October 28, 2005

Ottawa Does Not Believe in Cheers, or, What's So Good About Feeling Bad?

Apropos of nothing, I saw two completely divergent Canadian films in the last couple of days. There was the recent, Anglo, and hilariously awful Desolation Sound; and there was the 1981, Quebecois, and awesomely brilliant Les bons debarras. Almost nothing linked the two: the first was standard Eng-Can time-killing about murder and repressed houswives in a chilly rural setting, and the other extraordinary Francophone cruelty by a wilful and manipulative 'tween (in a chilly rural setting). But though the self-doubting hausfrau and the self-absorbed thirteen-year-old had nothing in common, they illustrated the two poles of a very Canadian conundrum: that of the essential destructiveness of desire, and the problem of what to do about it.

Desolation Sound takes the austere high ground in the debate. Its protagonist is the uptight Canadian bourgeoise of legend, here played by Helene Joy, who lives out in the woods and draws bad illustrations- when she feels like it. She's bored with her husband, her daughter, her life, but of course, she'll live to eat her words. When her "friend from childhood" (Jennifer Beals!) comes back to be sexy, drink, behave badly, and say highly punishable things like "it takes courage to be selfish", it's like an invitation to divine retribution: they naturally squabble when Beals shtups Joy's newly-perked-up hubby, resulting in Beals falling off the roof and croaking.

But the death doesn't break the evil-fun spell. Simply wishing Beals' presence into the household is worthy of Old Testament wrath, and so the newly-kaput free spirit reaches from beyond the grave: after burying the body in the rose garden, Joy starts assuming her "friend from childhood's" identity, which threatens to tear the very fabric of her life apart (i.e., she sleeps with Ed Begley, Jr.). The film then tries to keep the crime a secret while Joy tries to purge her newfound Beals-ness, presumably in the name of God and the Her Majesty, the Queen.

What's important here is not that wanting certain things is bad: wanting anything is bad. Desire itself is suspect- if you want more than you've got, you're a sinner who will cause irreparable harm. And this is one of the quintessential patterns of Canadian film, one that we inherited from the hated John Grierson and never purged even when we threw him by the wayside. If you are not conventionally productive, or better yet, lying still, you are out causing harm. No middle ground.

Les bons debarras counters with a messed-up family that satisfies its desires all day, every day. Chief amongst them is Manon, the pubescent spitfire who loves her mother possessively and constantly tries to isolate her from other influences. Manon hates the cop who's sleeping with Mother; Mom's feeble-minded brother (who deals with his isolation by downing endless two-fours of Molson's); school; being interrupted by reading; etc. Daughter wants mother all to herself; Mom wants to coddle her by giving in (though Manon drives her crazy); Brother wants to deal with his sexual frustration by cutting out at all hours to get pissed; and various townies and ex-lovers of mom vent their spleens and libidos in loud and obnoxious ways.

No doubt about it, this is one painful movie. But instead of raining moralistic ash on the central, monstrous Manon (who does things that ennoble the word "selfish"), the film holds on her with something approaching awe. Manon is merciless, but attractive- her total lack of superego makes her destructive, but it's the kind of scorched earth you like to watch Godzilla leave behind. And when this movie ends, [*spoiler warning*] it's not with just desserts for the holy terror: she hangs up a tragic phone call, crawls into bed with mom, and the movie ends. She is a destroyer, but destruction hangs around her like a nimbus.

Yet, in its inverted sort of way, Les bons debarras agrees with Desolation Sound: it says that to succumb to desire is to succumb to selfish destruction. Even the hapless brother, whose thwarted sex drives end up in drink and harrassment, acts out all over the place and winds up causing havoc. It doesn't judge him, but it comes to the same factual conclusion, simply approaching things amorally rather than with righteous wrath. (Manon has enough of the latter for all of us).

