Film Studies at UBC
In Memoriam, Mark Harris
Mark Harris, dedicated UBC Theatre & Film faculty member, dies at 62.
The Department of Theatre and Film is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Mark Harris, a UBC alumnus, long-time faculty member, and wonderful colleague.
Dr. Harris brought a great knowledge of film, inspiring teaching, and marvellous energy and humour to generations of UBC students. He was for many years the senior film critic for the Georgia Straight, and his insightful reviews always communicated his passion for movies. He will be greatly missed.
The Georgia Straight has posted a notice of his passing, his life and career here:
Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Carola Ackery and to his colleagues at the Georgia Straight.
Film scholar and critic Mark Harris remembered at UBC memorial
"LAUGHTER, HUGS, A few tears, and some great film moments were on the shooting schedule at a memorial for film scholar and long-time Georgia Straight movie reviewer Mark Harris on Saturday (April 6)."
A scholarship for UBC Film Studies students has been established in Mark’s honour. For more information on the Mark Harris Memorial Scholarship in Film Studies, to donate, and to read more about Harris’s accomplishments or to leave a memory or picture, go to:
For Mark Harris (1951-2013)
a eulogy by Brian McIlroy
The word eulogy is from the ancient Greek, meaning praise or good words, spoken or written for one who has recently died. I knew Mark Harris for nearly 24 years, and I have nothing but good words to impart. Sadly, the man, noted lately for his Tilleyesque hat and an urban safari sartorial splendour, has left the cinema for the very last time. We miss him greatly, and find it hard to believe we will not hear again his enthusiastic cascade of words and his good-hearted yet slightly sneaky laughter.
Mark grew up in Montreal, started university studies there, dropped out, and came out to Vancouver in the 1970s. He began working for the Georgia Straight and had an appointment as programmer for the Pacifique Cinematheque in its early days. He also belonged to an informal writers group. When I first met Mark, he had just come up from Wreck Beach, his hair still wet from a swim, and a Balzac novel under his arm. Who was this aging hippie?, I wondered to myself. I was fortunate to find out.
I taught him in undergraduate film studies classes in 1989-1990 when he had a year as a qualifying MA student; I supervised his directed readings on such films as Carl Dreyer’s Joan of Arc, one of his all-time favourites, and eventually “looked after” his MA thesis on the theme of love in the films of François Truffaut, a work and degree that he completed in 1992. He then went on to enter the UBC Comparative Literature Ph.D. program from which he graduated in 1998, and for which he was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal for the best Ph.D. dissertation that year. I served as one of the university examiners for that dissertation, and was simply impressed that no question could silence Mark. He always spoke from a position of absolute knowledge and conviction.
While he was embarked on his Ph.D., he taught various undergraduate courses in film studies for the Department of Theatre and Film. In those early days, I recall assigning him courses on film noir, the history of film, silent cinema, and advanced seminars on Truffaut, Godard and Hitchcock. As the years went by, he was regularly found teaching the introduction to film studies course and at least two third and fourth-year seminars, with topics of his own choice, whether they were “The films of 1939,” “Partisan films,” “Fellini and Antonioni,” or “low budget British filmmaking.” I could always rely on Mark to be game to try a new course, as he did with one I designed in 2012, entitled Introduction to Asian Cinema. And when I created an online Irish cinema and culture course in 2001, Mark became its steady and reliable instructor. In a recent Departmental review of teaching, this particular course was specifically noted for its high level of student satisfaction, most of which was due to Mark’s dedication as a teacher. Even when he was on holiday in some sunny place with his beloved wife Carola, he always checked in on his online course, providing comments and support for students. Little did they know he had just swum across the Blue Lagoon in Malta.
In addition to his work at UBC, he was a fixture as a senior film reviewer for the Georgia Straight, with European films, particularly French, as his specialty. He was also a prolific speaker in the community, a natural sign of his generosity of spirit. He gave talks to seniors groups, taught evening courses for the Vancouver School Board, spoke at regular intervals at the Pacifique Cinematheque and Vancity Film Theatre, championed the European Film Festival and was often invited to speak at a range of cultural events and institutes. Further to this busy life, he wrote both academic and creative work—he was working on a tome on South Korean cinema at the time of his passing, while also assembling an appendix of cultural representations of Caligula for a revised biography by Dr. Anthony Barrett. In the early days, when Mark applied for a teaching position at UBC he would include samples of his creative work, mostly poems. Just for fun I think. He also won an award for his playwriting and told me with barely suppressed pride he had entered the three-day novel writing contest. For Mark, it was a feat of concentration and creativity, a challenge that deeply appealed to him.
