Monday, January 30, 2012
WAKE IN FRIGHT (aka OUTBACK) - This extraordinary classic Australian film by the acclaimed Canadian director Ted Kotcheff ("The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz"), was, at a mere 30-years-old, a Cannes Palme D'Or nominee and the first film to revitalize Down Under as an important force in cinema, was ONE WEEK AWAY FROM HAVING ITS ORIGINAL NEGATIVES DESTROYED.
Wake in Fright – also known as: Outback (1971) Dir. Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Al Thomas, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle and Sylvia Kay
By Greg Klymkiw
It seems unthinkable in this day and age of film preservation and restoration that a motion picture classic made – not during the silent period of the early 20th century, but in 1971, a Cannes Palme D’Or nominee no less, and often cited (along with Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout from the same year) as the beginning of Australia’s revitalization as a filmmaking force – was one week away from having all of its original negative elements destroyed. After a two-year search all over the world at his own expense, the film’s editor Anthony Buckley finally discovered the elements in the bowels of the CBS vaults in Pittsburgh (no less) in a pile of items marked to be “junked” (industry parlance for “destroyed”) and, I reiterate, ONE WEEK from the date he found them.
Because of his Herculean efforts as well as the frame-by-frame restoration by the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia and Deluxe Labs, Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (released outside of Australia as Outback) has a new lease on life – to shock and mesmerize audiences all over the world. Screened at Cannes in May of 2009 (only one of two features ever to be screened on two separate occasions at Cannes) and in a special presentation featuring Kotcheff in a personal dialogue on the film at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, Wake in Fright stands as one of the most powerful explorations of male savagery in the context of a topography that seems as rugged and barren as the surface of the Moon. In a world of Samuel Fuller and Sam Peckinpah, Kotcheff’s brilliant film holds its own.
I first saw the movie when I was about 13 or 14 years old as Outback during a late night showing on the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) when, during this time, Canadian content guidelines allowed for the broadcast of ANY film that came from Britain’s Commonwealth to meet said guidelines. (Because of this, we saw some really fine movies and TV series during the 60s and 70s.) It was a movie that completely bewildered and obsessed me. Even a full frame standard telecine transfer did not detract from its strangeness, its terrible and terrifying beauty and its depiction of a world so foreign to my own, yet seeming to be imbued with a quality that suggested to me, even then, that what I was seeing was the stuff of life itself. For over thirty years I looked and waited, seemingly in vain, to see it again. To think I almost didn’t have that opportunity because of the aforementioned disappearance and death sentence is now, after seeing it again much older and (hopefully) wiser (on a big screen in a pristine, lovingly restored 35mm print), makes me feel like I have been witness to a miracle.
And what a miracle this movie is! Kotcheff, the Canadian born, raised and trained director (trained via and not unlike Norman Jewison, within the legendary CBC television drama department of the late 50s and early 60s), has made his fair share of good pictures – most notably the Berlin Golden Bear Award winner The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the droll Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? and the first and, by far, the best of the Rambo pictures First Blood – but nothing in his canon comes close to the mind boggling perfection of Wake in Fright.
Stunningly photographed by Brian West, the picture opens on one spot of the desolation that is the outback of Australia and the camera proceeds to do a slow 360 degree turn – shocking us with the reality that the land is the same whichever direction one looks and that it seems to go on forever. Into this environment we’re introduced to the impeccably groomed and fussily attired schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who is about to leave the two-building rail town for a much-needed vacation to Sydney.
Grant describes his position as being enslaved to the Ministry of Education as they have required all new teachers to post a one-thousand-dollar bond to ensure they serve their entire first term in the most desolate postings imaginable. During a stopover in the bleak mining town of Bundanyabba, Grant meets Jock (played by legendary Aussie actor Chips Rafferty), an amiable policeman who plies him with beer and gets him into a card game where he loses all of his money. Stranded, perpetually drunk and eventually and brain-numbingly hung-over, Grant is hosted by a motley crew of locals (several hard drinking macho men and one extremely horny single female) who proceed to take him into the very heart of the Australian darkness.
Grant is practically force-fed steady supplies of beer, seduced by the lonely woman (which is scuttled when he pukes while trying to penetrate her), taken on a mad, drunken and vicious kangaroo hunt and finally locked in a sweaty, smelly and almost violently homoerotic coupling with the mad alcoholic doctor Tydon (a malevolent Donald Pleasance).
At first, we are shown a passive observer, but as the film progresses, he regresses to the same savage state as the men he initially holds his nose up to and he decidedly and actively engages in acts so barbaric that he is forced to confront his inner demons to the point where he is sickened to the point of contemplating suicide.
Not unlike the world of playwrights Eugene O’Neill and Edward Albee, we find ourselves in the realm of alcohol-fueled depravity and game playing. Like any respectable Walpurgisnacht, booze is sloshed into empty cups with abandon and full cups are drained greedily, but these pagans who celebrate ARE the tortured spirits walking amongst the living and any bonfires they create seemed to be aimed squarely at themselves. Furthermore, the movie presents a “Paradise Lost” situation where depravity is merely presented and much like John Milton’s “hero”, Grant makes a conscious choice to immerse himself in the foul macho shenanigans like a pig in shit.
This is one daring, nasty piece of work and without question, the movie Kotcheff will ultimately be best remembered for. He not only elicits fine performances from a stellar cast, but his mise-en-scene is pretty much perfect.
It’s also no coincidence that he is Canadian and perhaps the perfect director outside of Australia to have tackled this story so rooted in that nation’s pathology. Given that the vast majority of Canada’s population resides within 100 kms along the Canadian and U.S. border, the rest of this vast country north of the 49th parallel is not unlike the world of the Australian outback. (To all non-Canadians: just think of a land populated by SCTV’s hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie – seemingly benign, but below the simpleton surface, a roiling, frustrated, angry, bitter nation of moose-hunting psychopaths.)
As well, it is no surprise that it was Anthony Buckley, the editor of the film, who searched high and low for the lost negative elements, since the cutting in this picture has few equals. For the most part, things are delivered at a steady, unobtrusive pace, but when we’re in the territory of dreams or overtly physical action, the editing veers from measured to positively Eisensteinian. At times, the action borders on the hypnotic, while at other points, it’s as jarring and disturbing as the images and action engaged in by the characters.
This action, as designed by director Kotcheff, is expertly blocked. His shot choices are impeccable and most importantly, he seems perfectly at home in capturing the claustrophobic nature of both barren exteriors and interiors – where the only way to break free is to rage against the dying of the light that has, for the characters who populate this world, become life itself.
This picture rages, alright!
It’s one hell of a ride and we’re all the better for it.
Sadly, the movie appears to not be available on any home entertainment format outside of Australia. A PAL version is available here:
Here is an extended item from Australian television:
Sunday, January 29, 2012
MONSIEUR LAZHAR - French Canada's Oscar Nominee is a crock; an entertaining and well acted crock, but a crock nevertheless.