And though I'd expansively say that Les bons debarras is the finest Canadian film and one of the 50 or so best films of the '80s, it still holds the seeds of the Great Northern Problem. You either live in moral misery, or glorious destruction; there's no compromise that might solve the problem, that might regulate desire and release tension at the same time, that might exert the give and take of id and superego colliding to form a fully-functioning self. And it's here that Canada starts to seem as simplistic and black-and-white as the Southern neighbour it so loves to decry.

I propose that Canadian filmmakers (and intellectuals in general) had better start working out this master plan. We can't decide how to organize society if we can't have the one we want- if we define wanting something better as selfish arrogance and gratification as instant destruction. As Peter Wollen wrote, to achieve any change, one has to be able to desire it; and to desire it one has to see desire as an attractive quality. Anything else is to succumb to smug frustration and deny the root of our oft-denied internal problems.

35 comments:

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Canadian English stuff is usually horribly pretentious, artsy-farsy avante-bullshit trite. I don't know what the fuck these assholes think before they make their movies ! Can we have one fucking Canadian film that doesn't involve lives and times of gay homeless male hookers with drug problem ? or If that is too much to ask, maybe one without an inter-racial couple. Maybe this is a film that no one has seen, I just saw this toronto film on TMN called "jack and ella". I don't believe in heaven & hell... but my definition of hell would involve watching this movie over and over again till eternity. It was like someone had taken a giant diarreah dump on a canvas and hung it in an art gallery. It truely was. You could even see the peas and corns stickin' out. Hell, I would rather sit through re-runs of all hillary duff films then see that peice of shit again.

Here is how the imdb plot summary reads:

"A black man and a Jewish girl run for their lives, crash into each other and win a dream house in the suburbs. There they meet a controlling decorator, a tortured alcoholic, long-lost family and a bunch of nosy neighbours dying to bust it out."

Do I need to add anything further ?

Jack_Sommersby said...

Winner of 6 Genie awards, 1991's Black Robe remains my favorite Canada-set and -shot film. I know it's not a "Canadian" film because it was financed by Samuel Goldwyn, but damnit, it's Canadian as for as I'm concerned. And, hell, the director was Bruce Beresford, who's Austrailian and whose magical touch the film couldn't have possibly succeeded without.

(Note: Black Robe was the first LaserDisc I ever bought. Not DVD -- LaserDisc. My goodness, how breathtakingly lovely it looked on my TV that had been polluted with VHS feeds all those years.)

Scott said...

The problem with Canadian film is 1) it's all government funded, and 2) there are no stars.

Since when has anything original, creative and dynamic come out of a government system? It's not going to happen. Like it or not, private enterprise is needed.

As for the star problem, here's my proposal:

Private investors should be approached regarding funding a Canadian movie with the only Canadian stars we've got -- the ones who've hit it big down south.

You get Shatner, Keanu Reeves, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Mike Myers, Michael J.Fox -- big time Canadian talent. If they're all on board, there's a better chance they'll cut their prices and their agents will allow them to do it -- the way that Ackroyd came back to Canada to do the CBC production of THE ARROW a few years back.

You have a Canadian script with Canadian settings starring an all-star Canadian cast, and a supporting cast of up-and-coming unknowns to introduce to moviegoers.

Mainstream movie audiences go to see stars, and we have lots of them -- just not in our own movies.

MEN WITH BROOMS tried to do a 'hollywood' style comedy a few years back, but it's biggest problem was simply -- not funny.

Canadian cinema needs a jolt to the system, and it seems to me patently ridiculous that we don't use all the talent we've got. Why can't we use them? Because we can't pay them. That's where we must have private investors involved.

SOMETHING has to be done to jumpstart the moribund Canadian film industry, which now consists of nothing more than screenings at festivals, essentially, and endless forums about the state of Canadian films when most Canadians don't even know that there ARE Canadian films.

I'm not saying this is the only way, or a realistic way, but c'mon -- we can't keep relying on the old Cronenberg/Egoyan connection.

