Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

New film champions work of Vancouver celebrity chronicler Malcolm Parry

‘The Society Page’ has its broadcast premier on the Knowledge Network March 17, documenting the career of the charismatic photographer, columnist and magazine founder

For someone so drawn in by the stories of other people, Malcolm Parry isn’t very interested in his own.

It took filmmaker Kevin Eastwood years of pestering Parry, who lives in North Vancouver, before the founder and former editor of Vancouver Magazine and decades-long columnist at the Vancouver Sun finally agreed to be the subject of a documentary.

And that was only because Eastwood convinced him that the film would focus on his photography, rather than Parry himself.

Described as a “documentary portrait,” The Society Page has its broadcast premier on March 17 at 9:30 p.m. on the Knowledge Network, and will be available via the network’s streaming platform from then onwards.

For the most part, Eastwood stays true to his word, focusing the frame on what’s likely the most extensive archive of photography on the who’s who in Vancouver over the past 50 years.

Starting in the early 1990s, Parry would scoot from social event to social event, sussing out characters both likely and unlikely for his column in the Vancouver Sun. Much of the time, he’d capture them on a compact camera from a high angle looking down, from a couple feet away.

In the film, it’s described as the “Malcom Parry Shot.”

“They’re all pretty much the same photo taken hundreds of thousands of times over,” Parry said. “Nothing like Philippe Halsman … would shoot. What I do is glorified snapshots, and that’s about it. But turns out, I’m not too bad.”

For Parry’s portraits, it’s more about the subject than the presentation, and capturing a mood.

Celebrities less interesting than people you walk past on the street, Parry says

While his stock is littered with celebrities like Richard Branson, Pamela Anderson and Sarah Palin, Parry said he gets more enjoyment from the people you’d probably walk past on the street.

In the film, Vancouver drag performer Carlotta Gurl (Carl Mcdonald) and real estate agent Andrea Eng fondly recall their run-ins with Parry and the stories he wrote about them.

Gurl, who met Parry at a Hollywood-themed charity ball for cancer research, found her Marilyn Munroe impersonation featured in the centre of his Town Talk column. “He mentioned my name … and how I brought joy to people. I was very, very flattered,” Gurl said.

Eng, who says she was the first female commercial Realtor in North America, was wowed when Parry chose her for a story, and opened a gateway for more Chinese Canadians to be featured in the mainstream.

“He saw the depth of a community that had largely been ignored,” Eng said.

Parry gets people feeling really good about themselves, explains artist and writer Douglas Coupland. “He gets people just when they’re at their ripest moment,” he said on camera.

Vancouver Magazine started under five pen names

The documentary also contains revelations about the spurious if not ambitious origins of Vancouver Magazine.

In 1974, after convincing the owners of failing publication Vancouver Leisure to re-jig it as a “cheap copy of New York Magazine,” Parry found himself in charge of a magazine but without writers or photographers.

“So I turned the old [typewriter] crank and wrote the damn thing under five different bylines,” he said. Parry’s aliases included book reviewer Emery Brill, and conspicuously named golf writer Driver T. Niblick.

Flourished with stunning photography – achieved by feats such as Parry climbing to the top of Lions Gate Bridge for a wide angle shot of a bustling Burrard Inlet, or a controversial helicopter image of Wreck Beach – Vancouver Magazine climbed to distribution numbers in excess of 120,000, attracting significant advertising dollars from both international and local brands.

As the editor behind the thriving journal, Parry would also serve as a mentor and launch several significant careers. Those include the likes of animator and filmmaker Marv Newland, and Coupland.

After a successful 1987 assignment on “scoundrel” gallerist Doug Crismas, who was known at the time to be selling paintings that weren’t his own, Coupland became a regular writer for Vancouver Magazine.

Previously, Coupland himself didn’t consider himself a writer in any professional capacity, but Parry recognized something in him. “We’ve had other writers try and write about him but they don’t get art, so maybe you’re it,” Coupland recalls being told.

After turning in a “terrific” manuscript, Parry said: “I figured, ‘Well, this talented kid, we better keep him writing.’”

Coupland would go on to have a prolific writing career, which includes several novels, a column with the Financial Times, as well as regular contributions to The New York Times and Vice. Through his various works, he would help popularize terms such as “Generation X” and “McJob,” and earn honours including the Order of Canada.

Photography miraculous as a child 'and I still feel that to this day'

Going into filming, Eastwood – writer and director of The Society Page – knew Parry had taken many people’s photos, but the reality of the collection exceeded expectations.

“In the film Douglas Coupland says that Mac must have taken a million photos and I don’t think he’s far off,” Eastwood said. “When we think of the great photographers who recorded the faces of Vancouver’s history, we think of Yucho Chow, who took studio portraits from 1906 to 1949, and then Fonci Pulice who took street photos from 1934-1979.

“And I would argue that Malcolm Parry is next in line in that tradition, picking up essentially from when Foncie finished and going until now,” he said.

At the time of interview, Parry had not yet seen the documentary, but what stood out to him most during filming were his earliest memories of fascination with cameras.

Inspired by the images produced by his dad and great uncle, Parry’s interest in the medium was sparked at a very young age. At age 10, he began developing his own film with chemicals in a darkroom, and marvelling at the finished result.

“It was almost a mystery, almost miraculous that could happen,” he said. “And I still feel that to this day.”

[email protected]