Monsieur Lazhar (2011) dir. Phillipe Falardeau
Starring: Fellag, Émilien Néron, Sophie Nélisse, Danielle Proulx
By Greg Klymkiw
When a popular teacher in a Montreal public elementary school commits suicide, she is replaced by the title character Monsieur Lazhar (Fellag), an Algerian immigrant who helps the children heal while hiding his own political refugee status as well as the fact that his wife and children were murdered by extremist terrorists in his home country.
Lazhar blends "old world" teaching methods with clearly personal and unconventional approaches. He eschews curriculum in favour of both practical AND philosophical areas more suited to genuinely providing deeper learning to kids who have clearly been traumatized by this horrific action. His insistence upon using Balzac for dictation opens up areas of learning that otherwise would have been ignored. This even inspires a gifted young student, his pet, to suggest he try using Jack London's immortal "White Fang" instead of the Balzac. This is one of many lovely details that desperately compel one to forgive the serious storytelling flaws that keep the film from attaining the greatness it should otherwise have attained.
The kids fall in love with this rascally Algerian and so do we. (There's also a delightful sub-plot where one of his colleagues falls for him romantically.) A large part of the character's winning qualities are due to Fellag's exquisite performance. Lazhar's good humour, his zest for teaching, his love of children are all worn on this magnificent actor's sleeve whilst he alternately displays, deep in his eyes, the pain of loss that haunts him.
The hurt the kids feel from the suicide of their teacher is tackled by Lazhar's sensitive handling of the problem. He makes a difference in their lives - he's a teacher AND a friend.
This all sounds like perfect Oscar bait to me: Immigrant mends his broken heart by mending the broken hearts of children. And sure enough, the movie has garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film, a whack of Genie Award (Canada's "Oscar") nominations, a spot on the TIFF Canada Top Ten, glowing reviews, The Toronto Film Critics prize for Best Canadian feature film and excellent box office. The movie is well made in so many respects (lovely mise-en-scene, great performances all around and a heart nestled firmly in the right place), but the story itself is rife with far too many lapses in logic and/or credibility for the movie to be taken seriously as anything but a feel-good wallow for the less-discriminating.
Lazhar's journey allows HIM to live with the pain and guilt he feels for his own family being slaughtered by extremists in Algeria and make no mistake - this NOTION is profoundly moving, but it's an element of the tale that sadly loses the depth it could have had.
The narrative's first major stumbling block occurs early on when it is revealed that there are no takers for the replacement position because of the perceived stigma attached to replacing a teacher who has hung herself in her own classroom. This plot detail stunned me. Things might be different in La Belle Province, but given the fact that there are jobless teachers all over the country who can't get work, let alone steady work, it's pretty much impossible to buy that the school's principal (Danielle Proulx) can't fill the open spot.
Granted, things in Quebec tend to march to the beat of their own drum more than in English Canada (or for that matter, the rest of the world), but given the strength of unions - particularly teaching unions - issues of seniority, etc. would definitely come into play here no matter what the circumstance.
I also grant that over ten years ago there was a weird generational cusp period all over North America where a teacher shortage did indeed exist and substitute teachers with little or no qualifications were hired at the discretion of principals in emergency situations. The movie appears to be contemporary and if, at any point it emphasizes being set during the turn of the new millennium, it does so rather ineffectively.
Here's the problem with such a lack of attention to these details. All the aforementioned speed bumps paraded through my thoughts while watching the movie and severely impeded my ability to go with the flow.
Further to the above, then, is that Lazhar is hired by merely dropping off his resume, expressing an emphatic interest in teaching AND the fake excuse the movie delivers about not being able to find a replacement for the teacher who snapped her neck. Again, the requirements to get a teaching job with any school board are so stringent and the hiring process so carefully regulated, that this is absolutely impossible to swallow. (Sure, stuff can slip through the cracks, but for this to register narratively in a believable manner, would have required a much more careful set-up.)
Other impediments to the flow of the drama are the fact that Lazhar is required to do is fill out some Ministry forms shoved at him by the principal and that while awaiting a ruling from the courts as to his eligibility to be considered a landed immigrant on the basis of political asylum, he seems to be completely oblivious to the seriousness of misrepresenting himself in order to get a job as a teacher. Astonishingly, we know early on that he actually ran a restaurant in Algeria and that his late wife was, in fact, a teacher. Surely such an understandable need to continue her work in the "new world" is a lovely character-touch, but is not at all exploited for its value in terms of both the moral issue of misrepresentation and the tension/conflict this could have added to the narrative.
Some might argue that all movies (and all stories, for that matter) require - to certain degrees - a suspension of disbelief. Yes, true; to an extent. But given that the above elements are so huge, so overwhelming that no matter how beautifully acted and directed the proceedings are, no matter how exquisite individual scenes and sequences are, no matter how important the themes of healing and acceptance are - if a movie doesn't do its job and address narrative elements that have so much potential to provide stumbling blocks, then the picture is not doing its job - period.
I'm willing to concede that this problem might have more to do with the original source material used to adapt the tale to film. Evelyne de la Cheneliere's play "Bachir Lazhar", a one-man show, would have been written closer to the period when a teaching shortage existed. That this appears to have been completely ignored in the film's journey from stage to screen is, however, a major lapse.
Given director Falardeau's welcome lack of the annoying Quebecois stylistic excess of the majority of the province's artier fare and his attempt to provide a mise-en-scene that's rooted in reality, it's shocking to me that the screenplay never bothered to address any of the above issues in any serious fashion. I still can't, for the life of me, figure out (or buy) how Lazhar got the job in light of everything detailed above.
As the movie unfolds, it's very hard to just sit back and enjoy the movie. I'd argue these holes and unaddressed issues would have all been easy fixes. In fact, if more had been made of the fact that Lazhar had to have brazenly and intentionally falsified his qualifications, there might even have been added elements of suspense in terms of his courtroom battle to gain political refugee status.
If Monsieur Lazhar was some Hollywood nonsense like Dangerous Minds, it might have been a bit easier to swallow, but because Falardeau is clearly a gifted filmmaker dealing with a story infused with important thematic issues of healing in a world so rife with strife, the narrative flaws are a bitter pill. It is not only hard to swallow, but ultimately, impossible to swallow. The movie tries to shove an oversized horse pill down our throats and in so doing, inspires our collective gag reflexes to work overtime.
So much in this film is so beautiful and yet, in spite of a desire to fall in love with it, I was unable to do so because of its sloppy storytelling.
That said, the tale's dishonesty might be enough to win it a surprise Oscar over the powerful Iranian favourite A Separation. Such a win, however, might well open the floodgates for more of the same. This will be a good thing, if any subsequent works inspired by Monsieur Lazhar take better care addressing basic issues of logic.
"Monsieur Lazhar" is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar and currently in theatrical release via e-One. In Toronto, it is playing to sellout houses at the Toronto International Film Festival TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) CTT (Canada's Top Ten) has just wrapped its run at TIFF Bell LightBox and the Genie Award Nominations for outstanding achievement in Canadian Film have just been announced. This should be a time of celebration, but a dark cloud is hanging over these events and raining on the parade. In a country where the largest, most powerful "Canadian-owned" exhibition chain refuses to uphold its corporate responsibility to Canadian Culture, every little bit helps.
WITHER CANADIAN CINEMA?
CELEBRATION, PLEASE - NOT CASTIGATION!
