It seems impossible to be writing about John Harkness in the past tense. He was always so... present.
Physically, of course, he was hard to miss. I always thought of him as a big walrus, and you could easily spot him in a movie theatre, light reflected on his glasses. You could also hear him, especially that big, all-knowing laugh (sometimes even if the movie wasn’t a comedy).
Everyone knew when John was in the building, making his way up to the third-floor entertainment department offices at NOW. You’d hear him from far away, chatting about films, music or Italian Renaissance art.
I used to wonder why he spent so much time here during his visits. Then I got it. Being a film critic can be lonely, although he’d mock me for that.
“I sit in dark theatres, I go home, spend hours watching DVDs and then I write about it all,” is how he described his routine to me years ago.
No wonder he recently gave up the DVD gig. He was too much of a social creature. He liked an audience, even in his e-mails. His sign-offs were often as clever and cheeky as his reviews.
When he e-mailed me that he’d review The Mist, he mused: “Hmm…. best Stephen King movie since Dreamcatcher, I’m thinking.” Then he signed off: “John ‘from the director of The Green Mile’ Harkness.”
When he heard someone was interviewing Cuba Gooding Jr. recently, John wrote: “Whoever’s interviewing him should ask why he hasn’t made a good picture in 10 years.” Signed: “John ‘just a thought’ Harkness.”
John was generous. He always bought brunch for NOW’s film writers a few weeks before the Film Festival. He didn’t really want to talk shop, although inevitably we’d end up discussing the movies we’d all seen and liked. As usual, John made you feel smarter than you really were.
His passion for poker explained a lot about him. He could tell if directors or actors were bluffing and he’d call them on it. For strangers, that poker face was hard to read. He could seem brusque and flippant, though he was anything but. Even when he was being dismissive, he was being serious.
What I’ll remember most about John (besides his writing) is the lead-up to his jokes. He’d chuckle to himself and adjust his stance while preparing the best way to tell the story.
That was John “We’re gonna miss those stories” Harkness.