TVO Opens Up the Archives

Big news today for fans of the past of Canadian TV — or the past of cinema, for that matter — as TVOntario has opened up “The Public Archive,” a collection of selected episodes from its 40 years of existence.

There are two episodes of “The Polka Dot Door,” five of “Today’s Special,” and a good selection of Mark Askwith’s cult series “Prisoners of Gravity,” an educational show that made the most of the connections between science fiction and real-world issues. There are news and interview shows, like Mike McManus interviewing the likes of William F. Buckley and the Margarets (Laurence and Atwood), and Richard Ouzounian’s late ’90s interview show “Dialogue.”

The thing I’m personally most happy about is that TVO has liberated some of Elwy Yost’s interviews from “Talking Film.” Plus two in-studio interviews from “Saturday Night At the Movies,” including one with John Candy, most of which he does in character as Dr. Tongue from SCTV.

I’ve gone into this before, but briefly: Yost built up one of the best collections of interviews with figures from classic cinema, not just actors and directors, but technicians and producers as well. Yost was not a penetrating interviewer and didn’t try to be, but he’d ask a question and then let the guy talk while the 16 mm film cameras recorded him, and then the show would play back the interviews with very few cuts. (Today, this type of interview will normally be broken into smaller segments, which is part of the reason these interviews can no longer be seen in full on TV.) It takes time to clear the rights to these interviews, which is why most of them haven’t been online even though TVO no longer shows them, but now a selection of them can be found in these archives. Seeing and hearing these people talk at length, almost uninterrupted, can require some patience depending on who’s talking, but it’s worth it; it’s a cinema-history education in a way that selected clips can’t be.

Here for example is his show on Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp), the greatest filmmaking team in British cinema, including interviews with P&P themselves and their stars and cinematographer.

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There’s a lot more there, including his show on Daryl F. Zanuck, where Henry Fonda recalls what it was like being under contract to Fox: “It was hell.”

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