We need to not only think out of the box but blow UP the fucking box to get something done in the next ten years. Waiting for the government system to fix it is ridiculous, unrealistic, and not feasible.

Jim Carrey in a film set in Toronto? Tell me that wouldn't pop with Canadians.

(Note: I'm not asking Canadian films to 'become' American, nor am I saying that we can only do mainstream stuff, since the art stuff we do is great. But we need something bigger and grander if any kind of aleration will come in the way films are financed, sold and seen in Canada.)

Alex Jackson said...

>>Since when has anything original, creative and dynamic come out of a government system?<<

Um, in Russia...actually. A Tarkovsky wouldn't be able to thrive under private enterprise.

Polish director Andrzej Wajda said that he preferred working under the Eastern bloc to western-filmmaking because there were many ways to get around political censorship but none in getting around the censorship of money. Admittedly on the other side of the coin is Roman Polanski, who painted a very funny picture of Polish cinema in his very good autobiography Roman.

Also, believe it or not, Peter Jackson recieved public funds to make Dead Alive (and the lesser Meet the Feebles). And Eraserhead is the only feature film to be funded by the AFI.

The problem as presented by Travis, and it's a very interesting one, isn't that Canadian cinema comes out of a government system per se; but rather that it is aggressively Catholic. The joykilling inherent in Canadianism is simply enabled by the public funding.

Walter_Chaw said...

I think it's been talked about in these pages before, and at better detail and length, but I'm bothered that a great lot of Canadian films tend to see sex as something entirely joyless and to be punished or snuffed out altogether. (Alex's Catholic charge fits in here). It's either with a corpse or a werewolf (or your father) - and Bill pointed out a scene in Egoyan's Ararat that should, by all rights, be totally hot and is given over instead to a monologue about the Armenian genocide. Not foreplay in the Chaw household - at least not yet. Reminds me of the sex scene in Life of David Gale where Kevin Spacey struggles on top of Laura Linney (it is Linney, isn't it?) while she's weeping piteously. What could be sexier, yes?

There was a while there that the Toronto Film Circuit (some minor distributor affiliated in some way with the Toronto International Film Festival) was programming the film series that the Vail Symposium out here was doing as a seasonal thing and they, almost without fail, foisted on those poor folks a selection of films - most of them starring Callum Keith Rennie, it seemed like - that were these homegrown, utterly humorless Canadian family/sexual dysfunction pictures that took American Beauty as some sort of mandate to make really torturous movies. A lot of them had been sitting on a shelf for years (stuff like Falling Angels and Flower and Garnet - the latter shot like a horror film by accident), and the whole enterprise was pretty baldly a strategy to increase "awareness" of Canadian films in the United States. Truth is, these films only ever got any kind of a look because of the "home team olympics" exemption of securing a slot at some TIFF or another.

Cynical at best, the breaking point was when the circuit sent minor producer Robin Cass and actress Kristin Adams as "festival guests" last year - and both acted quite badly before, but particularly after they were left to do an audience Q&A after Falling Angels on their own. Never contracted to do so, the pair blamed me for leaving them out to dry (I was having a nap between picture introductions) - I have a feeling that it didn't go well. They spent the rest of the weekend badmouthing all things fest and me in particular - bad feelings already latent in there from Bill's scathing attack of Falling Angels from his previous year's TIFF caps. Well-deserved I should say.

I was enlisted to do an on-stage Q&A with Cass after the dreadful Republic of Love, by the way, most of it me trying not to criticize it and the rest Cass blathering on about how good the film was and how he always had a good feeling about the material. Producers - have I mentioned - are salesmen and their product is their film. It's always sort of the case, I guess, but interviewing producers is the lowest rung on the ladder.

More stories about how Cass responded to three critics ganging up on him during a breakfast panel on the state of Indie Film - but you get the idea.

A long way of saying that I'm not a fan of Canadian cinema. Obvious exceptions, of course.

