The Image Before Us: A History of Film in British Columbia - A Tribute to Daryl Duke, The Cinematheque, Monday, Jan. 21, 6:30 p.m. Introduction by Colin Browne with Duke’s wife Anne-Marie Dekker in attendance. For more information visit thecinematheque.ca.
"'I am not trying to be avant-garde. Drama ought to be as accurate as reporting. I want my shows to be as contemporary as news reporting." - Daryl Duke, Time, March, 1962.
Daryl Duke worked for decades in the television industry, and during that time only released four theatrical features, but it’s impossible not to think of him as anything but a filmmaker.
As an artist he refused to box himself into any one category choosing to push the creative boundaries every chance he got. He was interested in producing images and ideas that were worthy of ‘psychedelic television’ as well as films that could not be reduced to mere box office numbers. Other things were at stake.
The Cinematheque will pay tribute to the work of the late West Vancouver filmmaker on Monday, Jan. 21 with screenings of two of Duke’s works: I Heard the Owl Call My Name, from 1973, one of the first made-for-TV movies, and The Silent Partner, a feature film he shot in Toronto in 1977 with a cast including Christopher Plummer, Elliott Gould and Susannah York. Fittingly, the choices suggest the depth of Duke’s career with the former a classic American television production, while the latter is considered a gem of Canadian cinema. For Duke, the medium was not necessarily the message, he worked with whatever means were at hand.
He graduated from UBC in the early 1950s where he studied creative writing with Earle Birney. A poem he wrote in school, “It Was My June,” landed him a job at the National Film Board of Canada.
“Daryl was trained at the NFB,” says his wife Anne-Marie Dekker. “He wrote scripts, he edited – that’s where he learned to direct and produce and he really applied that to a lot of his work. He really knew how to shoot things, to edit it so that the editor knew what he wanted and, of course, producers did not like that. Producers like to have their say. He had the editing in mind when he was shooting and knew exactly what he wanted to tell a story.”
After the NFB, Duke moved on to become one of the first regional producers at CBC Vancouver and worked on many different projects. No longer bound to a strictly documentary tradition Duke applied cinéma vérité principles to dramatic productions at the CBC. He worked in Vancouver and Toronto on news magazines, such as This Hour Has Seven Days and other series that stretched conceptual frameworks, such as Q for Quest and Sunday.
On Quest, he proposed hiring Leonard Cohen and Ian Tyson as regular contributors on a half-hour show that would mix entertainment with social commentary. The Toronto Star described Duke’s approach as kind of “a commando task force in Canadian television running around with sten guns shooting out the lights.”
The last thing he made for Canadian television, before moving on to bigger things in the States in 1964, was a half hour segment shot in Toronto featuring new folk sensation Bob Dylan. “The Times They Are a-Changin," was the first time Dylan had appeared on TV in an extended format.
For most of the next decade, Duke developed his chops in the U.S., producing The Steve Allen Show and other programs, including episodic television.
The culmination of this period, and one of the high points of his career, is the 1973 feature film, Payday, which is ostensibly fiction but shot like a documentary. The plot revolves around 36 hours in the life of a deranged honky tonk star out on the road with his band and entourage. Everything about Duke’s feature length debut is in-your-face cinema at its best, and very “un-Canadian.”
Produced by San Francisco music critic and Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph J. Gleason, Payday is a pinnacle achievement of 1970s independent cinema. Duke’s film rolls out like a documentary of Hank Williams’ life augmented with A Star is Born poignancy, minus the romance. Rip Torn’s over-the-top performance in the lead role, as anti-hero country music star Maury Dann, drives a production that feels like a hybrid of film and television cultures. Big ideas shot within a tight schedule. The Rockford Files meets Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
Shortly after making Payday, Duke and business partner Norman Klenman formed a group to apply for a new television licence in Vancouver. Anne-Marie Dekker, who would become Duke’s wife during this period, was CKVU’s first employee when it started up in 1975.
