Our Feature Film Fest: 11

Honouring Vancouver's own auteur

Published: Jun 11 2015, 01:01:am

Prepared for Chuck Davis and The Greater Vancouver Book — June, 1995
[Published in 1997 by The Linkman Press]




THIS IS YOUR PROGRAM guide to a series of 20 movie retrospectives. Together, they include all of the theatrical feature films made in Vancouver and in release as of June, 1995. (Our current program does not include the made-for-TV pictures.) Though we've tried to be as complete as possible, we've almost certainly missed a few. If you know of any, please let us know. [Readers of this website who wish to get in touch with additions or corrections can reach me by using the Reeling Back Contact Me button.]
     Our notes on each picture include its title (and any alternate titles), its year of release, the director, leading players and a brief description.
     Our show continues with . . .


VANCOUVER'S RANKING AUTEUR, Jack Winston Darcus (born Feb. 22, 1941), has created a distinctive body of work in his home town. A successful painter as well as a filmmaker, he has written and directed eight features that reflect his personal vision as a B.C.-born artist. In each, he has created complex and allegorical social relationships that illuminate specific moments in the maturation of the Canadian West Coast experience.

GREAT COUPS OF HISTORY (1969) with Delphine Harvey, Ellis Price-Jones, Janie Cassie. A single mom (Harvey) reminisces about a life spent trading on her female charms, while her teenaged daughter (Cassie) struggles with her own budding sexuality. Filming locations for this documentary-like drama include the roof and rooms of the Continental Hotel on South Granville.

PROXYHAWKS (1971) with Jack Darcus, Susan Spencer, Edward Hutchings. The sexual tensions in a coastal farm couple's relationship deepen when The Man (Darcus) becomes obsessed with falconry, an implied threat to the rabbits kept by The Woman (Spencer). The Vietnam war was an ongoing issue when this metaphoric feature was shot on the Musqueam First Nations' Vancouver reserve and the University of B.C. campus.

THE WOLFPEN PRINCIPLE (1974) with Vladimir Valenta, Laurence Brown, Doris Chilcott. A holocaust survivor working as a movie-house manager (Valenta) joins a young Coast Salish mystic (Brown) in a plot to free the Stanley Park wolves. Vancouver's Varsity Theatre is among the film's Vancouver West Side locations.  

DESERTERS  (1982) with Alan Scarfe, Barbara March, Dermot Hennelly. An idealistic immigration officer (Hennelly) and his wife (March) find themselves at odds with a U.S. Army sergeant (Scarfe) who is using them to get to Vietnam war resisters in Canada. New Westminster locations were used.

OVERNIGHT (1986) with Victor Ertmanis, Gale Garnett, Barbara Gordon, Alan Scarfe, Duncan Fraser. An exiled Czech director (Alan Scafe) working in Canada hires a desperate actor (Ertmanis) to star in a pornographic vampire film. Though inspired by the Vancouver-made porn-comedy Sexcula (1973), Overnight was shot in a Toronto studio, the only one of Darcus's features not made in B.C.

KINGSGATE (1989) with Christopher Plummer, Roberta Maxwell, Duncan Fraser, Alan Scarfe, Elizabeth Dancoes. A selection of dysfunctional domestic relationships are on view when a university professor (Fraser) and his young lover (Dancoes) visit her parents (Plummer, Maxwell), then dine with a famous writer (Scarfe) and his wife (March). Locations include a Vancouver suburban home and country estate.

THE PORTRAIT (1992) with Alan Scarfe, Barbara March, Gwynyth Walsh, Gabrielle Rose. In debt to his ex-wife (Rose), a desperate artist (Scarfe) accepts a commission from a wealthy woman (March) to paint her portrait, a deal that pits his ideals against his survival instinct.

SILENCE (1997) with August Schellenberg, Tantoo Cardinal, Joy Coghill, Bernard Cuffling, Duncan Fraser, Annick Obonsawin. On a First Nations reserve, a father (Schellenberg) accidentally kills his alcoholic brother after learning that his daughter (Obonsawin) has been abused. Tried for manslaughter, he protects the family's pride by swearing his wife (Cardinal) to silence and refusing to reveal the details of the case.  Filmed on the Tsawwassen First Nations reserve in Tsawwassen, B.C.

The above is Part 11 of a 20-part restoration of a Greater Vancouver Book article by Michael Walsh originally published in 1997. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: First set out in 1954 by the then-film critic François Truffaut, the auteur theory insists that a film is a reflection of the creative vision of its director, and that the director, in turn, is its primary author. In the U.S., the idea was championed by Andrew Sarris, whose influential 1968 book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, ranked some 200 filmmakers according to the strength of their personal visions. While the argument is made that Hollywood's industrial production process defies auteurist analysis, the theory works well in discussions of independent, regional talents, such as Vancouver's Jack Darcus. In the process of categorizing the more than 200 feature films made in Vancouver up to my June 1995 deadline for The Greater Vancouver Book, Darcus's work stood out as deserving its own category. It was my way of recognizing that the individual quality of his features are in keeping with the description of an auteur set out by Sarris and Truffaut. (For the purposes of completeness, I have added to the above list Darcus's eighth feature, 1997's Silence, released the same year that The Greater Vancouver Book went to press.)
In 1999, The Encyclopedia of British Columbia's editor Daniel Francis asked me to make a number of contributions to his landmark reference work. Among them was the following biographical note:   

DARCUS, Jack Winston, filmmaker (b 22 Feb 1941, Vancouver). Already established as a painter and art instructor, he wrote and directed his first film, Great Coups of History, in 1969. An independent feature made with the help of the UBC Film Society, it offered the "unpaintable portrait" of an irrepressible single mother and represented a vision of low-budget, personal cinema to which he has remained true. He maintains his artistic equilibrium and BC production base by alternating periods of painting with feature filmmaking. He is an auteur with a distinctive body of work that includes Proxyhawks (1970), The Wolfpen Principle (1974), Deserters (1984), Kingsgate (1989), The Portrait (1993) and Silence (1997), all made in Vancouver, and Overnight (1986), shot in Toronto. Each contains complex and allegorical social relationships that illuminate specific moments in the maturation of the West Coast experience. He has taught at UBC, the Emily Carr Institute and Vancouver Film School.

The above is a biographical entry in
The Encyclopedia of British Columbia written by Michael Walsh and originally published in 2000.

See also: Postings in this Feature Film Festival series include:

Part 1 [Introduction & Vancouver Firsts]
Part 2 [God's Country]
Part 3 [Cybercity]
Part 4 [Documentary]
Part 5 [Youthquakes]
Part 6 [Lovely Couples]
Part 7 [Encore]

Part 8 [Self-Portraits]

Part 9 [Encore II]

Part 10 [Local Heroes]
Part 11 [Directorial Tribute - Jack Darcus]
Part 12 [The B-List]
Part 13 [Things that Go Bump in the Night]
Part 14 [Cabin Fever Dreams]
Part 15 [Law and Order]
Part 16 [Terminal City Comedy Club]
Part 17 [Man's Best Friends]
Part 18 [In Other Words]
Part 19 [Midnight Madness]
Part 20 [On the Road Again]