Dave Gibson said...

As Hollow alluded to, I think it's important to draw a distinction between the moribund film industry in English Canada and the thriving industry in Quebec, films ranging from the surreal, brilliant Maelström, one of the only hockey movies worth a damn (Les Boys)and the brilliant C.R.A.Z.Y (out now, see it instead of SAW II) The problem with English-Canadian films lies mostly in the outmoded funding model and, the biggest problem of all, distribution. Canada is the only culture which makes an effort to avoid its own culture--mostly by allowing American product to dominate the film and television screens. So, I don't think injecting American stars into Canadian product would make any difference--unless Jim Carrey is going to work for scale (doing a comedy, no less) the funding would inevitably come from the United States. Paying people is also not the problem--yes, if an actor wants ten or twenty million to act in a Canadian film, they are shit out of luck. They are also shit out of luck in pretty much every film producing country with the exception of the United States. The oft-repeated "Solution" of private investment--will also do nothing to promote and protect Canadian films. Look no further than the well-monied Canadian television networks which spend most of their money on imported American shows--tossing a bone to Canadian artists only to fufill the basic Canadian content requirement. In a country with a population smaller than New York State, investors and exhibitors are not going to throw money at Canadian product--when they can invest in lucrative, international "T&A Television" ("Andromeda", "Relic Hunter") or make a mint with umpteenth screenings of "Return of the Sith" I'm in favour of more government protectionism where culture is concerned. Yes, I'd love to see more English Canadian films that don't revolve around wintry ennui--but, more to the point--I'd like to see more Canadian films period. I live in Toronto, and, if any Canadian films get screened, they are lucky to get one weekend at the art house--ensuring that "Dukes of Hazzard" gets its 1567 showtimes. The truth is, if Canadian theatres were required to show a much higher percentage of Canadian films, people would eventually turn up to these films in greater numbers. People turn out to see "Star free" films all the time, if they know about them. If I want to see Jim Carrey or Kiefer Sutherland, I already have well trod avenues to their highly-paid antics. Let's also broaden our definition of "Canadian Films", some of the most brilliant films I have seen were documentaries produced by the NFB.Hate the current movies--but, when the answers suggested always seem to be: "Big American Money" my maple leaf gets a little ruffled.

Big topic here, I just want to add that I must say I'm also pretty tired of this self-loathing, reductive view of being Canadian---Alex, you are Canadian, right? Are you a humourless joykill?

Bill C said...

Alex hails from Utah, Dave. Robert Redford is the source of his self-loathing.

Alex Jackson said...

Well, Utah is also known as being the home of the Mormons.

Although funilly enough the two biggest contributions to the film scene by the Mormons are Napoleon Dynamite and Neil LaBute. Both of which are pretty could have easily been Canadian instead.

Doncha think that Napoleon Dynamite could be dismissed-- rather fruitfully as a matter of fact--as a really bad Kids in the Hall skit?

Bill C said...

I kinda think that's an insult to The Kids in the Hall.

I guess Mormonism and Canadianism have a similar aesthetic, but to be perfectly reductive, both LaBute and Napoleon Dynamite are sadistic, where I'd say that Canadian cinema is by and large masochistic. Goes back, perhaps, to Geoff Pevere's assessment: American movies are about action, Canadian movies are about consequence.

Jefferson said...

I quite liked Ginger Snaps ... Love and Human Remains was okay ... Jesus of Montreal. Molly Parker, who is my girlfriend, came out of Canadian film. I don't think it's ALL Egoyanesque out there, is it?

Dave Gibson said...

My mistake, Utah is a lot like Alberta I guess.. I should then revise my statement to ask someone to define "Canadianism"--I'm guessing you are using this term somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem based on some pretty broad assumptions--especially when its being used as a point of comparison with organized religions. Perhaps, we could also define "americanism" while we're at it.

Bill C said...

