Movie reviewer Robert Fontaine takes his curtain call
After 25 years and 5 hosts, CBC Ottawa's All In A Day film critic retiring
After 25 years as the film critic on CBC Radio's All In A Day, Robert Fontaine is taking his curtain call.
Fontaine has been the show's film critic since 1993, working with five different hosts. Fontaine, who's also a jazz musician, was originally brought on the show to discuss the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
"I don't know how it happened, but movies just started coming out in the conversation. We had a great chat!" said then host Jennifer Fry.
Fry and the show's producers decided to bring Fontaine on as their film critic.
"I couldn't get over how engaged he was with film, how encyclopedic his knowledge was about film," Fry recalled.
Passion for film
Each host Fontaine worked with over his 25-year career said they learned about cinema from him.
"It was always an education, doing an interview with Robert Fontaine," said All In A Day host Adrian Harewood from 2005 to 2009.
That was always a joy — to watch as Robert's face lit up when he was talking about how a film was put together.- Alan Neal, All In A Day host
Current host Alan Neal said he never paid much attention to things like film editing and cinematography before he worked with Fontaine.
"He wasn't only talking about what was on the screen, but actually how it came to be. That was always a joy — to watch as Robert's face lit up when he was talking about how a film was put together."
Ken Rockburn, host from 1996 to 2001, said Fontaine had the ability to completely change his mind about movies.
Rockburn and Fontaine would occasionally go see films together, including 1998's The Thin Red Line.
"I said, 'Well, I didn't much care for it,'" Rockburn recalled.
But after hearing Fontaine's review in studio a few days later, Rockburn came away with a completely different view of the film.
"He went through a detailed analysis of the themes in that film," Rockburn said. "I was actually gobsmacked. I thought, he's changed my mind."
A copy of The Thin Red Line has a place on Rockburn's DVD shelf to this day.
And then there's the baseball
Anyone who listened to Fontaine's movie reviews knew he was also a massive baseball fan.
"Somehow he was able to insert that fandom into every single review," Harewood said.
Fontaine could take the most obscure film and insert a baseball reference into his review, Rockburn said.
An avid Boston Red Sox follower, Fontaine would conjure up players such as Carl Yastrzemski, who played from 1961 until 1983.
In 2004 when the Red Sox won their first world series in over 80 years, listeners sat glued to their radios waiting to hear how he would react.
"All of human civilization was waiting for this moment. What would he say about the Red Sox?" said Brent Bambury, All In A Day host from 2002 to 2005.
Fontaine decided to have some fun with it, and made them wait.
"It was the longest tease in the world," Bambury recalled. "It was brilliant, because everybody knew every cell in his body was celebrating the win for the Red Sox."
A natural storyteller
Long preambles were just one hallmark of Fontaine's signature style — a style that was wittingly unpredictable.
"You never knew what the hell that guy was going to do," Bambury said. "It was just the thing that made him so extraordinary and so unlike everybody else."
"He tells a story beautifully — I don't think anyone trained him or helped him learn how to be a movie reviewer," Fry said. "He was simply a natural."
Fontaine has been able to translate his storytelling abilities into books such as True Confessions of a Film Critic and Movies Ate My Brain — collections of his best reviews.
Fontaine is also opinionated, and his reviews could be "intense," Neal said.
"He is passionate about the films that he hates, but he's equally defensive about what he likes," Neal said.
All In A Day will celebrate Fontaine's career by hosting its show from the Mayfair Theatre on Thursday, followed by a screening of his favourite movie.