Georgia Straight film critic and UBC scholar Mark Harris got an emotional sendoff in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon (March 10) when about 120 friends, family, and colleagues gathered to trade stories at Mountain View Cemetery’s beautiful Celebration Hall.
Tearful, nostalgic, and exceedingly funny recollections were made by Harris's wife, Carola Ackery, and his sister, who flew in from his hometown of Montreal for the service. Featured at the front of the room was a large photograph of Harris happily swimming with dolphins in Cuba, the frame festooned with the battered hat frequently seen as part of his “urban-safari look”, observed by UBC professor Brian McIlroy, who also announced a new film-studies scholarship to be set up in Harris’s name. Some of his recent students were on hand to recall his amusing, unpredictable, inspiring, and intermittently “F-bomb-laden” lessons.
There were warm-toned musical interjections from saxophonist Coat Cooke and ukulele player and singer Ralph Shaw, and a favourite Leonard Cohen song of Harris's was played before mourners gathered for drinks and frequently boisterous chatting.
On a day that Straight movie maven Ian Caddell, in a painful coincidence, would have turned 64, the paper was represented among the speakers by writer Tony Montague, who read a heartfelt poem, and editor Charlie Smith, who said that Harris elevated Vancouver’s standing in the international film world, contributing to its eclectic cultural tastes. Everyone commented on the good humour and extraordinary kindness of the late critic--who died on February 26 at age 62 of a pulmonary embolism--although former editor Charles Campbell added: “Mark’s kindness didn’t always extend to makers of bad movies.”
He went on to cite an instance in which Harris and the paper were sued for an infamous review, the consequences of which induced “badly suppressed glee” in the writer. As the editor who assigned him that review and was attacked for my similar appraisal in a trade paper at the time, I took my own perverse pleasure in the complaint that his review had, according to one legal brief, included “negative comparisons to Ed Wood, a person not living, who is widely considered to be the worst filmmaker in the world”.
Negative comparisons were not really Harris’s thing, however. His cheerful enjoyment of all assignments, from obscure French movies—his all-time favourite—to three-hour chop-socky epics, was matched by the remarkable speed with which he turned in his stories. He never missed a screening, or a deadline, until his shockingly sudden demise.
His erudition, and inimitable guffaw, will be missed.