Graeme Decarie recalls the lines from Splendor in the Grass

Jaan Pill: Scott Munro (MCHS ’63) has mentioned to me: “By the way, Mr. Decarie was advisor to the Film Society in 1962-63 at Malcolm Campbell High School.

Do you recollect anything about the Film Society? I recall there had been controversy about whether or not “Splendor in the Grass” was a worthwhile film to screen. I recall it was eventually screened, and that you were involved in the decision making process. I recall that you were calm and collected about the matter, and spoke with an air of authority.

As well, I’d be interested in any reflections you may wish to share, about how student councils and other student groups operated in those days. I’d also be interested in any comments about how things were, in high school settings, as compared to university settings.

Graeme Graham: I had some insight into film because my neighbour was an NFB director. Over the years I also had some involvement with NFB as a film writer, voice-over (in Notman’s Montreal), advisor (I think Chorus Girls was one of them. It was about Montreal black girls who were performers in the nightclubs.) I appeared in some. One, I remember, was about what had happened to the English in the district where I grew up. I think I have the names of those films written down somewhere.

Notman’s Montreal was the easy one. I just had to look at the screening, and say whatever popped into my head.

“Nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass
Or glory in the wildflower.
We will grieve not,
Rather find
Strength in what remains behind.”

I know that’s probably full of mistakes. I’m working on memory.

Ingmar Bergman

The film that worried me most was an Ingmar Bergman one about a crusader who returned home when Death came to harvest him. He made a deal to play chess with the devil for his life. The part I had forgotten, and was embarrassed to hear, was when the knight’s squire was making out with a comely maiden in the barn. They both sank below screen level – but you could still hear a very explicit conversation.

That reminds me. There was a very pretty girl at MCHS – a Scandinavian, and all the boys were in love with her. I taught her in grade nine or ten. I can’t remember her name; but I saw her once about 1975. She worked at NFB, and had married its most distinguished film producer.

School clubs

The great thing about school clubs was that they existed. When I was at Montreal High, the current events club, debating, creative writing, etc. groups were a valuable experience for things that were important but could not be covered in class. They were possible because most students used public transit to get to school.

Since then, the use of school buses has spread widely. And that kind of group just isn’t possible. My twin boys (now 18 and at Concordia U in Montreal and at St. Thomas U in Fredericton) had no access to that sort of thing because school closed at three. That was it. And most high school students now miss a valuable experience.

Clubs exist in universities – though not with variety one once found in high schools. I did most of my BA at night, and so missed out on the clubs. At Acadia for my MA, I wrote for the newspaper, and was on the debating team. (In fact, my partner and I WERE the debating team.) Both of them proved valuable experiences for later years when I would do a lot of writing for newspapers, and when I was giving close to a hundred, public talks a year.

As to grad school at Queen’s, there just weren’t no clubs. And they would be quite impossible. As it was, I was either reading or writing for a good ten to twelve hours a day. The only group I was associated with was the NDP. But that was in the days before the NDP became the Liberal party of Canada.

I’d love to lead a current events group in a high school today – but I’m afraid my views would have parents looking for my head, and demanding that all teachers be fired as punishment for allowing me to happen.


[End of text from Graeme Decarie]


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