Is Molly Parker really your girlfriend or is this one of those "dibs" situations? If she is, I gotta say: lucky you--one of the most approachable celebs I've ever met. And she's on "Deadwood", so she's fucking cool.

Alex Jackson said...

>>I guess Mormonism and Canadianism have a similar aesthetic, but to be perfectly reductive, both LaBute and Napoleon Dynamite are sadistic, where I'd say that Canadian cinema is by and large masochistic.<<

Eh...maybe they're sadomasochistic. Neil LaBute is pretty cold and sexless, In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors are not, for better and for worse, pleasure filled films.

While I can't dismiss the idea that Napoleon Dynamite looks down on it's characters, I also can't shake the idea that the filmmakers and many of the fans identify with them. I mean they say they do. I live just 15 minutes or so from Preston and it's interesting how much the residents have adopted the film.

The things about Utah Mormons, I've come to think, is that they are simultaneously the jock class and the nerd class. Depending on the context in which they are being viewed.

mimo said...

A few GOOD Canadian films - "19 months", "The Uncles" and "I Shout Love."

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I can confess that I, too - for the most part - avoid Canadian films. Why? Like most of you, I find them to be joyless and pretentious, but I don't think that they suck because they are too Catholic(if that automatically led to lesser films than how do you explain Fellini & Scorsese - just to name two.)

My least favourite Canadian Filmakers - Don McKellar, Atom Egoyan and Lynne Stopkewich - have made films that strike me as self-important, dull and possessing a tendency to mistake "serious" filmaking with a flat, low-key, almost sleep inducing style. Yes, I have problems with the content of these films, but, more importantly, I have a problem with the treatment of that content. In other words, just because you're making a "serious" film doesn't mean you have to put people to sleep. In fact, part of the joy of filmaking is trying to find exciting and imaginative ways of presenting and then fleshing out an idea. This, I think, is just one of the reasons why most Canadian Films fail and fail miserably.

tmhoover said...

There's a couple other factors that haven't been discussed yet. Though the religion angle has been widely noted (even if, in the case of the Anglos, it's more of a Protestant scenario), there's also the fact that film in Canada largely exists due to John Grierson's creation of the NFB during WWII- and as Grierson saw film as purely an "informational" (read: propaganda) organ, the NFB geared everything towards paternalistically "interpreting Canada for Canadians". The idea the Canadians might want to interpret Canada for themselves never really crossed his mind, and it took many, many years for the NFB to make fiction features at all (to the horror of Grierson, I might add). And while we've thrown off the overt sense that information=cinema, there remains an inherited sense that you're wasting people's time if you're engaging in something that isn't lugubriously "serious".

The "interpreting Canada for Canadians" thing brings up the larger issue that Canada still feels the grip of a colonial consciousness. Bear in mind that Canada never experienced a bourgeois revolution, that all of its rebellions have been put down, and the whole kit and caboodle more or less got bounced from being a British raw-resource colony to an American branch-plant colony. In fact, when film was first entrenching itself economically, Canada didn't really think of itself as "Canada" so much as an outpost of the British empire, and the idea that we might express ourselves cinematically (or at all) never really came up.

So Canadians have always taken cultural orders from some other mother country, and this sense of needing permission from someone else has been internalized- hence the mistrust of having fun without someone's permission. When we actually do get the opportunity to speak for ourselves we get self-conscious and -doubting, and fall back on some amorphous "good authority" can always approve of.

Jefferson said...

Bill C: It's just a wishful thinking situation on my part. Molly Parker is gorgeous and a hell of a forthright actress ... a crush of mine since at least "The Center of the World," sadly wasted, despite the promise of her character, on "Six Feet Under." My point being, Canada has produced some good film art (although I will admit I haven't dived into the Canuck currents the way Travis has), and seems to have a track record of throwing up some lovely and very talented actresses. But Travis' other point, that all good Canadian actors who rise to prominence are quickly swallowed to some degree by Hollywood USA, is also well taken.

