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Interview by Paul Stathakis | September 7, 2014

 

Paulzeye: Talk to us a little about yourself. What persuaded you to become an arts reporter and film critic?

 

Eli Glasner: Well essentially I was a behind-the-scenes chase producer at CBC Radio when one of our film columnists moved on.  I had studied film, in particular screenwriting at York University, it was my first love.  When there was a chance to share my thoughts about movies with an audience I jumped at it.  I had already been doing it in an informal way (bothering my colleagues) this was just a better way to focus my energies.  Arts Reporter followed later, as there was a another opening and I’ve always been interested in the arts. At York University I studied photography, played in the jazz program, worked at the local radio station (CHRY), so again reporting on the Arts suited my many interests.

 

Paulzeye: You’re currently the leading film critic over at CBC.  When you embarked on the journey to become a critic, did you ever imagine that you’d someday review film for the CBC?

 

Eli Glasner: Never.  CBC is a place that is very dear to my heart.  I grew up with the radio always on at the breakfast table.  To work in the same institution where As It Happens, Morningside and The National originate is a great source of pride.  But you said “journey” and my path was never so planned.  More like a mixture of determination and luck.


Paulzeye: Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, the list of celebrated critics is vast. Who are some of the film critics that have inspired you?

 

Eli Glasner: Katrina Onistad used to write the most amazing reviews for CBC online.  She shared something I also appreciated in the writing of the Globe and Mail’s Rick Groen, they used the writing of film as a springboard for something bigger.  Also you see a bit of this in the best of Roger Ebert.  Other film writers I trust include Johanna Schneller, Bilge Ebiri, Andrew Parker and Jeffery Wells who I don’t always agree with but certainly knows his voice.


Paulzeye: Your podcasts are lively and always a pleasure to listen to. Somehow, I imagine you sitting alone in this tiny booth with a microphone, recording your thoughts. Is that what the setting looks like? Talk to us about that experience.

 

Eli Glasner: The podcast is the final thing I do every Friday after speaking live to approximately 20 CBC radio stations.  I see it as my final record.  I’ve spent the day yakking about films and slowly clarifying and figuring out how I really feel about things. Hopefully by 6:30 PM on a Friday night I’ve sorted it out.  Sitting alone in a recording booth in front of a mic and mixing board, I talk to myself for 7 minutes or so.  I started the podcast because I listen to a lot of them myself and I wanted to be part of that community.

 

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Paulzeye: People assume that all a film critic does each day is watch movies and simply review them but surely there’s a lot more to it. Describe to us what a day at work is like for you.

 

Eli Glasner: Well my job is more of a hybrid so it’s a mix.  Sometimes I’m at a screening in the morning.  Other times I’m working on a news story for TV.  Basically I need to balance my screenings around my news gathering duties.  So my job is a mix of watching films, writing articles, interviewing people, researching stories and of course on-air duties for CBC News Network.


Paulzeye: What are some events/stories that you’ve had the pleasure of covering over the years and why?

 

Eli Glasner: One of my favourite stories were my profile of the Native DJ collective A Tribe Called Red.  Amazing guys, amazing music and we had the privilege of seeing them create in the studio and the nightclub in Ottawa (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0S3wP-8VFw).  Then there was the time I followed artist and writer Jeff Lemire up to Northern Ontario to tell the story of a new Canadian superhero.  I’m also a comic book buff so that was a great opportunity and the people in Moosonee were amazing (http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/equinox-new-cree-teen-superhero-joins-dc-comics-lineup-1.2588623).


Paulzeye: As a critic, you’ve also had the opportunity to interview a number of important actors and actresses. Who are some of the most memorable celebrities you’ve sat down with? And why?

 

Eli Glasner: Getting Don Cheadle to play my trumpet and talk about Miles Davis was a highlight.   It’s always fun to surprise an actor or director in the movie junket setting which I also managed to do with Jason Reitman.  I didn’t love his film Labor Day but we had a great chat.  The mark of a good interview is that it has the ability to change the way you look at a film, which is what happened after talking to Reitman.  Also it was a pleasure to talk to David Cronenberg about his career on film.   Such a generous, funny and grounded guy.

