A sought-after Canadian cinematographer, cinematographer and director Gord Langevin, who has worked on such classic films as Meatballs, Porky’s and A Christmas Story, got his start in film production in Toronto’s early days.
“Hollywood North was whisper in the ’70s, talk in the ’80s and roar in the ’90s,” says son Mike Langevin. “Gord was there from (his) childhood. Dad was a boy from Toronto, and working on movie sets all over the city was the perfect job. Many quarters were used by film crews for years before being converted into commercial or residential areas. Dad knew the city in a way that few people outside of film and television would.”
Born in Toronto East General Hospital to Cyril Langevin and his wife Helen (née Stephen), Gordon Reay Langevin was the first of the couple’s eight children. He and his siblings – Reasa, Owen, Steve, Andy, Emily, Arthur and Laura – grew up at The Beach and spent summers at the family’s cottage on Lake Rosseau in Muskoka, where Gord worked at a hardware store.
As a child, “he preferred his own company and the company of books,” says his mother, Helen Langevin. Bright and studious, Gord attended St. John’s Catholic School and Neil McNeil High School, where his father was a gym teacher.
A self-taught photographer, a teenage Gord who’s converted their shared basement bedroom into a darkroom, says Helen.
After graduating from Malvern Collegiate Institute in 1964, Gord worked as a bank teller at The Beach. He briefly attended Ryerson Polytechnical Institute for Photographic Art in the late 1960s, but dropped out to work at Filmhouse, where he developed film from film footage. He trained in the camera department before becoming a founding member of the International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE 667), where he served for the next four decades.
Gord worked his way through the ranks: as a folding loader, focus puller, cinematographer, cinematographer, and director. Because IATSE work is based on experience and seniority, Mike says a strong camera crew can be selected to move from show to show as a unit.
“Without measuring distance,” says Helen, “he had an impeccable eye and a reputation for focusing clearly and concisely.” So Gord and the rest of the crew of Porky’s (1981) were hired to work on A Christmas Story (1983), says Mike. (“A lot of people didn’t know these movies were Canadian,” he adds.)
Gord was cinematographer for the TV series “War of the Worlds” and directed episodes of “La Femme Nikita” and “Earth: Final Conflict”. His work took him across Canada and into the Arctic. He learned to scuba dive for underwater footage, conducted early crash tests with helicopter-mounted cameras, and skied for footage in the Rocky Mountains.
Gord became friends with William Shatner while working on the TekWar series in the mid-’90s. “Bill was chartering sailboats in Toronto Harbor over the weekend and was delighted to find out Dad was a sailor too,” says Mike. He has also worked with Robert Mitchum (“a surreal experience because he was an old Hollywood royalty and his father watched him in the movies”), Jack Lemmon, Michael J. Fox, Bill Murray and Tommy Lee Jones.
The other crew members were like family to Gord. “Real tears shed at the end of a long project,” says Mike. “People bond because they work so closely together and overcome all kinds of challenges.”
Although show business was prestigious and often exciting (“being in the camera department meant you were in the middle of the action,” says Mike), Gord worked hard and was at the mercy of the elements. “You can be out 14 hours in cold or rainy weather, or in the sun in mid-July,” says Mike. “Dad always kept a down parka, a full rain suit, including boots, and several changes of clothes in the trunk of his car.”
Despite his work — and his role as a judge for the Genie Awards — Gord lived in relative anonymity. “People who work behind the camera don’t expect to be recognized,” says Mike. “Father said, ‘Our job is to make famous people look great while being invisible.'”
Gord’s influence made the film industry a family affair. His father Cyril became a props master; Brother Owen, a sound engineer; Andy, a camera and electrical engineer; and Art, a special effects engineer.
Gord also encouraged the creativity of his son Mike (born 1979), his former wife Mary Philips, and later his grandsons Calvin and Melody. “There was no shortage of musical instruments or lessons, and we always dabbled in storytelling and photography,” says Mike, who visited his father on film sets as a child and became a television producer and editor. “He showed me that a creative passion can also be turned into a profession.” Despite this, Gord never thought of himself or his work as extraordinary. “He and his brothers were all very quick to say it’s all about making movies, not saving lives.”
But for all his humbleness, Gord left a lasting impression on the Canadian film industry. “Toronto’s growth as a global film destination is not only credited to creative visionaries like Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg and Sarah Polley, but also to the world-class crews who help bring their vision to life,” says Mike. “Father trained the camera department under him to meet the highest technical standards that rival any crew anywhere in the world. Many people who worked with him continue to work in the industry on top-notch productions.
“Hollywood North grew from humble beginnings into the billion-dollar industry it is today thanks to talented crews made up of the likes of Gord Langevin.”
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