The life of Jake Eberts, the film maker of Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, Black Robe, A River Runs Through It, and over 50 more films, of which 37 won Oscars and 4 won Oscars for best film, was celebrated in Montreal yesterday. He died six weeks ago of cancer at the age of 71.
I shall let the biographical information speak for the man himself. He was perhaps the most impressive person I ever met, Pierre Trudeau only in the same league. Jake was a good, good man with a clear moral purpose and no pretence to mortal superiority. They shared one thing, however: a blazing emanation of personal energy.
Jake’s life was celebrated in a charming and witty speech by his brother-in-law Tony Stikeman, who spoke of his many virtues, his boundless energy, and most of all, his absolute lack of pretension or self-importance. Jake always spoke of his career before film making at the age of 40 as a complete failure, and his career after that as a matter of luck. No one believed his success was luck.
His basic view was that no one in the film biz knew how to control the costs of making films. He did. He negotiated his costs with the zeal of a Scottish economist and made sure his films made money before they were even released. The result was that many investors could look at investing in a Jake Eberts film, even though his choice of scripts was often eclectic, obscure, or, scarier still, morally upright.
His choice of hymns spoke also of something of himself and the English Montreal from which he came, whose establishment packed the Presbyterian Cathedral full. It was William Blake’s “Jerusalem”.
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land
It occurred to me that English Montreal never got the memo that the British Empire was supposed to have been a bad thing. To hear one thousand people singing this in full voice would have sent Pauline Marois to hell in a jiffy, where she belongs.
Jake Eberts loved Canada and his home province with a passion. I salute you, friend, and hope the Quebec you so loved may eventually recover from its anglophobia.