Paulzeye: Now, a question I love to ask each guest here at Paulzeye. What are some of your earliest film memories?

 

Eli Glasner: Being terrified when Luke Skywaker gets his hand loped off.  Animal smashing out of the saloon in “The Muppet Movie.”  “Old Yeller.”  (Boo hoo)


Paulzeye: Your profile page on the CBC website lists “Brazil”, “Baraka” and “Brick” as three of your favorite films. If you were told that you could only preserve 5 films for all of mankind, which would you select and why?

 

Eli Glasner: Holey Moses that’s a huge question.  I think I’d nominate “Baraka” because it’s a beautiful beautiful overview.  “Hunger” because of it’s stark humanity and amazing artistry.  The Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” so we still have something to laugh at.  Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” because it speaks to family and how we perceive ourselves and finally “The French Connection” because of Popeye Doyle and humanity will always need a good car chase.

 

Paulzeye: Why is it, you think, that film criticism continues to remain relevant today as it has for several decades?

 

Eli Glasner: Well I don’t know if I fully agree.  Certainly in the world of print there isn’t as much value put on criticism.   Many of my friends in the trenches struggle to keep their jobs.  But then there’s the success of Rotten Tomatoes, which points to a certain appetite for, if not criticism, at least some sense of guidance.   I think in our media saturated world people still want filters or suggestions.  They want to know their time wont’ be wasted.   If I can help some people discover a gem or a avoid a disaster, that’s a start.  And if in the process of my ramblings I open their eyes to a certain technique or the larger world of film, all the better.


Paulzeye: In a February 2012 interview, I asked film critic Nell Minow whether or not she thought critics still had an impact on how well or poorly a film performed at the box office. Her answer was: “Yes, especially independent and small-budget films that do not have a big advertising budget.” Do you agree with those sentiments?

 

Eli Glasner: I think good reviews can help give a film a push.   People do consult ratings and factor them into their decisions.   Often ratings can be quoted on iTunes and promotional campaigns, so we do give the audience a little nudge.


Paulzeye: There’s been a lot of talk lately concerning Hollywood’s abandonment of celluloid and embracement of digital filmmaking. What are your thoughts on that topic?


Eli Glasner: I’ve covered this story and I’m sad to see celluloid fading away.  I’m not entirely thrilled with the digital viewing experience and on some level it just irks me that I’m sitting in the theatre paying for pixels.   Much of this is just nostalgia on my part but I am glad a collective of Hollywood filmmakers have banded together to try and keep Kodak in business of making celluloid (http://www.indiewire.com/article/quentin-tarantino-christopher-nolan-and-judd-apatow-lead-the-charge-to-keep-film-stock-alive-20140730).

 

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Paulzeye: Considering the advances in technology, what do you think the future of film will look like?


Eli Glasner: I fear we’re heading to a more immersive, 3 dimensional experience.  I say fear because our current cinematic language (editing, camera movements, etc) don’t  necessarily translate to a  3D medium.  I can only think of a couple films that actually use the depth in an artistic manner, “Pina” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” being my favourite examples.  Of course, a new cinematic language may evolve, but I like my movies flat.


Paulzeye: One word to define cinema so far, this year?

 

Eli Glasner: Evolving.

 

Paulzeye: What valuable advice would you offer to the many ambitious film commentators around the globe?

 

Eli Glasner: Watch as many much as you can, say what you think honestly and try to avoid snark, it’s an easy crutch.   


Paulzeye: Eli, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions today. It’s been a real joy and a great honor.

 

Eli Glasner: My pleasure.  See you in the dark.

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Read Eli Glasner’s film reviews
http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/arts/the-buzz/author/eli-glasner/index.html

Listen to Eli Glasner’s  podcast “Eli Glasner on Film”
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts/arts-culture/eli-glasner-on-film/