Films have currency and travel across cities, nations, and continents. But how do films travel? And how do films find an audience? Looking at Toronto in the 1980s and early 1990s, various forms of alternative media informed which films were playing and recommended what films to watch. The alternative weeklies, mainly NOW and eYe Weekly, provided film reviews and recommendations based on films playing in Toronto, written with the city’s readers in mind. Fanzines, on the other hand, offered the reader an entrance into a world of largely inaccessible films that would otherwise remain unseen. Trash Compactor, Asian Eye, and Kill Baby compiled listings and reviews for niche products from small distributors. At the same time, they were able to introduce local films and the local film culture (or subcultures) to other cities through a vast network of zine traders and collectors. Ryerson’s CKLN independent community-controlled radio station provided a voice to Toronto’s film culture, hosting fan shows, interviews, and reviews. This project traces the flow of film ephemera and charts how it reached an audience. In doing so, it explores the relationship of ephemera to Toronto’s film going public.
Lobby Pamphlets: From Viewership into Readership
In August of 1972, Famous Players shut down the Baronet Theatre on Bloor Street at Bathurst Street and reopened it a couple of weeks later as the Eve. It was “a cinema devoted to exploring new areas of thought and emotional stimulation,” screening films like Swinging Coeds (1972, West Germany). In the post-Deep Throat (1972, USA) era, the Eve began publishing a monthly bi-fold paper called Forbidden Fruit that was only available at Eve Cinemas across Canada. It featured still photographs promoting upcoming films and the attractive topless women who starred in them. The February 1977 issue of Forbidden Fruit contained a front page article on the issue of censorship in Toronto cinemas. The headline read “Censorship Row Breaks Loose in Good Ol’ Toronto Ontario.” The controversy began when the Toronto Star ran an editorial declaring “the time has come to censor films in Ontario more critically.” Throwing its weight behind “adult cinema,” Forbidden Fruit jumped into the debate, imploring readers to send in their opinions. In this way the Eve tried to connect with its audience and create a forum for fans to engage with each other on film-related topics.
Many theatres organized booklets, pamphlets, and other ephemera to promote upcoming films. The Midtown (in 1941) and the Glendale (in 1947) both issued grand opening souvenir programs, which featured facts about the theatres and messages from the owners. The Imperial Six adopted this strategy and by 1973 began issuing monthly programs with ads for soon to be released films (the publication was financed by local business like Neptune’s Health Spa and Starvin’ Marvin’s Burlesque Palace). The Eve catered to a different, specialized clientele, attempting to instigate a two-way relationship with their patrons. They offered more than advertisements, with coverage of newsworthy events that might interest paying customers.
In 1979, The Funnel Experimental Film Theatre began publishing a similar newsletter. It was a slightly bigger bi-fold paper, photocopied in black and white. The Funnel’s newsletter offered information about upcoming events and film listings as well as articles that would interest patrons. Anna Gronau, the paper’s editor, wrote about issues pertaining to the theatre in “A Message From Our Sponsor, A Word From the Filmmakers,” and in “Experimental Film Journal” on the same page. Gronau writes, “The success of The Funnel Newsletter suggested that there may be a need for a journal of greater depth and larger scope, (national and international) to serve the community interest in experimental film.” Also included in the newsletter was a theoretical piece called “Thoughts on the Social Context of Experimental Film” by Martha McIntosh. Gronau’s article “Experimental Film Journal” addressed the lack of press coverage and how the needs of a community were not being met in neither the popular press nor art journals.
NOW: Finding an Audience
Aiming to be Toronto’s Village Voice, the first issue of NOW was released on Thursday, September 10, 1981. It promised to be like its New York counterpart with the slogan “Toronto’s Weekly News and Entertainment Voice.” The mandate was to provide “well-rounded coverage of film, music, theatre, books, exhibitions, dance, and the artists that create them.”[i] NOW’s focus was on the local, promising “in-depth features about real people and events in Toronto.” The first issue outlined the editors’ goal “to fill a void in this city— the lack of a regular publication that speaks to Toronto’s young adults”. Although only 24 pages long, the inaugural issue advertised the “Festival of Festival’s Preview Program” on its cover, dedicating extensive coverage to the festival that is now known as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The second issue advertised “Complete Festival Coverage” on the front page, as well as a festival schedule, which prompted readers to “Stay on Top of Events in Your City.” NOW was filling its pages with the cultural events in the city as they happened.
