O Canada

I watched “Waydowntown” last evening, between bouts of grading, which came upon me like the ague. Luckily, the film was funny, often clever, even well-shot. I write about it mostly to offer up a flick maybe you hadn’t heard of that’s worth a look-see; hell, I don’t even know how I heard about it. And then a word or two about Canadian film.

The plot: Office workers, young, full of either ennui or vinegary idealism or both. The narrator–our hero–often slips into surreal flights of fancy. There’s a few flashy camera tricks. Despite all that, the film is funny, understated. My favorite bits involve one worker’s increasing claustrophobia, and her attempts to find refreshment through magazine cologne ads. (The central conceit, as much of a plot as there is, is a bet between 4 workers about staying inside the connected tunnels of the downtown area for as long as possible.) I’m hesitant to say too much–it’s pleasures are limited but worthy. One of those small independent films that actually seems to be independent of trends, hipster style, flashy attempts to break out of the indie ghetto. Instead, it’s pretty comfortable about being the slight, subtle, focused character study it is.

And this gets me to Canadian film. I actually took a course as an undergrad in Canadian film, and we circled ’round notions of how a national culture shapes a visual and narrative aesthetic…. and that’s the last time I ever heard about a Canadian cultural aesthetic outside of the Mackenzie brothers, Margaret Atwood sniping in some review, and Conan O’Brien poking fun.

But there does potentially seem like there’s a there there; “Waydowntown” had a supporting role by Don McKellar, who has apparently received a Canadian Film Board grant obligating all Canuck filmmakers (even the resentful Quebecois) to put him in the movie, and McKellar has made two great little films that I know of: “Highway 61” and “Last Night.” The style of comedy isn’t as broad or incisive as SCTV… but it’s distinctively about three feet off-center, and it always takes me thirty minutes into one of his (or these) films to get the hang of the jokes.

I don’t know where I’m going here, except to ask: anyone got any great Canadian film suggestions? Anyone got any theses about Can. film? (I had/have one about Cronenberg’s horrific view of bodies disrupted from within as a sly metaphor about American culture, but my undergrad prof hated Cronenberg and constantly tried to get me to shut up.)

Denys Arcand, yeah yeah–sure. Bring him up too if you want. (And there’s this great Quebecois film I saw called “Pouvoir Intime” that was a great damn heist film, one of the finest I’ve seen–at least in my rosy memory–but I have never found it on vhs or dvd.)

6 thoughts on “O Canada”

  1. I desperately wanted to rise to the challenge of discussing Canadian film in a noble and well-informed way. I even looked at something online called “The Canadian Film Encyclopedia” in the hopes of jogging my memory. I only came up with these unremarkable observations. Hey, that guy Bob Clarke who made Porky’s is a Canadian. He made a horror film worth seeing called “Black Christmas” where you can see a young Andrea Martin, pre-SCTV. I’m not sure I’m a fan of Atom Egoyan based on the 3 films I’ve seen–Exotica, The Adjuster and The Sweet Hereafter–because all of the these feel a bit stilted and airless to me. am I wrong? I like David Cronenberg, and he makes a creepy guy in “Nightbreed.” (Is it in Dead Ringers that Jeremy Irons acquired the reputation for being, in Chris Rock’s words, a comedy genuis?). This Guy Maddin looks interesting, though I have not seen anything by him yet. My knowledge of Canadian film is hereby exhausted. Except to say here that when I was a kid and there was a rather fey unfunny cartoon on TV, it was inevitably produced by the “Canadian Film Board.”

  2. I”m a big fan of Guy Maddin, though there’s a certain sleepiness to the stories that is hard to get over. Movies that the box swears are only 90 minutes long seem to last for days; though it doesn’t keep me from watching them. After all, life’s too short – and this elongates it.

    He is, in my opinion, part of a real triumvarite of excellent Winnipeg artists: The Weakerthans (John K Samson’s band), painter/artist Marcel Dzama (recently co-opted by Beck for his new album cover), and Guy Maddin.

    Check out “Careful” by Maddin. It’s probably his most solid story; and visually – wow. If you like it, then there’s the recent “Saddest Music in the World” and “Archangel.” Best to stay away from the one with Shelly Duvall in it. Tales from the Gimli Hospital – his first underground hit – is his most David Lynch influenced piece. His filmed silent ballet of Dracula (seriously) is nice, but not my cup of tea.

    And for the faithful, please go out and buy and read his non-fiction book: From the Atelier Tovar. It’s very funny.

    Tom Waits is a big fan of his and narrated an excellent pseudo-documentary on him that I saw at a Maddin retrospective at the Egyptian… It’s not on DVD as far as I know, but was funny as hell.

  3. I’ll check out Maddin–surprisingly there are 7 different titles available at Netflix. He has an amusing brief column in Film Comment where he discusses neglected hollywood films he recommends. I will see “Saddest…” just for the single detail of seeing Isabella Rosselini as a beer baroness whose amputated legs are replaced by glass prosthetics filled with beer…mmmmmm, prosthetic beer.

  4. “the saddest music in the world” is very, very good. and i’m not saying that just because there’s a kid in the hall in it (two, if you count isabella rosselini, who is after all dave foley in drag).

  5. I wanted to like The Saddest Music in the World, but I grew bored. I like Madden’s short films better. And I think Egoyan’s Exotica is a truly remarkable film–one of the best films around. Has anyone seen Don McKellar’s satire of filmmaking entitled Childstar? It opened our local international film festival this past week but I missed it (did catch Royston Tan’s 15, a fantastically experimental portrait of nihilistic teens living on the edge in Singapore). Still, I’m very interested in Childstar for a variety of reasons.

  6. As I alluded to in my Maddin comment, boredom certainly comes into play (for me) in all of Maddin’s work. But then again, I get bored in every single silent film I watch – including the ones I love, and tend to get a little bored in any movie made before 1960 – including the ones I love. I lump Maddin’s work into those groups – I’ll get bored in them, and love them none the less.

    Same for Egoyan’s “Speaking Parts.” Mostly silent, got bored, but loved it. Cronenberg does not, as a rule, ever bore me, unless it is with a sharp instrument, through my skull.

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