CINEPLEX ENTERTAINMENT IS ALREADY DOING
A VERY GOOD JOB IN THE LATTER DEPARTMENT!
By Greg Klymkiw
When the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell LightBox presented a week-long celebration of Canadian cinema earlier this month - screening all the features and shorts selected in its annual Canada's Top Ten (CTT) - a number of print and online articles sparked a flurry of hot debate on such social networking sites as Twitter and Facebook. I can also attest to such conversations being hotly debated in any number of face-to-face social situations. Canadian filmmakers have much time on their hands to debate such matters. ("I'm between films," was the oft-heard remark prefacing most verbal trashing of TIFF's CTT.)
No sooner did the dust clear from those debates when rumblings began to surface from within the roiling volcano of Canuckle industry pundits and players. On the eve of the big day when The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) would announce nominations for the 32nd annual Genie Awards (Canada's - ahem - "Oscars"), ruminations of the same kind began to surface.
Would the new ACCT head honcho Helga Stephenson (former TIFF topper), a leaner (and supposedly meaner) Board of Directors, as well as substantial amendments to the Genie Awards entry fees and qualifications actually make a difference in rendering the awards relevant to Canadians outside of the movie business? (Or, for that matter, anyone living north of Dupont Street in downtown Toronto?)
Well, scrutiny and slags are just fine, but I have to admit that far too many pundits and players in Canada (including, sadly, more said players and pundits who really ought to know better) seem, I think, to be looking in the wrong directions to level their volleys of criticism. TIFF's CTT and the ACCT Genie Awards are not it.
In English Canada, there is one primary target: Cineplex Entertainment. The "Canadian" exhibition chain owns and/or controls more screens than anyone in the country. They'll always argue that their only concern is the stockholders and that they'll play any Canadian movie as long as it makes money. That's all well and good when it comes to no-brainer programming choices like the start-studded Cronenberg spanking-fest A Dangerous Method and others of this ilk (no matter how acclaimed or not they might be), but what about the rest of the product?
A secondary target for scrutinous ire-infused debate on the state of Canada's domestic motion picture product is the gaggle of domestic film distributors that adhere to the status quo, but in all fairness to them, they're only going to spend money on the marketing necessary to keep the product on screens if they actually GET screens. Cineplex Entertainment is stingy with those. They have far too many Hollywood movies to play (often to empty or near-empty houses given the ridiculous number of screens said product hogs).
There's no two ways about it. English Canadian cinema lags far behind other indigenous industries outside of North America in terms of audience support for its own work. Canadian audiences are not quick to embrace their own cinema, but in order to embrace it at all, the work needs venues. This, of course, is not (and has never been) a problem in Quebec as the province has had very stringent guidelines regarding Quebec-based distributors and a more-than-level playing field for the exhibition of French-language product - thus allowing for the development of audiences ravenous for homegrown movies.
I'd also argue it's not necessarily always the fault of the product, either. Many decent, perfectly entertaining and/or artistically challenging movies get little chance to be seen.
If screens cannot be secured and held onto, there is no real way to adequately develop an interest in domestic product. Until Cineplex Entertainment gets off its lazy corporate duff and waggles its piggy tail in the direction of Canadian cinema and - even at a loss - does its corporate duty with respect to AGGRESSIVELY making DECENT screens available to said product, thus fulfilling their responsibility in supporting cultural initiatives in this country, then things are going to continue their snail-paced incremental changes.
Until Cineplex Entertainment does the right thing, any efforts that can be made to promote Canadian cinema must be welcomed and supported.
This is where TIFF's CTT and the Genie Awards come in - promotion and celebration!!!
End of story.
Does this mean both entities are above scrutiny? Of course, not. However, I'm not sure the scrutiny applied in recent weeks has proven all that effective other than getting noses already out of joint - out of joint even further.
And for what?
With TIFF's CTT, the first volley in print came from film critic Norman Wilner in that pseudo-left-wing-rag I (stereotypically, but genuinely) use to line my budgie cage when I can't get enough free copies of the Toronto Star (the latter being freely dispensed at flea markets, home shows and, on occasion, WalMart). Wilner's piece asserted that "the problem" with TIFF's CTT is "a larger tendency in Canadian cinema" to elevate "our filmmakers to Great Cultural Hopes as soon as they wow a festival or win a prize, never reassessing them once they’re up."
When they're up?
From what? Bed? An erection? A snort of coke?
Wilner attempts to elaborate on the aforementioned thesis (as it were) by suggesting that "when someone like Cronenberg has an off year, his picture still gets in because the potential media outcry if we exclude the country’s most esteemed working filmmaker would be unimaginable."
I doubt anyone WOULD raise much of a hue and cry when a genuinely dreadful (or even good) picture is excluded. That includes Cronenberg. Wilner does, however, offer-up an interesting question that might have had more weight (and reason for serious analysis) if he'd bothered to elaborate properly on how or why he believes a "potential media outcry" would occur.
Wilner's question is thus: "But what if that exclusion led to an honest conversation about the way the Canadian entertainment media pander to the idea of national treasures?"
For the life of me, I can't even begin to fathom why Canadian critics were so kind to Paul Gross' execrable Passchendaele. This is a movie that deserved to be laughed off by every critic with anything resembling taste, intelligence and/or self-respect.
The movie STUNK!
End of story.
The domestic boxoffice gross for Passchendaele (such as it was) was bought and paid for with a whole lot of tax dollars (directly and indirectly), so I doubt one can genuinely say the picture was a hit. And to reiterate, it was equally disturbing that most of Canada's critics didn't use their prose to wipe Gross' shit from their collective asses instead of politely spreading the falsehood that it was a noble effort worth seeing.
Wilner uses Passchendaele, along with Barney's Version as examples of the sort of Cunuckle-headed movies that "were at best competent stabs at complex material that desperately needed an artistic vision behind them" and cites the ludicrous "buzz" on both that was "whipped up by friendly newspapers for months before the films reached theatres, the better to convince the public that seeing these films was an act of patriotism."
That said, it still doesn't adequately support his notion that the exclusion of those films on the CTT would have caused explosive jets of indignant diarrhea from the media. Those critics who shamed themselves by being polite to Passchendaele were, no doubt, secretly delighted (save for the brain dead amongst them) that someone had the guts to ignore it and I cannot locate an even passing mention criticizing the film's exclusion from the CTT. (That the miserably directed Barney's Version secured a CTT nod will always be beyond me, but I suspect not too many would have cried foul if it HAD been excluded.)
Paul Corupe's Canuxploitation! site appears to side with Wilner unequivocally, going so far to title its analysis of the CTT "Canada's Token 10?" Corupe proclaims: "If you only read one article about the Top 10, make it Norman Wilner’s recent piece for Toronto alt-weekly NOW, 'Canuck Conundrum,' which takes issue with the TIFF panel’s reliance on established and celebrated Canadian directors–even when their latest work is not considered up to par."
Corupe elevates Wilner's piece in lofty enough terms that I'm reminded (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) of Pauline Kael comparing the New York Film Festival's premiere of Last Tango in Paris to the unveiling of Le Sacre du Printemps.