The Funnel Newsletter and Forbidden Fruit reached out to their markets directly through stands at the front of theatres and subscriptions from their members. NOW’s challenge was not in finding its audience, but delivering papers to them. Beginning with a few weeks of free home delivery in key market areas, NOW’s publishers hoped that readers would get hooked and purchase the publication for 50 cents the following weeks at news stands. “NOW is delivered free into Toronto areas having high concentrations of the young adults likely to enjoy NOW’s thorough and unique coverage of city news and entertainment,” wrote editor/publisher Michael Hollett in the second issue. NOW had copy but it needed the advertising and circulation to survive.
NOW’s October 8th issue’s second page prominently featured the three-person advertising team, with the caption “NOW is being read by more and more of this city’s downtown young adult population each week, with people attracted by NOW’s innovative articles, careful design, and extensive weekly guide.” The advertising team wants “to talk with you about how to reach this market effectively, through the pages of NOW”. Will Straw explains how “the weeklies’ appeal to advertisers has much to do with their publication of entertainment listings, which encourage readers to keep issues lying around for regular consultation.” NOW typically advertised restaurants, record stores[ii], upcoming festivals, conferences, and events. Whereas The Star sought a daily family audience (and could advertise something a sale at Eaton’s, for instance), NOW had to sell their paper to readers and to advertisers. NOW was a welcome voice for Torontonians interested in local culture, and, at the same time, a vehicle for the city’s stores and businesses that had previously relied on word of mouth. For example, The National Film Board could advertise for the 1981 NFB Documentary Series featuring two films by Agnes Varda a couple of weeks before the event. A few weeks later patrons would be reminded of the event in NOW’s weekly listings.
The “Extensive Weekly Guide” differentiated NOW from the dailies and brought additional readership to the paper. Instead of focusing on what happened yesterday like the dailies or recaps of last night’s events, or tonight’s television line ups, NOW offered “Toronto’s Best Seven Day Listings.” Rob Burforth commented in a letter to the paper, “nowhere else can I find a club listing including an address to help me plot my new targets every weekend. I am new to Toronto and your magazine has helped me immensely.” Now also offered five complete pages of listings, as opposed to the Star’s two.[iii]
Will Straw offers that “the alternative weekly is founded on the assumption that the youthful, downtown dweller is connected to urban life principally as a consumer of culture. In their overwhelming emphasis on the cultural realm, alternative weekly newspapers have strengthened culture’s role as privileged site for the elaboration of citizenship and civic belonging.” Straw further elaborates, “the alternative weekly produces a stabilized version of civic engagement, one carefully calibrated to the lists of upcoming concerts or other events covered in its regular features.” With weeklies the readership is intended for within the city limits — their usefulness does not travel. At this time The Toronto Star was not connected to the culture of the city[iv] and NOW filled the void. A touring band, a newly released film, a held-over art exhibit, and a visiting poet all garner global consumer appeal. The alternative weeklies localize the global. Serving a mediating function, they package events happening in one city for the reader in that same city. One such example, prominently featured in NOW, was a list of all the showings at the city’s revue cinemas. In 1981, Videodiscs were only $22.95 but players were still $699. They were far too expensive for NOW’s target youth market. John Harkness provided a film-a-day guide to catch the city’s best classic films called “Beyond First Run.” It gave Harkness’ daily pick with a brief 100-word critique of the film. Editor Michael Hollett credits John Harkness with creating the column and establishing influence over Toronto movie-goers. Harkness’s expertise played a prominent role in establishing NOW as a respectable art and entertainment magazine. Just three years into the publication, in April 1984, Harkness appeared alongside Toronto’s top critics — the Globe & Mail‘s Jay Scott, the Star‘s Ron Base, the Toronto Sun‘s Bruce Kirkland, and CBC Metro Morning‘s Jack Batten — in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Rep Cinema program that saw each critic pick their favourite under-the-radar film for a special screening.