Dave Gibson said...

"Canadians have always taken cultural orders from some other mother country, and this sense of needing permission from someone else has been internalized"

Indeed, this is why I roll my eyes at much-repeated calls for enlisting big American talent into the cause of energizing Canadian film. The Canadian Content regualtions that were initiated in the music industry, contributed significantly to the artistic success and international popular appeal of Canadian pop music.(and gove us Glass Tiger too, so, I know these things aren't foolproof) It simply is not economically attractive for private investors to jump into Canadian films when it is far more lucrative (and often cheaper) to simply import American product. Again, this is not because Canadian films are patently inferior--it is because they are not given any protection in the marketplace. For instance, the sale of liquour (in my province) is controlled by the government. There are certainly significant drawbacks to this, but, the truth is--the Ontario wine industry would not even exist without an expressed mandate to promote and protect local financial interests. You can argue (and I'd agree) that the French and Italians will always make better vino--but, those countires already have a well-established and well-protected industry. I'm sympathetic to a healthy wariness of the government (which exists far more in Canada than many of these posts suggest)but--protecting and promoting culture (or "product", if you prefer) should always be a significant mandate of those governments. (This is taken as a matter-of-fact in most European countries). I'd also add that the NFB is not some monolithic, government entity run by faceless bureaucrats. Aside from producing some partonizing, "educational" films--the NFB is also responsible for developing a significant part of Canada's filmaking community,has been well-regarded for the incentives given to emerging artists and its documentaries and short films throughout the world. Rooted in more paternalistic attitudes towards culture it may be, but reducing the NFB to "propaganda" machine is disturbing.

We are still avoiding the lucrative, star-studded, artistically renowned Quebec film industry--defining "Canadianism" aint so easy, say I.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Dave:

I'm not going to pretend knowing much, but all i know is most canadian films that make me want to puke on film-maker's face have "Produced in association with NFB" written at the end of the credit roll.

All countries in the world have atleast a few well known film-makers that find their financing in Europe and actually made good films. We, as Canadians, have advantage of having similar culture as Americans providing us a fairly large potential market yet we make films about fucking dead people or ugly aliens or whatever the fuck.

Dave Gibson said...

Well—this is a little too vague to argue about—aside from “Kissed” and “Phil the Alien” I’m not familiar with an abundance of Canadian films with those particular themes—though I’m hoping that you’re being glib. I’d suggest that your ingrained reaction towards films with the NFB stamp is cutting you off from a lot of great experiences but, as you admit, like most Canadians—you probably haven’t seen very many Canadian films—which is the biggest part of the problem. Many other countries in the world also treat the production of art as a necessity rather than a frivolous luxury and wouldn’t think of ghettoizing their own culture. Certainly, there are many Canadian films that follow those tired, Egoyanesque models—but, far more that don’t. I will reiterate that I believe access is the biggest problem. Anyways, here’s some worthy Canadian films that you can rent at Bay St. Video, Suspect or the NFB (not all masterworks--- worthy)—close to 90% of them funded in part by the NFB or provincial film funding bodies.

The Boys of St. Vincent
Bye, Bye Blues
Tales From the Gimli Hospital
90 Days
Atananjuart: The Fast Runner
Maelstrom
Cube
Lie With Me
Cadillac Girls
Heartaches
The Company of Strangers
Love Come Down
The Decline of the American Empire
South of Wawa
Double Happiness
Water
Cold Comfort
Hard Core Logo
Dracula: Pages from the Vigins Diary
Jesus of Montreal
The Hanging Garden
Zero Patience
Fish Tale Soup
Un Zoo La Nuit
The Grey Fox
Leolo
Margaret’s Museum
Perfectly Normal
Mon Oncle Antoine
I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing
Roadkill
Highway 61
The Five Senses
New Waterford Girl

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

thanks dave.

