out of commitments with the CBC. And for
years, the program remained without a host. Simply, screens with
typeface would introduce the films, and even the newer interviews
appeared to be faceless (as the offscreen interviewer never seemed to
have any kind of presence). Now there is a new host, delivering the
exact same introduction before both films on the bill, whose monologues
are with big words and no panache.
Even so, after thirty-odd years, "Saturday Night at the Movies" remains
the best date on television.
Before I go, I want to share this with you. In 1989, I had the honour
and privilege of meeting Mr. Yost and his wife Lila on the subway. This
was even a bigger treat because that season, he -tried- to lighten his
work load (introducing only one film on Saturday Night, and then Jay
Scott's "Film International" would fill the second slot), and thusly
wasn't in Toronto as much. (However he was back the following year,
working full time.) So for the duration of about ten subway stops, I
managed to talk cinema with Elwy and his wife (and they are a team by
the way- no "celebrity-and-spouse" business here), and amusingly
enough, he was amazed at how many films a young guy like myself had
seen. (He hadn't yet seen Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH!!)
So, as I got out at my subway stop and walked down the platform, Mr.
Saturday Night went by on the subway car, doing his trademark wave that
ended his show every week, and I had tears in my eyes.
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