eYe Weekly: Differentiation
In 1991, ten years and one month after the inaugural issue of NOW, The Star attempted make inroads with NOW’s young audience. It launched its own alternative weekly called eYe. Released simultaneously, every Thursday and for free (NOW had stopped charging fifty cents when advertising became more prominent), eYe placed itself in direct competition with NOW, attempting to scoop up NOW’s readership. Michael Hollett, editor/publisher of NOW, explained “Torstar created eYe explicitly to go after NOW.” From the onset, The Toronto Star was able to provide funding and had access to a wider range of advertisers, resulting in a much slicker magazine. The inclusion of “Toronto’s Movie Going Weekly” called Showtimes is but one example. The name is misleading as Showtimes was nothing more than an advertising supplement for Cineplex Odeon/Famous Players. It contained brief synopses of upcoming features and show times of first run films.[v] eYe was going after a more mainstream readership than its competitor, while still focused on the appeal of Toronto’s local culture. “In the early days the only thing we knew was: We do not want to be another NOW magazine,” explains former editor Bill Reynolds. “There was no stolid, knee-jerk, unfunny, unswerving, lefty prose,” he explains. Jason Anderson, then a music writer, described it “as a Toronto-specific equivalent to New York’s coolest magazine at the time, Spy.” eYe billed itself as an “Arts and Entertainment Paper.” But if eYe was distinguishing itself from NOW, it also had to find an equal to John Harkness. eYe Weekly film reviewer Denis Seguin remembers “NOW was trying to be the Village Voice and John Harkness, the critic from the magazine’s inception, was NOW‘s version of Andrew Sarris; he was a boor and a bore but he knew film and that was slightly intimidating.” Seguin adds, “At the same time we were decidedly more mainstream than NOW, focusing on the star-driven vehicles and the major foreign auteurs at the expense of the fringe, which includes Canadian film.” At the beginning of 1992 eYe referenced the difference, writing “You gotta keep NOW guessing: The Toronto Star announced plans to launch a lively, colourful, irreverent, action-packed, alternative arts and entertainment weekly, and then, in a clear bit of slight-of-hand, launched eYe Weekly instead”. NOW was a reaction to The Star, then The Star responded to NOW with eYe — what was the next response to these two alternative weeklies?
Exclaim!: From Fanzine to National Magazine
In 1992, Ian Danzig, the arts director for CKLN, started Exclaim! with the help of a “group of music fans who started at college radio.” Like a zine, it was started as a “fun project,” and he “never thought it was a viable business.” The aim of the paper was to cover what the weeklies could not. “There wasn’t a ton of coverage in those (weeklies),” said Danzig, referring specifically to the local and alternative music scenes. Aside from what was included in the alternative weeklies’ schedules, there was no writing or coverage of the scenes. Danzig remembers, Exclaim! “started as fanzine as opposed to media outlet,” where he and others were “writing about music we were obsessing about at that time.”
The inclusion of film grew out of an “interest from editorial staff,” explains Danzig, who pointed out in particular James Keast (Editor in Chief) and Chris Gramlich (Managing Editor). Keast maintains that “We’ve covered film for most of the magazine’s near 20 year existence…we’ve done various film features and covers, including Hard Core Logo, Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg.” Hal Kelly, who wrote a column called “Deviant Culture Exchange,” remembers covering the Festival of Festivals in 1992. “I helped start Exclaim! and we got a film accreditation for TIFF,” he says, “so I wrote about it for both (his fanzine Trash Compactor and Exclaim!).” Kelly’s column was “mostly film. We did lots of zine stuff that was more Toronto and local oriented.” Danzig calls it a “fanzine culture column.” Originally the magazine started out as a local paper but “grew organically” (as Danzig claims) to reach a much wider national audience. Danzig envisioned the magazine to be “just Toronto to start,” but soon he “went with the flow” as requests and interest grew all over Canada. Exclaim! found a readership within the fragmented subcultures across the nation. Before the Internet, print media was the only way subcultures could communicate across great distances. Yet Toronto’s alternative culture was fostered by alternative radio, with CKLN as the hub.
CKLN: The Community’s Confined Voice
The other voice of Toronto’s arts culture was heard by tuning into campus radio. In 1983, CKLN, based out of Ryerson University, received its FM license and became the first “campus-community” radio station in Toronto. In 1986, The Funnel Broadcast went to air at 2:30 on Wednesday afternoons and ran until 1988. It was hosted by filmmaker Mike Hoolboom who says he “thought of the show as a movie.” “After a few shows,” he remembers, “I was approached by some Funnel folks who wondered aloud whether it might have some more specific tie-ins with what was happening at the Funnel.” As the reach of CKLN’s voice was confined to Toronto, limited by the wattage of the station, its radio shows were produced specifically for a Toronto audience. It became the centre of all that was alternative in Toronto.
Andrew Munger, then a film student at Ryerson, pitched the station directors for a new radio show later called Frameline that would focus on indie and local film and take over The Funnel Broadcast‘s time slot. He remembers that the station had a lot of influence and “pre-Internet, college radio was where you went.” The scope of The Funnel Broadcast was far too narrow and Munger wanted to expand the focus to, as he says, include “experimental, indie, interesting Hollywood films.” The show was co-hosted by Sara Evans and Cameron Bailey (the soon-to-be NOW reviewer hired by John Harkness). Munger liked to interview directors, Evans was theoretical, and Bailey was the reviewer. It was a half hour “seat of your pants” radio show. Pre-recorded, Munger explains he never got a sense of his audience. The brevity of Frameline left the hosts only brief intervals during pledge drives to try and establish a connection to listeners. Hoolboom agrees that he had “no idea who tuned in” – in a sense, the reach of Toronto’s alternative communities and subcultures was confined by CKLN’s 250-watts.