Mark was famous for speaking about films and filmmakers for hours at a stretch with no need for notes. In his own words, he likened his style and approach to that of a tent-pole preacher. He had an encyclopedic knowledge as well as an amazing recall of scenes and sequences. In my first class at UBC in 1989, which I taught on genre films and theory, he rubbed shoulders with future successful critics and filmmakers Katherine Monk, Mina Shum, Bruce Sweeney and Sylvie Peltier. Of course, he was the top student even in that illustrious group. One moment for me still stands out. In an early seminar, I felt the students were misreading a particular scene, and I asked them to describe the visual order of a montage sequence. Mark astonished everyone with his ability to recall the montage sequence and get every shot correct, and in the right order. It was as if he was reading the storyboard in his mind. A few days before he died, he emailed me to say that he thought he had found a strong (partial) argument against Alfred Hitchcock's presumed misogyny, as well as considerable evidence to suggest that the character Albert (Jeanne Moreau's back-up lover in Jules et Jim) is supposed to be Guillaume Apollinaire on every level. These connective tissues and slightly heretical views were quintessentially Mark. He was irrepressible, a veritable fountain of ideas.
In his last ten years, it was crystal clear that Mark saw his teaching and lecturing as his vocation, with his deepest desire that through his efforts students would become as obsessed about cinema as he was. His courses were packed with nuggets of information and, yes, some of them may well have been best left on the cutting room floor (!), but to experience Mark lecturing in full flight, particularly about a subject he cared about, peppered with his risqué jokes, a child-like wondrous excitement imprinted on his face, was to be in that special radiant moment where it was only possible to describe him with two good words: passionate brilliance.
Brian McIlroy, March 2013
What can you say not say about Mark Harris?
By George McWhirter
The man was a bustling book, a living almanac, a talking trove of film lore, who loved uncovering vendettas: Hollywood liberal directors’, who had it in for John Wayne, directors who made Wayne into a hidden assassin in “The Man who Killed Liberty Valance.” Mark turned my head upside down on how I saw that ultra conservative cowboy star. Only Mark Harris, the poet, story teller and maven of the movies could draw a link between John Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” Julio Cortázar’s story, “Blow-Up” and Antonioni’s film of the same name. Mark had an eye for subtle assassinations on screen, but fast action and multiple murders, on stage, were also a fascination. While he was doing subtitles in my translation workshop, he was also translating a French play, where the Italian nobility got slaughtered, one at least for every one of the multiple scenes. The thing was as multi-act, multi-charactered as Mark’s mind. I swear the sly mayhem and machinations in that piece of Italian aristocratic skulduggery spurred his learning Italian and embarking on his passionate travels with Carola through Italy to see if any traces of all that blood remained.
Poet, critic, enthusiast, he was a pest for the best he could get out of everyone. He punned on the run, didn’t he? I believe he must have whispered one special pun to himself all the time, skipped and silly-chuckled along to it, his love song of paronomasia, Carola is my female corollary, my perfect corollary of love is Carola. His way was pebbled with puns and he was carried over it by his enthusiasm to a place, let’s call it Ballyfitzharris, Oh there was Irish in him Baylieux, he used to tell me, Bailey. Ballyfitzharris was where so many things came together. If Ballyfitzharris were on a railway system in Ireland, it would be Junction; like Clones in Co. Monaghan used to be; if Ballyfitzharris were an airport, it would be a hub.
Think of Harris the Hub.
And a man who wanted to be a dolphin.
How he must have loved the Brazilian movie Ele o boto, about the dolphin-man, who always wore a hat. Mark, too, had his Tilley, and underneath his floppy hat loomed that MGM lion of a man, as my wife, Angela, describes him, but to me when he let down that hair of his out of its pony tail, he was the Roi Soleil du Ciné. However, he didn’t just open his mouth like the lion and roar, or stare solemnly like Louis XIV— what mobility Mark had in his face, in those cheeks and eyebrows, under that floppy hat, under that flood of hair, when he raised both hands in an exasperated epiphany at some hilarious or heartbreaking incongruity, some perforation he had seen through in the perfect scheme of things and he would not let go of until we understood how it turned everything we knew about that phenomena upside down, like the image inside a camera.
His enthusiasms were peppered with epiphanies. He pursued them the way ancient Spaniards pursued rabbits in the Iberian deserts. It was like he hung the ideas in his mind up by their hind legs, let them wriggle, skinned and cured them, cooked them, and served them with his saucy way of saying what they were. He was a sayer and a seer, driven by what he saw and what he had to say, regardless. That is a favourite Irish word for bravery—to say and do what you think, regardless, and regarding what Mark thought and did, he was just that—brave.
He was the picture of a man possessed. Possessed of the prime mover for all academics and artists: curiosity. He was the acute angler, the contrarian, so stand-out from the crowd physically and every other way. We will keep looking for his face as the crowd flows past us. We will listen for his next juicy fact about film, wait to feel him hooking us into kinship with something of interest to us alone, which he happens to share and will make sure others do so too. He was a friend to everybody’s mind. He lives there for us in the place where he was never at a loss, the old reel to reel, the dance into pure images and memory, which we will enter, too, in the end.
God bless you, Mark, for going ahead and showing the way through the aperture to that place that is nothing less than legend.
For Mark Harris Memorial, March 10, 2012, Mountain View Cemetery