“They had been involved with the CITY application in Toronto and then when they knew there was going to be a licence hearing here they decided to apply for it,” says Dekker. “They were up against very big corporations like Izzy Asper and Dr. Allard from Edmonton and a couple of others. They were a local group that wanted to have a local presence and the CRTC went for them.”
Duke purchased a building on West Second Avenue for his new Vancouver TV station and hired architects to turn it into a production facility.
“They created a television station in what were originally showrooms for cars,” says Dekker. “Daryl and Norman went around the country to see how the other television stations were set up, what their requirements were.
“I remember writing the cheque for the transmitter on Salt Spring Island. It was for one million dollars. I was so nervous I think I wrote it three times. How often does one write a cheque for a million dollars?”
Dekker did anything and everything on the administrative side of the new business.
“I was the only person other than the janitor working in the building. There was nothing there.”
When Dekker was first approached to work for them she had refused.
“Someone said to me, ‘Wouldn’t you regret it later on that you were not part of putting a television station on-air?’ And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s true. Where would you ever get that opportunity?’
“When they hired me they said, ‘We have no money.’ And they really did not. They raised money but it was all for assets, I don’t know what my title was at that time. Whatever I could do, I did.”
CKVU was up and running from scratch in a very short period of time, according to Dekker. “When people were hired they came from the other networks where everything was already established and for people to come in and suddenly have a freedom to do whatever they wanted to do was very exciting. That’s what Daryl and Norman really believed in: you have an idea, create it, because that’s how they liked to operate themselves. There was a lot of excitement and a lot of chaos, as well. Craziness, chaos and trying to get a system in place. I know the first year Daryl and Norman never took a day off.”
Duke shot his second feature film, The Silent Partner, shortly after launching CKVU, commuting between the West Coast and Toronto for the production.
“He loved doing it,” says Dekker. “He loved working with Christopher Plummer and Elliott Gould. In fact, when Daryl was not well in his last few months, Elliott came up to see Daryl and said to him, ‘Steven Spielberg always tells me that that was my best movie.’ Daryl was always able to get what he wanted from the actors without really directing them. He would tell them what he wanted, they understood and then he would let them go at it.
“I remember on The Thornbirds set Jean Simmons asked me one time, ‘So when is Daryl going to start yelling?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? I had no idea.’ And she said, ‘Well you know these directors always yell at actors.’ And I said, ‘Oh no, he does not like that kind of environment.’
Dekker also commuted on The Silent Partner shoot acting as a liaison between Duke and CKVU’s board on the West Coast. “There were no computers. I physically had to take things back east to have him look at them and then bring them back again. He also had a broken leg at that time while he was making The Silent Partner.”
The film won six awards at the 1978 Canadian Film Awards, including Best Picture, Best Direction and Best Score (by jazz pianist Oscar Peterson).
Film critic Roger Ebert raved in the Chicago Sun-Times that The Silent Partner was worthy of Hitchcock, “a wonderful gem of a thriller: a film in which complicated people and a very complicated plot come together in a mechanism that leaves us marveling at its ingenuity.”
Dekker, with Duke’s approval, donated all of his considerable archives to Simon Fraser University, including scripts and personal journals.
“He was a prolific writer,” says Dekker. “Every day he wrote and that’s what propelled his career, the writing.”
Daryl Duke, Then & Now
Interview with Terry David Mulligan, 1988:
Toronto studios, CBC, 1964:
First Daryl Duke feature, 1973:
Tseshaht artist, actor and writer George Clutesi first made his appearance in film in I Heard the Owl Call My Name
Imbert Orchard Interviewed Geoge Clutesi and his sister Annie Hayes in the 1960's on West Coast culture pre and post-contact:
The Silent Partner
Kino Lorber is preparing a Blu-ray release of film for later in 2019:
Turn Up the Contrast
Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama since 1952 By Mary Jane Miller:
Daryl Duke, Hero
Daryl Duke Foundation
The Daryl Duke Foundation awards a $25,000 prize annually to an emerging artist working on an unpublished screenplay: http://daryldukeprize.ca/
Daryl Duke SFU fonds