Rochester resident Jack Garner, who for decades served as film critic Gannett News Services, died on Sunday 75 years.
Known for reviews that caught the eye of both a critic and a movie lover, Garner was a fixture in Rochester’s art circles for decades. A jazz lover, he often introduced some of the annual Jazz Festival top acts. He was a trustee of the Eastman Museum and was the second recipient of the Museum’s prestigious Medal of Honor George Eastman.
He was also very hard to miss in a crowd – standing 6-foot-9. His laughter, and he often laughed, shone as if it had a life of its own.
“The glass was always half full with him,” his wife, Bonnie, said Sunday. “It was never half empty.”
She and Mr. Garner would have celebrated the 50th anniversary next month. A couple who loved to travel – a South African trip this year interrupted by COVID-19 – planned international travel after the end of the pandemic.
“We had a pretty good life together,” she said.
Even his movie reviews reflected Mr. Garner’s view of life and his effervescent optimism. Mr. Garner would try to find a nugget of something refreshing even in films that were largely panning.
“When he was a film critic, he always tried to find the good in everything he saw,” Bonnie said. “He was always very optimistic.
“He had 2,500 Facebook friends for shouting out loud. They appreciated his opinion.”
Those who knew Mr. Garner were well aware of his connections to Hollywood, though he was not quick to talk about the many hours he spent interviewing stars and the recognition he had in those circles. But sometimes it became obvious.
2013: Jack Garner is Rochester’s Hollywood connection
Former Democrat and Chronicle Editor Ellen Rosen remembers hearing him check his phone messages in the office.
“Before the voicemail, he had an answering machine,” she said. “After lunch, he would always play the messages he missed.”
One, she recalled, was “Jack, Bob Redford here, calling you back.”
“I can’t think of too many big stars he didn’t interview,” Rosen said.
While Garner was known for his ability to discover something appealing in most movies, there could be exceptions.
“Jack panicked a movie called The program, which in its first issue included a scene where the high school was lying in the middle of a busy road on a wave, “remember Democrat and Chronicle editor Len LaCara,
“I dread the day I read about some real high school jocks that have been inspired to copy the irresponsible movie sequence,” he wrote in his review, “LaCara said.” Jack was the first national critic to criticize Disney for the scene, but it wasn’t until two children were killed to replicate that the studio cut it from the movie. “
Garner was interviewed by the BBC and CBS Evening News about the impact of the film. “He understood the art of watching the movie but always watched it through our readers,” LaCara said. “No wonder he foresaw what others didn’t.”
Garner began reviewing films for Democrat and Chronicle 1977, with the original Star Wars. A decade later, he was selected as the main film critic for Gannett magazines and submitted reviews for more than 100 magazines.
Jack Garner’s first view: 1977 review called “Star Wars” epic, mentioned potential sequel
Star Wars: Read all 6 Star Wars movie reviews by Jack Garner
He retired in 2007 but continued to write freelance art columns.
“His journalism resonated with both young and old because of his engaging attitude and his apparent love for the arts,” said the former Democrat and Chronicle managing editor Karen Magnuson. “When I saw him out in the community, he embraced everyone around him with great gusto. He was loved by everything he touched through his journalism and many other contributions.”
His close friend, before Democrat and Chronicle sports columnist Scott Pitoniak, became friends through the Buffalo Bills. Garner was a season ticket holder and fan.
“I would tell him, ‘This is better than the movies, Jack,'” Pitoniak said. “It’s like a drama, but the bills often have a sad ending.
“He was a journalistic giant and a prince of a man. He was as good a person as I have encountered in the industry. … You could talk about anything and everything with him and you would learn something you didn’t know before. “
Mr. Garner graduated from St. Bonaventure University and had a master’s degree from Syracuse University. He joined Rochester Times-Union 1970 and worked as a “rewrite” editor – a role where an individual collects incoming reports from a single event and weaves them into a story. Mr. Garner handled rewriting for some of Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage from Times-Union of the Attica Uprising 1971.
His book 2013, From my place at the time (he always needed a seat because of his height), published by RIT Press and contains some of his favorite reviews and stories about his interaction with Hollywood stars.
Garners has three children: Matthew Garner, married to Sonia; Erica, married to Ben Tremble; and Mary, married to Whitney Christian. They have six grandchildren.
His children gave thoughts about his father for a party event at the High Falls Film Festival once.
Among memories from Erica were: “Every night while my siblings and I were preparing the dinner table for dinner, it was my father’s job to pick out the music. We always had music playing in the background at noon. Our meals were accompanied by a large selection of artists who stretch be it from classical, jazz, blues and rock and roll …
“My birthday is just five days after my dad’s so many times during my lifetime, my birthday party was held on my dad’s actual birthday. During those times after all my guests would arrive, the first thing my dad did was pop the Beatles White album into the stereo and sing really loud “You say it’s your birthday, it’s my birthday too, yes.” I always got such a kick from the fact that it was true. “
Matthew, who is now an independent film editor, wrote: “At college I started trying to get a degree in English literature, I quickly learned that this was not necessarily the best for me and so my focus changed to art, photography and film. began to realize how much schooling I had at home in all these many years with my parents and dad specifically when it came to film.I not only had an incredible film library to review, but also an abundance of books, many of which could not have found in the college libraries. “
Mary wrote: “Especially Christmas Day, we would hear the same mix of Christmas albums on the way to chop down the tree and the same music Christmas morning. My brother, sister and I would wait at the top of the steps to wait for the song that was a signal to us to we had to go down and rip our socks off the chimney. When I was sick dad would always ask me what I wanted and usually buy one Crazy the magazine and my own package of Lorna Doone cookies, along with cough drops, soup and juice that my mom sent him to get me. “
Local jazz saxophonist Jimmie Highsmith Jr. remembered how enthusiastic he was when Mr. Garner reviewed one of his CDs positively. “The fact that Jack Garner wanted to write about me meant a lot to me,” he said.
“He wasn’t just a writer. He wasn’t just a reporter. He was part of this community in a big way.”
Contact Gary Craig at [email protected] or at 585-258-2479. Follow him on Twitter at gcraig1. This coverage is only possible with the support of readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.
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