The film critic discusses movies, filmmakers, actors and more during the latest session of the George M. Ewing Community Forum

HOPEWELL — With the 2016 presidential election at a fever pitch, the George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum — known for bringing in esteemed political thinkers and commentators such as Bill Moyers — chose to go in a different direction. For the second discussion of its 2016-2017 season, the forum brought in another well-known public figure who has a more local presence: former film critic Jack Garner.

In Sunday afternoon's conversation at Finger Lakes Community College — titled "From His Seat on the Aisle" — Garner chatted at length with moderator Deborah Sutherland, a film and English teacher at Canandaigua Academy, about movies, actors and the directors who help bring it all together.

Garner first became interested in films as a child in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, watching movies with his “one-dollar allowance,” on the four individual screens of the four theaters near his hometown. As he put it, this was an era before chain multiplexes.

From that point on, Garner was an avid fan of movies, even going so far as to start a film club in school, although it only lasted one session since “no one else showed up.”

After completing high school and college, Garner then moved into reporting on hard news, working at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before entering graduate school at Syracuse University. After graduate school, Garner was hired by the Rochester Times-Union, rewriting stories by way of transcription on the 1971 Attica prison riot before moving on to the Democrat and Chronicle.

According to Garner, it was at this point that Garner asked to cover films for the paper. After some consideration, he was given the assignment, after his editors decided it would be cheaper to have a staff member cover movies than Bernard Drew, the freelance critic for Gannett at the time.

“I liked to think it was because I did a good job, but I’m also realistic,” Garner said.

Among the movies discussed Sunday were some personal favorites of Garner’s, including “Citizen Kane” and “The Searchers,” with clips from each film shown to highlight Garner’s points. There was also a discussion of his favorite directors, with Garner listing several whom he has enjoyed over the years, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee and John Ford.

Eventually, the discussion turned towards actors, and Garner’s own encounters with a few of the more well-known names during his time as Gannett’s chief film critic. Among his favorites were Tom Hanks, who, as he put it, “is the nicest guy in the business,” and Rochester-area native Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was “the messiest guy in the business,” due to his appearance.

Garner had an anecdote for many movies and actors he discussed, including silent film star Louise Brooks, who settled in Rochester late in life. Garner met Brooks in 1979 and ended up visiting her often, finding her to be rather droll, with Brooks at one point mentioning how she would “rather be raped than get out of bed,” Garner said, referring to Brooks’ tendency to never lock the door to her Goodman Street apartment.

After the forum had wrapped up, attendees were then invited to join in a reception, with the speaker and the moderator, to talk further while enjoying some refreshments and light snacks.

For Sandra McGavern, a forum attendee since the program’s inception, Garner’s appearance was a nice change of pace.

"It was a little more entertaining," she said. "Just a change from the political subjects that have been covered; it was nice to have something different.”  

 

Coming up

Stewart Baker, a homeland security and terrorism expert, will speak at 4 p.m. Jan. 29 at Finger Lakes Community College's student center auditorium for the next installment of the George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum. Baker — who was the first assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security and has been general counsel of the National Security Agency — will speak on "Cybersecurity and Privacy in the Age of Terrorism."

The speaker series is named for the late George M. Ewing Sr., who passed away in September 2009 at the age of 87. He was the longtime editor and publisher of the Daily Messenger, later to become Messenger Post Media.