In fairness to Wilner, he does indeed cite David Cronenberg's loathsome A Dangerous Method for what it is and calls it "a dud", but again, this does little to PROPERLY support his assertion that its exclusion from the CTT would have raised media ire.
I do agree most wags would certainly have been tut-tutting, but the bigger and more interesting question is, why did critics (not just in Canada) rave about this movie? In a sense, A Dangerous Method is not unlike an eager Bukkake recipient of critical, egghead and arthouse-snob jets of spunk, splashing ever-so voluminously upon its greedy face and into its wide open mouth.
(Oh, and as a side note, allow me to clarify that I use the term "arthouse-snob" to describe pseuds who don't REALLY like art films, but prefer movies that make them THINK they're seeing art.)
Look, there's no way this movie would have been excluded from the CTT - none! The buzz on the picture has been extremely positive world wide. IF all the aforementioned loved the movie as much as they did, there's no way in hell the CTT jury wouldn't have also. A Dangerous Method is no Passchendaele. Tons of people loved the former all over the world, whilst the latter drew mostly polite accolades domestically and derision and/or indifference everywhere else. And frankly, in spite of the fact that Wilner acknowledges that A Dangerous Method is "inert and schematic and doesn’t illuminate its subject" (in addition to the aforementioned "dud" declaration), I'd argue he's being as polite as all those other Canucks who politely hailed Passchendaele when he says that Cronenberg's snore-fest is "a stately and well-acted drama".
Hey, that's reason enough for movies to win Oscars.
(The King's Speech, anyone?)
For his part, Corupe cites "Peter Morris’ essential 1994 article "In Our Own Eyes: The Canonizing of Canadian Film” [which] asks some worthy questions about the way certain kinds of Canadian films have been canonized over the last few decades while others, many equally deserving, are brushed aside. Imagine, for example, an alternate Canadian film landscape where John Paizs’ superior Crime Wave scooped the 1985 Best Picture Genie from the actual winner, the far less essential My American Cousin.
I am probably one of Paizs' biggest champions. I've seen Crime Wave more times that I can easily remember. Its genius, humour and innovation have few equals in Canada and most importantly, Paizs paved the way for an entire generation of Canadian filmmakers with his indie-minded vision. Even Guy Maddin will admit how much of his career he owes to John Paizs.
While Corupe's comment is clearly focusing on the landscape that might well have been affected by such a win (and not suggesting that the movie necessarily should have won the Genie), I suspect that the Genie-snubbing of Paizs and many of those who followed him is part of what contributes to a vibrant counter-culture. Alas, many whacko indie-minded Canuck films found much more eager audience support outside Canada's borders and in spite of the unquestionable brilliance of Crime Wave, I suspect its magnificent pop-culture sensibilities derived from such deliciously oddball sources as 50s crime pulp mixed with the bizarre Canadian tradition of National Film Board and corporate filmmaking kept it from exploding in the same European territories that many other indie Canuckle pics did. It was bereft - thankfully - of snob appeal and it truly found its way into the world as cult film via homevideo during a strange period (the 80s and 90s) when many THEATRICAL venues for cult product were closing down or changing their programming strategies to be second run cinemas.
That said, it ultimately wasn't necessary for a movie like Crime Wave, which will be revered and remembered when most Canadian films are rendered to a slag heap, to win a Genie Award. Paizs, and by extension, Crime Wave, having to join any club that would have someone like him or his film as a member seems unthinkable. Besides, I don't recall David Lynch's Eraserhead, John Waters' Pink Flamingos or Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat Kill Kill winning any Oscars. They will, however, live a whole lot longer than, say, The King's Speech.
I agree wholeheartedly with Wilner when he says: "When we exalt filmmakers into icons, we stop seeing them as artists who have hits and misses. If you can do no wrong, you can never be challenged, and any perceived failings in your work must be the failings of the audience." Hell, I'm more than guilty on that front when it comes to John Ford - I even like Seven Women for Christ's sake!
Bottom line: Those who love film ALWAYS tend to "exalt filmmakers into icons" and there are any number of filmmakers on the CTT list who, frankly, deserve it. (For me, it's Guy Maddin. Yeah-yeah, full disclosure: I'm an old friend and produced some of his movies. Big deal. I love them all. Well, maybe all save for one, but I'm not telling.) Hell, even Wilner acknowledges that Cronenberg is "a legitimate artist and a Canadian treasure... [and looks forward] to each new project that bears his name, and always will."
All that said, there aren't enough of us who hate A Dangerous Method and can see it for what it really is and that alone, I suspect, is what DEMANDS inclusion on the CTT list.
Wilner is completely off-base when he states: "Pretending it’s one of the year’s best films does no one any favours. It just makes it look like TIFF is playing favourites – and why wouldn’t they? Cronenberg’s name guarantees media coverage."
Who, pray tell, is pretending?
Most of Wilner's colleagues, domestically and internationally think it's one of the year's best. Do you really think THEY are playing favourites? No. As wrong-headed as they might be on this one, the accolades all seem genuine. Why then would Wilner assert that TIFF is playing favourites by including it on the CTT? As for the media coverage, Cronenberg's movie had ALREADY been afforded plenty of support long before the CTT was announced.
Corupe asserts "that Morris’ notion is taking on extra importance this year, perhaps due to an increasing disconnect between 'officially' canonized CanCon and the varied Canadian films that audiences (and, obviously, more vocal critics) now want to see. It may also be a symptom of frustration with the way Canadian film industry is portrayed so reductively by lists and award shows–they seem to infer that the only game in town is a handful of the same old established icons."
Sorry, I'm not swallowing that one. How does this differ in any other country? It doesn't.
Corupe offers up the old "national insecurity" argument to condemn the notion that Canada "reassures" itself that our "filmmakers are global leaders" by "awarding them the same homegrown prizes every few years". Ho-hum. That's as boringly Canadian as the assertions made by all of the other CTT critics.
Wilner, however, astutely asserts "that leaving out a lesser work by an established filmmaker might actually generate a conversation this country needs to have about how we see our cinema." Yeah, it would, but I just don't see how this has happened with the 2011 CTT? Other than A Dangerous Method, which really isn't a good example to boost this argument, Wilner dashes off Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz as being "problematic but genuinely felt" and dismisses its inclusion as being merely the result of "star power".
Other than Polley and Cronenberg, Wilner's piece offers no real backup to the assertions he makes that "lesser work" was included in the CTT. (I agree the Cronenberg stinks, but its inclusion makes sense and frankly, I think Polley's film is terrific and a much braver work than the universally loved Away From Her.)
Corupe seems to extol the flawed arguments in Wilner's article whilst reporting upon "a panel discussion on TIFF’s picks, as published on Cinema Scope magazine’s blog. The participants only briefly touch on the idea of 'pandering' that Wilner notes, with AV Club Toronto editor John Semely again singling out A Dangerous Method as a curious selection, but the bulk of the conversation questions TIFF’s canonization of certain types of films over others, and even suggests that TIFF’s list is behind the curve of contemporary filmmaking trends."
A Dangerous Method is, according to John Semley, a "curious selection"? I reiterate: there's enough reason to suggest it isn't.