Hal Kelly kept the “Deviant Culture Exchange” title for his CKLN radio show, focusing on trash cinema and Toronto fanzines. He says “CKLN had all the good shows and they played a lot of movie clips between songs,” speaking of the station’s alternative appeal. Kelly started the fanzine Trash Compactor “just because I wanted to do it…it was a fun thing to do.” Fanzines, like college radio, are a labour of love. They differ from the weeklies in the sense that they offer fan writing, not local writing. In a sense, this marks a return to the early lobby pamphlets that were created to give fans a sense of community. Local Toronto culture was included in the zines because the writers were part of the scene. Kelly recalls, “I would talk to Bruce [LaBruce] or some other people and just ask if they wanted to do it and they usually would.”
Reg Hartt’s AnimaZine was half zine and half self-publicity, combining the personal elements of the zine with the lobby pamphlet. The “Bob Clampett Memorial Issue,” Number 16, May 6, 1984, offered readers “PERMISSION TO COPY AND DISTRIBUTE FREELY via XEROX or other copier.” Despite the anarchic gesture, it was in his best interest to get his zine into the hands of as many people possible. Included was a two page spread of an August 9, 1979 Toronto Star article calling Hartt’s animation festival a success. Another page reprinted an August 13, 1979 article from the Vancouver Sun congratulating Hartt on the same festival. These efforts were seen to bolster attendance for the Anima Festival 1984 that would be held from August 16th to 19th. Eric Veillette calls the CN Tower and Hartt’s white CineForum posters the most recognizable Toronto landmarks in cinema. Hartt’s AnimaZine resembled the take-home lobby pamphlet distributed free to CineForum members and subscribers, while also giving Hartt a solo voice to write about animation fandom.
“Fandom,” Rhiannon Bury writes, “is ultimately about relating to other fans.” Fanzines travel because they connect with other fans. Instead of being tied to a city, they move across translocal zones. Zines, Ken Gelder argues, “may very well participate in a zine community of writers and recipients, but they are not tied to place and, indeed, there seems to be something innately ‘homeless’ about them”. “Zines are kind of a mail order thing… you’d trade with people and I reviewed zines,” Kelly remembers, “they were all pretty good about trading stuff.” Glenn Salter, an avid zine creator and reader himself, was instrumental in distributing zines in Toronto. “I was ordering them directly from the guys,” he says. “They weren’t getting any distribution before…I was bringing a lot of them to Toronto too because I would order them myself because no one would stock them.” One of these distributors was Suspect Video,[vi] started by Luis Ceriz and Merrill Shapiro in 1991. “I don’t think there’s a lot of other places that gave shelf space to any kind of publications like that,” said Kelly recalling the store’s zine collection. Zines also helped Suspect Video stock films. One such influential publication was Film Threat Video Guide. Ceriz explains, “It was essentially a full colour printed cover but the inside was newsprint paper and most of it was just advertised films that you would buy from them….We would just order everything from them.” It wasn’t just videos that Suspect Video ordered from zines, but zines themselves. Ceriz recalls:
“The way we brought them in, not the local ones because people were bringing them in, but for the ones in the States you would pick up zines and there would be mention or reference to another zine and we would have to contact the zine through mail.”
Toronto zines helped introduce viewers to new kinds of cinemas he maintains. “Colin Geddes had a zine,” explained Ceriz, “it only ran a couple of issues but it was pretty instrumental in getting the Hong Kong, Asian [films] out, called Asian Eye.” Ceriz added, “We even used it as a reference here because nobody knew Hong Kong films here.” Geddes had taken it upon himself to search through Toronto’s Chinatown to find the best. Ceriz continues:
“It was the same thing in Indian video stores because I would go in and ask for the best example…and they’d always point to the new stuff saying ‘this is very new.’ I’d say I wanted the best examples. They couldn’t wrap their heads around that. Colin’s [zine] really came in handy.”
