Monday, January 07, 2008

Geoff Pevere

The Star's Best Movie Critic Moves On

This weekend marked the end of Geoff Pevere's movie critic assignment at the Star. A bit more than a week ago, Pevere wrote about his years as a movie critic, and now he'll be the Star's book columnist.

Pevere has always been the most trusted opinion of film in the Star's pages and I'd say this would be a huge loss for the paper if Pevere wasn't taking up the book columnist spot.

A couple years ago I had the chance to interview Pevere for a short profile. I remember that week because he had to reschedule our original interview date. Hunter S. Thompson had committed suicide and Pevere had to write an appreciation piece. He banged one out in four hours and it still stands as my favourite piece of his. I don't have a copy of that story handy, which sucks, but I do have my profile. In it's short, 500-word entirety, here's my previously unpublished Pevere profile:

Getting into the Interior
by Michael Czobit
Feb. 28, 2005

Start with an exterior shot: we’re outside the Second Cup across from the Bloor Cinema in Toronto; it’s cold. Next, an interior one: we see the coffee shop’s brown furnishings; I’m sitting with Geoff Pevere, the Toronto Star’s movie critic. Take a close-up of Pevere, and we see that his photo in the Star doesn’t resemble the critic in front of me: longish, black hair combed back, two earrings, a nose ring, and black-rimmed glasses; he’s a rebel with sensible tastes.

We talk over coffee less than a week before this year’s Oscars, and I want to know Pevere’s picks. But he won’t be watching and he doesn’t care: “To me it’s a social event, it’s a TV event. It’s really not about movies.” So, what is it about? He gives me an example from the 1981 Oscars:
Martin Scorsese had made "Raging Bull," one of the great American films, and that film did not win an Oscar. But Robert Redford won one for "Ordinary People." "Ordinary People" is an okay movie. Does anybody watch "Ordinary People" anymore?”
Never even heard of it.
Exactly. Exactly.

Just like the Oscars aren’t for Pevere, neither was the journalism program he entered at Carleton in Ottawa in the 1970s. He dropped the program after a year and entered Film Studies at the same school and started writing movie reviews. After freelancing, stints on radio and TV, and teaching, Pevere, who’s 47, was hired in 1998 as a full-time critic at the Star. Even when he’s not reviewing movies, Pevere watches from his collection (but only the good stuff). During a regular week, he’ll watch about eight movies. “Usually I’ll try to develop excuses to use the stuff from (my) collection,” Pevere says. “So I’m watching something all the time.”

Depending on screening times, Pevere gets from two weeks to two days to watch a film and review it. The questions he asks are always the same. Is the movie engaging? What makes it engaging? If not, why? He constantly cross-references the film with others. And he thinks about how he’ll convey his response to his readers.

I ask Pevere about Hollywood movies; you know those big-budget, blockbuster, escapist flicks with teenage wizards and web-slinging heroes and slow-motion bullets and—
“I think a little blockbuster fatigue has set in,” Pevere says. “I need escape from escapism.” Pevere likes to look at the larger cultural and societal context of a film, which is hard to do if a movie doesn’t have either—a problem Hollywood movies suffer from as they move away from reality.

His alternative to Hollywood is the documentary film. “They engage with the real world,” Pevere says. “A really skilled documentary filmmaker could make an interesting film about anything. He could make an interesting documentary film out of this conversation. Out of what you’re doing.”

Out of what I’m doing? Taking notes and drinking bad coffee? That might be hard to believe but right about now, the credits roll.


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