When Corupe reports upon the Cinemascope panel suggestion that the CTT titles are "behind the curve of contemporary filmmaking trends", I can only, ladies and gentlemen, present you with the dull, predictable 2012 Academy Awards nominations. Token nods to the genuinely great Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, nothing for Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, dick-all for Roman Polanski's Carnage, a completely disgraceful shutout for 50/50 (which boasted one of the best screenplays in years) and nary a wisp of acknowledgment in the direction of truly ahead-of-the-curve works as Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s Carré blanc, Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea, Scott Leberecht's Midnight Son, William Friedkin's Killer Joe, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter (I mean really! A nomination for Jean Dujardin's prancing, preening pantomime over Michael Shannon for Best Actor?) and among many, many others, Lucky McKee's The Woman.
How is it, again, that the CTT choices are "behind the curve of contemporary filmmaking trends" when one can compile several lists of a myriad of films that have NOT been acknowledged by the Oscars this (or any) year (and, for that matter, any number of critical Ten Best lists that stuck like flies to shit on mostly tried and true stodge-fests)?
Christ, at least the CTT has Guy Maddin's Keyhole on it. Whether anyone loves it or hates it, the movie is definitely ahead of the curve. There's NOTHING out there like it.
For his part, Wilner too swims in the same waters as Corupe and the Cinemascope panel on this. He states that "Far too often, we assign merit to a project based on the talent attached or the source material." We? We, who? Canadians? Uh, I think not, Norm. To the former, I give you the undeserved Jeff Bridges Oscar nod for Crazy Heart and for the latter, allow me to provide you my almost foolproof method of picking winners in the Best Short Drama or Short Documentary Oscars (none of which I ever see prior to the Awards telecast). I read the synopses and look for subjects that include - in this order - the Holocaust, the environment and the homeless.
This is not a Canadian problem. In fact, I'm not even sure it IS a problem.
It's just the way things are.
Wilner's article also opened the other tin of that dreaded clostridium botulinum bacteria - the much-hated (mostly, it would seem, by me) notion that we must always be celebrating what's new and fresh. Give me a break. I'm not just being a curmudgeon here when I say how sick and tired I am of every Tom, Dick and Harry going out of their way to extol the virtues of the new and unsung. Wilner suggests he'd "much rather see an awards list that celebrates the actual passion expressed by younger, hungrier filmmakers" and cites the CTT-acknowledged "first-timers" Nathan (Edwin Boyd) Moraldo and Jason (Hobo With a Shotgun) Eisener as worthy inclusions on this list. Maybe so, but I'd argue that both films, whatever their merits, are NOT the sort of cutting-edge first features worthy of citation based on the "passionate" ideals of "younger" and "hungrier". If these are criterion by which to present lists of the "best", where then are the works of the truly mad geniuses comprising that Winnipeg-spawned filmmaking collective Astron-6? These psychos gave us the magnificent bum-blasting $10,000-budgeted splatter-fest of the funniest and highest order Father's Day and the phenomenally imaginative and hilarious $1000-budgeted (!!!!!) Manborg. (Full disclosure: I don't personally know any of these miscreants of cinema brilliance who hail from Winnipeg, but I AM from Winnipeg and have, like every member of the Astron-6 collective, consumed the drinking water from all those 'Peg pipes laden with delicious and nutricious asbestos.)
Besides, there's a reason more established filmmakers with a great track record are oft-cited in such lists. They've got more than "hunger", "youth" and "passion" on their side, they've generally got the sort of life experience and canon of work that yields movies that end up, more often than not, being imbued with a universality that extends well beyond the ephemeral frissons that tub-thumpers for "new and fresh" ignore. (For example, I've had my fair share of problems with centenarian filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira's recent output, but it ultimately speaks with the voice of experience and I'll take his flawed work over the best of some snazzy young turk with very little to say - ANYTIME!)
Hell, even most of the predictable Oscar nominees (including ones I hate) are, at the very least, ABOUT something.
Corupe, wisely notes that the CTT has often acknowledged very cool Canuckle genre fare. As a genre geek, I've ALWAYS appreciated this. I, however, did (as noted above) not register surprise over the inclusion of Hobo With a Shotgun - compared to the work of Astron-6, the movie is extremely conventional. I also did a major double-take when, during the Cinemascope roundtable, The Grid's Jason Anderson lamented the absence of The Corridor - this was hardly the paragon of genre excellence some might think it is. I mean, come on - a bunch of smelly guys in a cabin in the woods inspired to kill each other by some mysterious force? Dullsville, baby, Dullsville. And nary a single babe to spice up the proceedings.
I certainly do share Wilner's shock at the CTT exclusion of Ingrid Veninger's phenomenal i am a good person/i am a bad person and certainly it's a better movie than A Dangerous Method or Starbuck, but here's one thing that needs to be addressed: LISTS ARE SUBJECTIVE!
End of story.
In fact, the way in which the CTT is administered seems really fair. There isn't a single person on the jury who shouldn't be there. This year's crop of jury members seemed especially stellar and more than up to the task. As Curtis Woloschuk astutely notes in the Cinemascope roundtable: "Ultimately, I think it is inevitable that the responsibility for an undertaking like CTT will fall to an established gatekeeper. With TIFF’s cultural clout, it ensures that a worthy panel of voters can be assembled and that the press (and, in turn, public) will take notice when the results have been tabulated."
And as for the various notions akin to Art Bell-styled conspiracy theories about the selection process, I'd pretty much have to say they're a crock. As Woloschuk adds: "I tend to believe that CTT represents what the voters, for better or worse, truly believed to be the year’s best films."
Wilner ends his piece by saying: "And, yeah, you can write all of this off as a critic cranking about how the 2011 list doesn’t properly represent his values or opinions. But before you do, ask yourself whether it represents yours."
Norm, of course it doesn't. Neither do your lists, my lists or anyone else's lists.
They represent those who compiled them.
And you know what? Whether people agree with the choices or not, I agree wholeheartedly with Woloschuk that the CTT promotes Canadian Cinema and gets people talking about Canadian films and seeing them (at least) in Toronto (and as a result, hopefully beyond), English Canada's undisputed Centre of Excellence (as a Winnipegger this sad truth makes me gag).
I generally detest juries and committees. I especially think Canada relies too heavily on them. I also don't want to seem like I'm waving some sort of flag for TIFF. They too have ignored many important films within their programming of the film festival proper (I'll never forgive them for not showing Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere) and even more maddeningly, they've often scuttled behind the safe walls of "the committee". Just as annoying, I don't buy the other wall TIFF and others hide behind. An insider at TIFF told me that Hellman's film was excluded from the festival because "WE" didn't have room in the program for it. My response? Fuck off, it's Monte Hellman. MAKE ROOM!!!
Lord knows, I've had a few of my own films not invited to TIFF and/or turned down for financing from various agencies, investors, broadcasters and distributors with that cowardly Canuck preface of, "The committee felt that…"
My response is, "Yeah, but what the fuck do YOU think?"
They never say. It's so much easier to hide.
