We’re delighted to be speaking to Montreal-based journalist Matthew Hays in this instalment of #MeetTheContributor, whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Guardian, Vice, The Daily Beast, Cineaste and Cinema Journal.
Founded in 1967, Cineaste is today widely regarded as one of the most important film quarterlies published anywhere in the world. The journal’s unique editorial focus is reflected in the in-depth nature of its feature articles and interviews, as well as its reviews, written by leading film critics, journalists, and scholars
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1) Do you remember a specific moment that kickstarted your love of cinema?
I think my earliest memory of really being struck by how powerful cinema could be was when I first saw Planet of the Apes. I must have just been a few years old, but that ending. It thrilled and shocked me, and of course it’s really devastating. I still teach that film, it’s a great example of science-fiction being used as a social critique and screenwriters Rod Serling and Michael Wilson were packing it full of every theme imaginable. It’s basically a horror movie about everything that’s wrong with America, from slavery and racism to religious fundamentalism. It’s sort of incredible how germane it still is, given the current state of US politics. I also remember Jaws freaking me out as a child. I guess I really love animals in film.
2) You are the co-editor (alongside Tom Waugh) of the critically acclaimed Queer Film Classics book series; what was the inspiration behind this initiative?
It was all Tom’s idea! I had just finished my book of interviews with queer directors (The View from Here, Arsenal Pulp Press) and he said he’d like to launch a series of monographs in which one author could dedicate the entire book to one film in particular. We talked about how we’d like to focus on unusual films; there would be the obvious suspects, of course (like Death in Venice) but we also wanted to draw attention to neglected titles outside of the canon. It has been so rewarding working with all of the authors and after 19 titles with Arsenal Pulp Press we are thrilled to re-launch the series at McGill-Queen’s University Press.
3) Which article that you’ve written for Cineaste are you most proud of?
It’s always fantastic to interview David Cronenberg, which I did for the Fall 2022 issue. He is so thoughtful and generous. I also really enjoyed interviewing William Friedkin about The Boys in the Band, and then I reviewed an anthology that was excellent about that film. But I think the first piece I ever wrote for them, which was an analysis of Quebec and Canadian cinema through the lens of a cop-buddy genre film called Bon Cop Bad Cop is perhaps my favourite. The first time is often the best.
4) What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt from teaching journalism, communication studies and film studies at Concordia University?
A very big question! I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned after a quarter century of teaching is that good teaching always involves a conversation. I’ve seen the films I screen many times but the discussion part of the class is new to me. I am always asking my students questions, about the material we are studying but also about their own lives and views on things. I feel so lucky to have the teaching work I do. It’s a remarkably rewarding thing to do. Teaching is also quite mysterious. Stephen Sondheim called it the sacred art and I think he was right. I’ve known many different teachers who take very distinctive approaches to it, and there’s no one correct formula. There are so many variations on how to do it effectively, which is one of the reasons it’s so interesting to do.
5) Do you have any work coming out soon you’d like to let our readers know about?
I’m working on my own Queer Film Classics book, on the landmark 1984 documentary Hookers on Davie. This is a truly remarkable film about sex workers in Vancouver. Filmmakers Janis Cole and Holly Dale managed to get frank and intimate statements from the people on Davie Street. It’s a film I have screened in many of my classes so to get to write an entire book on it is something I’m really enjoying diving in to. The filmmakers faced some criticism at the time for including transgender sex workers but they knew they had to do so to reflect the diversity of who was on the street at that time. So there are transgender and cisgender women and gay men interviewed, which was an accurate depiction of who was there in ’84. I’m also working on an anthology of some of my own writing on film and media.
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Thanks so much, Matthew, for that enlightening look into your wide-ranging career.
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