Asian Eye was traded all over North America. By the mid-1990s Trash Compactor was also read all over the continent, with constant requests for back issues. Kelly reflects, “There was a lot [of interest], I think Europe especially was interested in North America cultures.” Bruce LaBruce’s zine, J.D.’s, is a perfect example of a local zine turning into a global scene. It succeeded in establishing Queercore scenes all over North America, and even so far as the United Kingdom. In this way, zines subculture networks transcended the local, globalizing the local, uniting subcultures and alternative fans from far and wide.
Toronto International Film Festival: Global and Local
For two weeks every September, Toronto zine compilers, radio show hosts, and journalists had a chance to interview visiting actors and directors. Things were different in the early 1990s. NOW film reviewer Stephen Gauer recalls, “TIFF was just in its early days back then … John [Harkness] and I would chat with the publicists and set up interviews with actors or directors we wanted to talk to. I think Michael Hollett, the publisher, set up some of these interviews as well. As I recall, everything was very low key and informal.” The thread every writer, journalist, and radio show host mentioned was the ease to which an interview could be granted at the Festival. Andrew Munger recalls fondly how he was able to interview David Lynch when now it would be nearly impossible. Louis Ceriz explains:
“Back then TIFF was much, much easier to speak to people. You could just hang out and talk to, especially directors, no one wanted to talk to smaller indie directors…You could include interviews in zines easier because here you have this free forum to just chat with people and audio tape it and transcribe it…It helped us because we had quite a few and you could go to press conferences too.”
Both of the alternative weeklies as well as the fan publications and shows were able to easily interview Toronto’s guests. It is no coincidence that NOW began publication with two issues devoted to the Festival. They had coverage because talent was easily accessible. Whereas the alternative weeklies aimed at promoting the city’s cultural activities, and were written for a local audience to connect with said cultural events passing through or occurring in the city, localizing the global, the fanzines were written by fans and travelled to reach fans all over the world, globalizing the local.
The Festival, like the Eve and the Funnel before it, aimed to attract publicity for its films, and thus relied on the printed word. Daniel Dayan summarizes, “Festivals turn out pages by the million: pamphlets, programs, photocopies, postcards, maps, essays, and excerpts. Ironically, film festivals live by the printed word.” Dayan argues so far as to call it “the written festival,” as “huge amounts of texts were pouring out every day.” Zine maker and film fan Ceriz recollects, “You could just go in to the press office and just pick up all this press stuff and ask for an interview. And you could do it. It was really easy.”
The Festival of Festivals, later known as TIFF, brought films and directors into the city; such visitation fostered alternative media by facilitating an encounter between film writers and those who created them. The written word surrounds the filmic viewing experience, whether it is promotional material, localized listings, or obsessive fan writings. Ephemera of this nature, directly or indirectly, has a key role in finding films an audience, locally or abroad.
[i] The blank “Letters” page from the first issue hosted the paper’s mission statement from the editorial team. A letter about John Harkness’ “Pornography Film is Not Convincing” was the first and only letter in the second issue. NOW gathered early praise for the paper and published the letters in the March 11th, 1982 edition. Lynne Brick from Toronto wrote “We’ve needed NOW for quite some time. Hope NOW is here to stay,” while also taking issue with NOW’s poor uses of space and bad headings.
[ii] One example is Vortex Records’[ii]owner Robert Lawrence who funded Hal Kelly’s zine Trash Compactor[ii]
[iii] Rob Salem, compiler of the Star’s weekly listings “What’s On” in the early 1980’s claims that NOW was reusing their listings. “They were using our listings,” he says, “and I knew that because I did the listings and I deliberately put in some mistakes so that only we’d know about the mistakes and they reprinted the mistakes.” Personal Interview. 3 December 2011.
[iv] Defined by Dick Hebidge as “culture as a standard of excellence, culture as a ‘whole way of life’” (7) from Subculture, the Meaning of Style. London: Methuen & Co Ltd:, 1979.
[v] Somehow one of Reg Hartt’s CineForum advertisements was stashed in the back, beside one for Suburban Commando starring Hulk Hogan. Cineforum ads disappeared from later issues entirely.
[vi] In fact Suspect Video started their own one-shot zine with a naked Bruce LaBruce on the cover. “We figured, right off the bat, we should have some local content,” says Salter of LaBruce’s naked butt. Owner Ceriz recalls “It was a Bruce LaBruce cover. On the inside he (Glenn Salter) had done a cut and paste zine within a zine interview with Bruce,” “which we velcroed into the zine,” added Salter (who helped put the zine together.) Ceriz remembers the zine as “ambitious,” and could have easily spread out into three zines. “It was doing pretty well in the states too,” he recalls. “We sent it to one of these zine distributors and they asked for one initial run of 400 copies and they sold out of it so they asked for another 400”.
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