Old Geezers Save The World (For Now)

Over the holiday I found myself back in Theatre Eight at the Varsity Cinema in downtown Toronto for the film version of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

 That theatre was the larger of the two auditoriums that constituted the original Varsity, one of the few movie houses  still around from the days when I reviewed movies in the 1980s.

The Varsity brings back memories–it’s where we held the world premiere of that cinema classic, Heavenly Bodies, a movie released by MGM in 1984 that I had a hand in writing (a very weak hand, I might add).

Safe to say Heavenly Bodies did not approach the level of artistry on display in Tinker, Tailor. I don’t like to think about that long ago night any more than I have to, so in the few moments before the blizzard of car and smart phone commercials one now must endure, I looked around at my fellow movie goers and once again marveled at the sea of gray that met my gaze.

The place was filled not with tinkers or tailors or soldiers or spies but with so-called baby boomers–as well as a lot of people too old to qualify as boomers.

When I went to the Varsity in the eighties or attended at the Cumberland Cinema around the corner, those theatres were packed with pale-faced young men and women of college age, sporting backpacks, anxious to see the latest foreign film.

The last time I was in the Cumberland, foreign films were still being shown, but now I literally had to navigate past the walkers in the aisles. There was not a backpack in sight.

College kids don’t go to movies like TinkerTailor Soldier Spy any more. People, ahem, of a certain age, do.

It is not overstating the case too much to say that we keep the culture going. The Stratford and Shaw Festivals were inhabited last summer mostly by boomers (or Zoomers as Moses Znaimer likes to call us). The same demographic was present at the New London Theatre in London, England where I saw War Horse.

In Paris, bless its contrary heart, you can still find young people in the museums,  particularly at the Louvre which attracts armies of school kids who appear to have been bused there. Would any of them go on their own? One wonders.

Conversely, at the Art Institute of Chicago this past summer, heads of gray proliferated. The odd fresh face was upturned to study Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, but so few as to cause the rest of us to take notice.

I’m not sure what the statistics are, but as far as I can see, an older generation keeps theatre alive these days. That generation also gives continuing life to independent film (it’s okay Woody Allen, you don’t have to thank us. And what we did for The King’s Speech? Don’t mention it). They also keep museum doors open.

The other night, watching Page One, the documentary about the struggle of The New York Times to stay afloat and relevant in this Internet age, the then-managing editor, Bill Keller, predicted that the Times  would continue to print a daily version of the newspaper, despite all the gloom and doom surrounding its future.

If that is true–and I believe it is–it is because those of us who have reached a certain age  still prefer to hold a real newspaper in their hands rather than stare at it on a computer screen. We are all that stands between the old-fashioned book printed on paper and the digital universe wherein everyone reads an electronic tablet.

In short, old geezers–you and me–are saving the world.

For now.

(We also, for good measure, keep the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen going, not to mention U2 and Tony Bennett–who do you think made his latest duets album a number one hit? Not your grand kids.)

What happens after we are gone–and anyone of a certain age knows we are starting to go–is anyone’s guess.

It’s difficult to imagine that interesting, cutting edge foreign and independent films will survive us. The same is true of theatre. I don’t know anyone under fifty who regularly attends, or if they do, they aren’t there when I’m there.

One hates to be pessimistic, but much of what we enjoy and support today will disappear when we are all gone. The print newspaper will go, along with most printed books, not to mention museums and art galleries (how many of your kids have ever bought a painting?)

And let’s not get into what’s going to become of opera and ballet, let alone symphony orchestras, all currently supported by an audience that isn’t getting any younger.

It goes without saying that this is a sad state of affairs, that an entire generation is ignoring the best in movies, drama, music, dance, and art in favor of an industrialized and digitized culture that really isn’t a culture at all.

The good news is that all the things I fear will disappear will not in fact disappear until after I and my kind are dead. Let’s face it, those of an advanced age are not about to let any of this stuff go, and right now, boys and girls, we are more of less in charge.

So as long as you and I remain lucid enough to read books and newspapers and crawl off to Stratford and Shaw, go to museums, and see movies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which we have turned into an art house hit, incidentally) we should be okay–even if some of us have to use a walker in order to get into the theatre.

In September, at legendary Hollywood columnist George Christy’s annual luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel, I finally got to meet, Christopher Plummer, the last of the great, flamboyant theatre actors, as anyone who has seen him at Stratford in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra or Shakespeare’s The Tempest, knows only too well.

Once he makes his exit, there will be no more like him. But thankfully, at the age of 81, he looked fit and spry and ready to live forever.

In no small part because we support him, too–money well spent.


Author of "The Sanibel Sunset Detective" and "The Strange." Ron spends part of the year on Sanibel Island, Florida, where he writes detective novels featuring private eye Tree Callister. When he is not in Florida, he resides outside Toronto, Ontario with his wife, Kathy.

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