Book Reviews

Rating: NNNIn Brave Films, Wild Nights, his history of the Toronto International Film Festival, Brian D. Johnson notes that in.


Rating: NNN


In Brave Films, Wild Nights, his history of the Toronto International Film Festival, Brian D. Johnson notes that in one year he went from driving films around in a van to reviewing them for Maclean’s.

The latter job, he writes, is less crucial to the film world, though it did get him into parties.

On the one hand, Johnson is making a little joke. On the other, Freud says we are never more serious than when we are joking.

So what he gives us is a reasonably fat year-by-year history of the festival, documenting a few thousand films, assorted parties and some fairly well-known scandals — they say the Toronto Historical Board is putting up a plaque in the stairwell where Theresa Russell is said to have done a festival volunteer.

The book also immortalizes a cast of god-like characters known as festival directors.

Like David Halberstam, Johnson believes the proper perspective for a journalist vis à vis the powerful is on his knees, looking up.

Wayne Clarkson, Helga Stephenson and Piers Handling are described in such glowing terms as to make us wonder why they’re doing anything as insignificant as running a film festival.

Why aren’t they out negotiating a workable peace for the Middle East or curing cancer?

Johnson loves that news-magazine writer’s tactic of pumping descriptions with steroids to convince the casual reader of the importance of the subject matter.

And while he’s perfectly willing to comment on films critically, whenever he wants to say something the least bit negative about the festival or a personality, he finds someone else to say it, preferably on the record.

This book was commissioned by the festival. Johnson insisted on maintaining his editorial independence, but he’s a tame writer.

Still, it’s an entertaining book, and, aside from its treatment of festival directors, not nearly the total blow job I expected.

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