On the flip side I've found myself on all manner of selection committees in this business. It's not something I've ever been happy about - finding consensus is what leads to lowest common denominators - but during the aftermath, when I have to face the rejected, I can't ever recall resorting to "we". That said, I always enjoyed saying "I" when I was right and the committee/jury was wrong. To quote James Cagney in Raoul Walsh's Strawberry Blonde, "That's just the kind of hairpin I am."
"We" is such a detestable word. Like a mantra, the words "the committee", "the jury" or, finally, the dreaded "we" assault you as a filmmaker as deeply as a garotte slipped round your neck - from behind, of course. Canadians have a problem with looking you in the eye while they gut you with a Rambo blade. Happily, Steve Gravestock, TIFF's head honcho of all things Canuck has managed a fantastic way to make use of a jury and in his job as a programmer, he's one of the few people - in my experience - to ever use the word "I" instead of the royal "we".
This is what a mensch does.
Mice do the other.
And now, on the eve of the Genie Awards, nonsense about their value is being bandied about. Some of it I even agree with, but you know what? They're trying to make it better. Helga Stephenson is at the helm and she too is one of the real ones. I expect to hear the word "I" coming from her far more than the loathsome "we".
Sure, I have a whole mess of quibbles about the Genie nominations this year - I hate how Guy Maddin, for one, has been hosed bigtime with a mere one nomination. That said, given how gloriously insane Keyhole is, it stands the biggest chance of all the nominees and eventual winners to live well beyond this year and in particular, this year's Genie Awards. The other reprehensible genie snub is Mike Goldbach's stunning black comedy Daydream Nation with one token nod. This, for me, was the Canadian equivalent to the recent Oscar snub leveled at 50/50. That both of these films had some of the best writing of the year in Canadian (Mike Goldbach) and American cinema (Will Reiser) respectively, I can't begin to fathom either picture's exclusion in at least THAT category. And the biggest Genie hosing of all is Maddin-related: HOW IN THE NAME OF CHRIST DID THE BRILLIANT LOUIS NEGIN NOT GET NOMINATED FOR HIS GREAT SUPPORTING TURN IN KEYHOLE?
As for Norman Wilner's article - I've been especially hard on him. But allow me to be Canadian for just a second and say that in spite of the low-rub ink advertising rag that printed his article, he's a much better critic and writer than the column inches and word count he gets actually allows him to be. For all my disagreements with the article, it finally did what it was supposed to do. Bloggers blogged, tweeters twittered, wags wagged and the cocktail/canape set did what they always do when they don't really read what they're reading and accept what they want at face value to bolster whatever pathetic sour grapes are giving them the runs.
Wilner sparked debate and perhaps, in his own way, was as tub-thumping as those Cunuckles who extolled the virtues of Passchendaele. The difference is that the debate Wilner's article inspired contributed to further awareness of Canadian Cinema. (Those who rejoiced over the, uh, genius that was Passchendaele did little but pay lip service to it, and perhaps even bolstered the nay-sayers.)
As Corupe himself admits in summarizing the views of the Cinemascope panel: "It all boils down to one thing – the purpose of the Canada’s Top 10 intiative is to promote Canadian films and filmmakers to audiences. It’s about getting names of films in front of potential viewers."
So, if that's the case, what, I ask, is the problem in the first place?
Norman Wilner's full article can be found HERE, Paul Corupe's HERE and the Cinemascope roundtable HERE.
Canada’s 2011 Top Ten Feature films as chosen by the TIFF CTT Jury were:
Café de flore — Jean-Marc Vallée (Alliance Films)
A Dangerous Method — David Cronenberg (Entertainment One)
Edwin Boyd — Nathan Morlando (Entertainment One)
Hobo With a Shotgun — Jason Eisener (Alliance Films)
Keyhole — Guy Maddin (Entertainment One)
Marécages — Guy Édoin (Mongrel Media)
Monsieur Lazhar — Philippe Falardeau (Entertainment One)
Starbuck — Ken Scott (Entertainment One)
Take This Waltz — Sarah Polley (Mongrel Media)
Le Vendeur — Sébastien Pilote (Entertainment One)
Oh, a note about NOW Magazine's low-rub ink. When one is in a pinch (so to speak, loaf-wise), the paper still leaves a lot to be desired as toilet tissue.
Monday, January 23, 2012
DANCING IN THE DARK - Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Open Vault Series at TIFF Bell LightBox presents Leon Marr's classic 1986 film adaptation of Joan Barfoot's novel examining the mental breakdown of a model wife infused with 50s values.
Dancing in the Dark (1986) dir. Leon Marr
Starring Martha Henry, Neil Munro, Richard Monette, Rosemary Dunsmore
By Greg Klymkiw
"I'd like to go home, please. I didn't get the cleaning done."
- Edna's final words to the court before sentence is pronounced in Leon Marr's DANCING IN THE DARK
If there are greater performances in Canadian cinema than that rendered by Martha Henry in Dancing in the Dark, I'd sure like to know what they are. Released in 1986 on the heels of triumphant screenings at film festivals in Cannes, New York and Toronto, Henry's portrait of a woman who finds freedom in her own thoughts, represents the heights all actors in Canada were henceforth forced to aspire to.
Henry raised the bar and it remains where she left it - surely as untouched, unsullied and soaring as high as Edna, the character she plays who is released from the servitude of patriarchal expectations when she's incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane.
Twenty five years after Dancing in the Dark first electrified audiences worldwide, it is now, with the passage of time, easy to see why. For all the strides and advancement made by the feminist movement to that point, the expectations placed upon women of a certain generation - especially those within the middle class - remained locked in a 1950s deep freezer.
Subservience and complacency were still considered virtues of womanhood among a generation of men and women - especially within the rigid WASP Presbyterianism of Toronto and virtually any enclave in Canada ruled by a need to live up to the homogeneous perfection (and/or aspiration to) the values instilled in English Canadians by the Old Money power brokers. A woman had to be June Cleaver in extremis and this is precisely the character Martha Henry plays so brilliantly.
Seamlessly shifting from present to future, from internal to external, director Leon Marr leads us through a world where Edna - on a daily basis - provides a perfect home for hubby. She has no voice, no identity, no other purpose on this earth other than to clean, cook, lend an ear to her husband's endless talk about himself and his career and submit, on occasion, to his needs in the nuptial chamber.
Edna worships her husband. To Edna, he is perfection incarnate. Yet, when he betrays her by having an affair with his secretary, the act is shocking to Edna - not so much because of the infidelity, but because, in its very ordinary tawdriness, she realizes how much of herself she has devoted to someone who is far from extraordinary.
Edna has betrayed herself. She's sacrificed her identity for mediocrity, for banality, for the pinnacle of all that is so horrendously ordinary - her husband.
For much of the film's running time, Henry's performance is wordless. The voice-over narration, derived from the journals she keeps in an asylum she'll spend the rest of her days in, creep over endless shots of Edna scrubbing, dusting, sweeping, vacuuming and cooking. Marr's camera focuses obsessively on all the mundane details of Edna's life. Henry retains a pokerface throughout. Her rigidity is what allows for those moments when, through the smallest gesture and in her eyes, we see the gradual breakdown of a woman pummelled by societal expectation. She is, without question, chained to the shackles of servitude, of slavish devotion to all that is her husband.
