One of Canada's leading authorities on international films has died.
Mark Harris, a UBC film-studies instructor and veteran movie critic for the Georgia Straight, suffered a pulmonary embolism yesterday (February 26). He was 62.
Harris had recently been diagnosed with lymphoma, but was optimistic about his prognosis.
His wife, therapist and counsellor Carola Ackery, told the Straight that Harris "sent thousands of film students into the world, and he was proud of that".
"My grief is quite uncomplicated," she said. "We got to travel a lot and we didn't have any bad stuff to work out. We were a great couple—just right for each other, and not everyone can say that."
Straight arts editor Janet Smith said that there probably isn't another film critic in Canada with Harris's depth of knowledge about European and particularly French films.
But she added that he was also an expert in many other genres, including Korean horror movies.
"When you think about his expertise, it was just so diverse," Smith said. "He had almost a steel-trap memory, where he could refer to little details in one film while he was reviewing another. It's going to be impossible to ever replace somebody who had that much knowledge."
He wrote approximately 3,000 articles and essays in numerous publications. He was also a highly regarded expert on the translation of movies into different languages, as well as subtitling and dubbing.
Harris was a warm-hearted man bursting with passion and energy, supplemented with a wicked sense of humour. Often spotted around town in a hat that barely kept his long unkempt hair in check, he spoke quickly and in a loud voice.
On the ratemyprofessors.com website, his students raved about his engaging and often humourous lectures. Here are just a few of the quotes:
"A man of intellect and humour, almost eccentric in his mannerism. I don't think I ever laughed so hard in a class as I did in his first lecture."
"One of the most interesting people I have ever met, and just might be the most intelligent."
"Awesome prof!!! He really knows what he is talking about..."
Writer Allan MacInnis, a former student of Harris, wrote an affectionate blog post describing him as "filled with enthusiasm for cinema", adding that he "lectured in the rather blustery, improvisatory, passionate manner of a sincere but studied eccentric".
"He remains the only teacher I have ever encountered in any school of any sort to use the word 'cocksucker' during a lecture—and I mean this as a point in his favour (for the record, he was illustrating a point by describing a scene from Deadwood, where the word appears frequently)," MacInnis wrote.
In a 2004 article in UBC Reports, Harris declared that his course, The Art of Subtitling, was a counterattack against former Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti's desire to flood the world with U.S. films.
"I want to have genuine globalism versus the phone globalism we have now," Harris said at the time. "Why is it that with 150 channels, we can't see Indonesian flying head movies? Why do we just get reruns of Seinfeld or MASH?"
Around the Georgia Straight office, Harris was appreciated for populating his annual Top 10 movies list with motion pictures from around the world and his enthusiasm for movie festivals.
"When we would cover the Vancouver Film Festival, he would be down there practically waiting...for the doors to open so he could exchange his films and get some more," Smith recalled. "It was in his blood. He just loved film more than anyone else I know."
In 2012, one of his favourites was Rust and Bone, a French feature made by Jacques Audiard. Here's a portion of Harris's erudite review:
At first glance, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) would seem to have little in common. Due to a lack of education and employment opportunities, he sinks into the netherworld of extreme fighting. Although her beginnings are probably sunnier, Stépahanie’s nightmare is still worse, because she loses both legs in an accident at Marineland d’Antibes. Yet a strong bond gradually develops between these unlikely lovers who are united by the fact that they both live primarily through their bodies, not their minds. And if the culture of poverty in which he grew up causes Ali to sometimes behave in a strange fashion towards those around him, Stéphanie’s socialization process seems to have been equally bizarre.
Because of its radical originality, Rust and Bone is not a film you are likely to compare to other movies. Instead, in the fullness of time, other movies will most likely be compared to it.
More of his reviews are available here.
He obtained a PhD from UBC, wrote poems and plays, and used to be the programming director at Pacific Cinémathèque.
Harris was at Vancouver General Hospital waiting to see an oncologist when he died. A nearby movie crew filmed as emergency officials tried without success to revive him.
"It's hard to miss the irony," Ackery said. "It was the right place for Mark to be, in a terrible way, in a movie."
The Straight will offer more coverage of Harris in the coming days.