Have you ever wondered what an old Hollywood western with a legendary female lead has to say about contemporary discussions of toxic masculinity? Probably not, but a recently relaunched event series happening downtown offers you the chance to find out.
Mark Cauchi, an associate professor in the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is one of the co-founders of TALKIES, a monthly film and lecture series. If that sounds potentially dry to non-film geeks, Cauchi says not to worry because TALKIES is presented in an engaging format and takes film seriously. TALKIES is closer to what is increasingly called the public humanities, an effort to engage the public in reflection on matters of public concern using some of the means and approaches of the traditional humanities in innovative and accessible manners.
For TALKIES, the collective act of watching a film in a lively and genial setting is used as a launching pad for public intellectual discussion and socializing. Events are notably not held in university settings, but instead move around to various urban sites: art galleries, independent theatres, obscure event venues, among others. “The setting is important,” Cauchi says, “because it subtly affects people’s comfort level with participating or not.
“And for our academic speakers,” Cauchi continues, “it takes them out of the pedantic space of a lecture hall, so that they now have to work at framing a discussion for people as participants in a public conversation, rather than for people as students.”
Guests hang out before show time and get a drink (TALKIES events are licensed), then watch a film, hear a talk by an engaging speaker, participate in a Q-and-A and then linger after and mingle while a great playlist is fed through the sound system. The films presented range from Hollywood classics and obscure oldies through to art house and foreign films, documentaries and recent blockbusters. The talks are given by speakers from diverse intellectual and professional backgrounds. Some are academics, but others have been filmmakers, psychotherapists and journalists. Ultimately, anyone who is an engaging speaker with some expertise and interesting or timely ideas to share in relation to a film is a potential speaker.
For its relaunch on Friday, May 3, TALKIES is showing Nicholas Ray’s 1954 classic and curious western Johnny Guitar, starring Joan Crawford. The speaker is Nikolas Kompridis, a graduate of the PhD program in Social & Political Thought at York, who went on to do a postdoc with noted philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Kompridis, then went on to teach at universities around the world and is presently a visiting scholar at the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto. The author of three books and more than 60 articles on critical theory and aesthetics, Kompridis will discuss what he describes as “the queerest western ever made” as “a utopian film that has something to say to us, today, as we seek to make sense of and respond to the entwined resurgence of toxic masculinity and authoritarian politics.”
Originally launched in 2009 with filmmaker Azed Majeed (BA ’92), TALKIES ran for two years before being paused for other life and professional pursuits. After much prodding by friends and supporters in the interim, Cauchi and Majeed, along with the addition of some new collaborators (John Caruana, Chris Irwin, Rui Pimenta) – all York grads of years past – are finally relaunching the series. “We’re very excited about the relaunch and the new possibilities we’re imagining for the series,” Cauchi says.
The group is working on diversifying the collective and drawing in more non-academic speakers and plans to work with other arts organizations in the city. This event is co-sponsored by FADO, an artist-run centre for performance art in the Commons @ 401, a space shared by multiple Toronto-based arts organizations in the well-known arts building at 401 Richmond St. W.
TALKIES will take place Friday, May 3 at the Commons @ 401, 401 Richmond St. West, Toronto. The event is pay-what-you-can and a licensed cash bar will be available. All money raised go to paying speaker fees, venue rental costs and event promotion.