Even more astounding, is that Henry manages to convey how Edna has, on her own, made this choice and yet, in some of the most exquisite moments ever committed to celluloid, a combination of Marr's compositions and Henry's controlled performance betrays the reality that choices can be made that are really no choice at all. It is a choice of nurture and influence - a pervasive demand set by a society rooted in patriarchy, allowing no conscious room to breathe, to act, to live.
Towards the end of the film, there are a series of shots and moments worthy of Bergman and from Henry, a performance to rival any great piece of acting rendered by the likes of Liv Ullman and Harriet Anderson. Marr, via Vic Sarin's stunning cinematography, places the lens in close on Henry's face and what is revealed is finally so shattering, so emotional, so raw - that we are plunged into a time and place that seems long ago, yet infused with a universality that cannot fail to touch audiences now as it did then and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Some might find the notion of salvation and freedom through madness - especially by the act of murdering the person who represents the reason for the central character's slave-like existence - to be arcane and/or dated. I'd argue this presents a very real, albeit tragic triumph over subjugation. The actions presented throughout the film mirror the suffering heroines of Douglas Sirk (and/or virtually all) melodramas of that period in American cinema where women would often give up everything for their man. This often extended to murdering them in order to preserve the purity of what once was. The difference here, though, is that Edna gives up everything to finally see who she is, who she COULD have been, instead of what she became.
This is the stuff of great drama. Marr employs ACTIONS that are melodramatic, but he renders them, along with Henry's great performance, in ways that are closer to neo-realism. Because of this, it's a trifle bothersome that the only aspect of the film that doesn't always ring true are the endless voiceovers. Edna's prose style in her journals is far too literary (and literal) and from time to time, one is taken out of the drama in ways that make one wish Marr had been far more sparing with his use of the journal readings/writings. What he does/did by draping them wall-to-wall, can be commended for the almost insane audacity of doing so, but watching the film now, there are s myriad of great moments BECAUSE of Marr's astounding mise-en-scene and Henry's perfect performance where one wishes he'd have placed more faith in the drudgery and repetition of the banalities of both the world and character on display.
All that said, though, Dancing in the Dark is a classic of English Canadian cinema that still has the power to shock and move. One of the bravest things Marr does during the final minutes of the film is cut all sound from the track when Edna commits murder. It's brilliant, actually. We see a character find her voice - in silence,
This, ladies and gentlemen, is cinema!
On Wednesday, January 25 at 7:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox features writer-director Leon Marr and actress Martha Henry to introduce a special screening of "Dancing in the Dark". The Canadian Open Vault programme is one of TIFF’s most important efforts to make the country’s rich cinematic heritage accessible to audiences.
Friday, January 6, 2012
DON'T MISS GUY MADDIN'S "KEYHOLE" and a host of other Canadian films (features and shorts) representing TIFF's CTT at the TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX
By Greg Klymkiw
Every December since that hallowed year when man was supposed to go to Jupiter and meet the Star Child, a jury of filmmakers, critics and other noted mavens of movie culture in Canada would assess and award the acronymous accolades now referred to as the TIFF CTT, or, if you will, the Canadian Top Ten. This genuine honour is primarily due to the tireless efforts of Steve Gravestock, head honcho of all things Canuckian at the TIFF cineaste dude ranch (or, if one must, Associate Director of Canadian Programming at the Toronto International Film Festival).KEYHOLE
Following the announcements of what constituted the best films in Canada would be screenings of all the honoured titles at the Cinematheque Ontario - now better known as the premiere art house in Canada, the TIFF Bell LightBox, year-round home to Canada's largest, most star-studded film festival. The screenings are another way for movie-lovers to get another gander at these movies before they go on to first-run engagements.
And I reiterate, all this and more is possible through the efforts of one ass-kicking man of cinema and his partner in crime Magali Simard (TIFF's Senior Coordinator of Canadian Programming). Like the late, great Jack Palance as Curly in the immortal "City Slickers", Gravestock calls the shots for all wanna-be cowpokes - guiding them amisdst the joys and splendours of all Maple-infused movies the whole year through - year after year.
The bonus here, for all the films, is the publicity they receive, but I think, more importantly, they get to be screened theatrically in a communal atmosphere via the best means of projection since those halcyon days when most big-chain cinemas sported first-rate union projectionists instead of the underpaid, glorified concession staff and/or manager trainees who push buttons at the big box emporiums, mostly operated in this country by one faceless corporate entity that cares only about pleasing its shareholders rather than providing good, old-fashioned showmanship and first-rate presentation (and worse, displaying very little corporate responsibility in supporting homegrown product).
Seeing this selection of Canadian films at TIFF Bell Lightbox, might be one's only chance (at least in English Canada) to see these films properly presented and in an atmosphere conducive to the true celebration of cinema (save for the few independents and other festivals that actually care about what they show and HOW they show it).
There are a couple of notable omissions on the CTT list. The most egregious snub is Ingrid Veninger's astonishing no-budget joy-fest "i am a good person/i am a bad person" (Cassavetes meets "Bridesmaids"). The no-surprise omission is one of the most delectably original Canadian films just this side of Maddinville, the grotesquely hilarious splatter/sodomy-fest "Father's Day" from the brilliant Winnipeg filmmaking collective Astron-6. No matter, if the Gods are smiling, maybe TIFF Bell Lightbox will have the courage and foresight to program these two films a bit later.
The TIFF Bell Lightbox CTT mini-festival includes the following:
"Monsieur Lazhar", Jan6, 4PM
"Keyhole", Jan6, 7PM & Jan7, 4PM
"Edwin Boyd", Jan6, 9:30PM & Jan 8, 3PM
"Hobo With A Shotgun", Jan7, 9PM & Jan10 4PM
"Canada's Top Ten Shorts Programme A", Jan8, 7PM
"Canada's Top Ten Shorts Programme B", Jan8, 8:30PM
"Starbuck", Jan10, 7PM & Jan11, 3PM & Jan13, 3PM
"Marécages", Jan11, 7PM & Jan12, 3PM
"A Dangerous Method", Jan 12, 7PM
"Café de flore", Jan 13, 9PM & Jan15, 5:30 PM
"Le Vendeur", Jan 14, 6PM & Sunday Jan15, 12PM
"Take This Waltz", Jan14 9PM & Jan15 3PM
Guy Maddin's "KEYHOLE" made my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2011 List and the astounding Louis Negin from "KEYHOLE" made my Best Supporting Actor of 2011 Citation at KLYMKIW FILM CORNER(KFC) and Steve Gravestock (via my nod to TIFF), "Take This Waltz" helmer Sarah Polley, Guy Maddin and his screenwriter George Toles all made my 2011 TOP 10 HEROES IN CANADIAN CINEMA here at CANADIAN FILM CORNER(CFC).
The absolute MUST NOT MISS EVENT is Guy Maddin's "KEYHOLE". Below you'll find a slight rewrite of the full version of a review I wrote that was published last fall in "Electric Sheep Magazine - a deviant view of cinema". Read it and go! Or don't read it, go and then read it. Most of all, GO! I assure you that you'll have never seen nor will ever see anything like "KEYHOLE" ever again.
And below the "KEYHOLE" review, you'll find my merciless pan of Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method", a slight rewrite of a piece previously published by Electric Sheep Magazine.
Again I urge you to see the CTT movies at LightBox to support their efforts in promoting and screening both Canadian and THEN, if you love any of the movies you see there, see them AGAIN if and when they open theatrically. I reiterate that Cineplex should be a leader in programming a much wider variety of product - Canadian and otherwise. I even suggest people do their second helpings of stuff they like at LightBox and/or any cinema OTHER than Cineplex. Screw the Man, until the Man does what's right - not just for their customers, but for BUSINESS and to fulfill their corporate responsibility to the community at large. Until those losers earn their right to be winners, do not give them money unless you absolutely have to. Also, if you go to Cineplex, it's soooo easy to sneak in your own food and beverages. Keep doing that, too - UNLESS they start doing the right thing.
Keyhole (2011) dir. Guy Maddin
Starring: Jason Patric, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Isabella Rossellini
By Greg Klymkiw
Full disclosure: I produced Guy Maddin’s first three feature films, lived with him as a roommate (I was Oscar Madison to his Felix Unger – Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple sprang miraculously to life on the top two floors of a ramshackle old house near Winnipeg’s Little Italy district), continue to love him as one of my dearest friends and consider his brilliant screenwriting partner George E. Toles to be nothing less than my surrogate big brother.
Most importantly, I am one of Maddin’s biggest fans and refuse to believe I am not able to objectively review his work. Objectively, then, allow me to declare that I loved Keyhole. What’s not to love? Blending Warner Brothers gangster styling of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and 50s, Greek tragedy, Sirk-like melodrama and odd dapplings of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, it is, like all Maddin’s work, best designed to experience as a dream on film. Like Terence Davies, Maddin is one of the few living filmmakers who understands the poetic properties of cinema, and this, frankly, is to be cherished as much as any perfectly wrought narrative.
This is not to say narrative does NOT exist in Maddin’s work. If you really must, dig deep and you will find it. That, however, wouldn’t be very much fun. One has a better time with Maddin’s pictures just letting them HAPPEN to you.
The elements concocted in Keyhole to allow for full experiential mind-fucking involve the insanely named gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric as you’ve never seen him before – playing straight, yet feeling like he belongs to another cinematic era), who drags his kids (one dead, but miraculously sprung to life, the other seemingly alive, but not remembered by his Dad) into a haunted house surrounded by guns-a-blazing.
Populated with a variety of tough guys and babe-o-licious molls, Ulysses is faced with ghosts of both the living and the dead, including his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini – gorgeous as always and imbued with all the necessary qualities to render melodrama with joy and humanity), her frequently nude father (the brilliant Louis Negin – perhaps one of the world’s greatest living character actors, who frankly should be cast in every movie ever made), chained to his bed, uttering the richly ripe George Toles dialogue and Udo Kier (the greatest fucking actor in the world), whose appearance in this movie is so inspired I’ll let you discover for yourself the greatness of both the role and Udo himself.
Keyhole is, without a doubt, one of the most perversely funny movies I’ve seen in ages and includes Maddin’s trademark visual tapestry of the most alternately gorgeous and insanely inspired kind. For movie geeks, literary freaks and Greek tragedy-o-philes, the movie is blessed with added treats to gobble down voraciously.
Like all of Maddin’s work, it’s not all fun and games. Beneath the surface of its mad inspiration lurks a melancholy and thematic richness. For me, what’s so important and moving about the film is its literal and thematic exploration of a space. Strongly evoking that sense of how our lives are inextricably linked to so many places (or a place) and how they in turn are populated with things – inanimate objects that become more animate once we project our memories upon them – or how said places inspire reminiscence of said objects which, in turn, inspire further memories, Keyhole is as profound and sad as it’s a crazed laugh riot.
Of all the pieces about the movie that I bothered to read (after I saw the movie), I was shocked that NOBODY – NOT ONE FUCKING CRITIC – picked up on the overwhelming theme of PLACE and the SPIRIT of all those THINGS that live and breathe in our minds. It was the first thing to weigh heavily upon me when I first saw the movie. It has seldom been approached in the movies – and, for my money – NO MORE POIGNANTLY AND BRILLIANTLY than rendered by Maddin, Toles and their visionary young producer Jody Shapiro.
All the ghosts of the living and the dead (to paraphrase Joyce), the animate and inanimate, the real and the imagined, these are the things that haunt us to our graves, and perhaps beyond. And they all populate the strange, magical and haunting world of Keyhole – a world most of us, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, live in. We are all ghosts and are, in turn, haunted by them.
A Dangerous Method
A Dangerous Method (2011) dir. David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley
By Greg Klymkiw
When David Cronenberg is good, he is very, very good.
When he is bad, he’s cerebral.
A Dangerous Method is dour, dull and decidedly humourless. That said, the first few minutes do suggest we’re in for a hootenanny of the highest order. The score, oozing with portent over a twitching, howling, clearly bonkers Keira Knightley, thrashing about in a horse-drawn carriage as it hurtles towards Carl Jung’s Swiss nuthouse, initially suggested a belly flop into the maw first pried open by such Cold War wacko-fests like The Snake Pit or Shock Corridor.
Alas, Cronenberg seems to have abandoned his pulp sensibilities and instead appears to be making an Atom Egoyan movie fused with Masterpiece Theatre. Sorry David, Atom Egoyan makes the best Atom Egoyan movies. And Egoyan has never, nor will he ever make Masterpiece Theatre. However, if Cronenberg himself genuinely fused Masterpiece Theatre with The Snake Pit and, say, Salon Kitty or The Story of O, with dollops of the madhouse scenes in Ken Russell's The Music Lovers, then he might have generated something not guaranteed to induce snores.
Cronenberg’s unwelcome return to the cold and clinical approach from his pre-Eastern Promises and A History of Violence oeuvres quashes all hope for a rollicking good wallow in lunacy.
Come on, David, we’re dealing with psychoanalysis and sex here.
A little oomph might have been in order. (Or as Norman Jewison is wont to say, "A little bit of the old razzle-dazzle.")
Lord knows Cronenberg’s dealt deliciously with psychoanalysis and sex before – most notably in The Brood. It starred a visibly inebriated Oliver Reed, crazily cooing about "the Shape of Rage" amid spurts of horrific violence laced with a riveting creepy tone. Most notably the movie provided us with the indelible image of a semi-nude, utterly barmy Samantha Eggar adorned with monstrous pus sacks dangling from her flesh, licking globs of gooey, chunky afterbirth from a glistening mutant baby expunged from one of the aforementioned pus sacks.
Now, THAT'S entertainment!
Annoyingly, no similar shenanigans are on view in A Dangerous Method. It’s pretty much a Masterpiece Theatre-styled period chamber drama with with Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) jousting with his mentor-rival Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) betwixt spanking sessions with Keira Knightley, a daft want-to-be-psychiatrist with Daddy issues.
Sadly, no proper views of open palms connecting with buttocks or slap imprints on said buttocks are afforded to us.
For more info and tix, visit the TIFF website.
Here's my original coverage of TIFF 2011 (including the two above films) for Electric Sheep.