Alex Jackson said...

Oh God, I loved Maelstrom. Really up my alley. I really wish that that movie had gotten more play. Didn't it win the Genie?

I think that New Waterford Girl is still worth a damn. But that's a good pic as well.

Bill C said...

No offense, Dave, but the bulk of your list depresses me. Not because I disagree with it, but because I'm hard-pressed to come up with alternatives (The Dog Who Stopped the War? Blood and Donuts? Stardom?)--and yet laid out like that, with a few exceptions, it paints an alternately stodgy and silly picture of our national cinema.

Dave Gibson said...

Sigh. No offense taken. Well, if you are predisposed to dislike Canadian films I don't think I can change your mind in the space of a blog post.."Stodgy" and "Silly" are value judgements, not invitations to conversation. I'm prepared to defend the merits of any of the listed films if there is one that particularly sticks in your craw. Yes, I'd love to read more reviews of Canadian films rather than endless op-ed pieces on "Why Canadian Film Sucks". These arguments have swirled around Canadian culture for decades (Atwood's "Survival" must still be required reading.) While they are not entirely without merit, count me in as someone who is bloody sick of them. The USA, Italy, Japan, Australia, Spain..et. al..have better film industries. Gotcha. Writing it down. (wrote it down in Grade 9 English) Now, let's play ball, dammit.

More Lists:

The Changeling
Black Christmas
À Hauteur d'homme
Rituals
I, Claudia
Just Another Missing Kid
The Mask (Only 3-D Canadian film)
Goin' Down the Road
Wedding In White
Ticket to Heaven
It's All Gone Pete Tong
Quest For Fire
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Dancing in the Dark
Why Shoot the Teacher?
Strange Brew
Full Blast
Nails

Black Robe
One Magic Christmas
20h17, rue Darling
22 Short Films About Glenn Gould
Le Confessional
Emporte Moi
Hookers on Davie
Le Mouton Noir
La Comtesse de Bâton Rouge
Gaz Bar Blues

Bill C said...

Apropos of nothing, my film prof in university directed Dancing in the Dark.

Walter_Chaw said...

Black Christmas kicks all ass.

Bill C said...

By the way, just because I don't swell with pride at the thought of Jeremy Podeswa or Thom Fitzgerald as ambassadors of our national cinema, I don't think I'm predisposed to disliking Canadian films, Dave. I honestly wouldn't keep giving stuff like Falling Angels a chance if that were the case. (The only thing I watch to feed my contempt is "Gilmore girls".) I also don't think it's playing fair--in the context of this discussion--to trot out the international smorgasbords like Quest for Fire (French director, American cast, Polanski's screenwriter).

On that note, imagine, for a moment, if somebody were slagging France and you wanted to counter with a list of the country's must-see movies. Now, I love Quest for Fire (which is as much French as it is Canadian), but I can tell you that it would be a long, long time before I grasped at that straw. Where are Canada's Catherine Breillats? Its Laurent Cantets? Its Michael Hanekes? Heck, its Cedric Khans? The thing is, there is ultimately no good reason for their absence in Canadian cinema, which is why I hold out endless hope for the future of our industry. But something's gotta give, and venerating the mediocre--be it out of fatigue ("While [the arguments] are not entirely without merit, count me in as someone who is bloody sick of them"), patriotism, what have you--is not a very constructive solution.

Bill C said...

Oh, and does anyone else want to punch the walls over the fact that the Weinsteins just greenlighted a remake of Black Christmas? The original hasn't lost any of its intensity.

Dave Gibson said...

Interesting. Yes, "Quest For Fire" is one of the films on my lists that I wasn't completely sure of it's production legacy (same reason The Red Violin or the obvious Cronenberg entires do not appear) Since I came up with these lists off the top of my head and managed to think of 60-70 without consulting imdb, I can't agree that I'm "grasping at straws" especially since no one else in this discussion has barely mentioned any films at all,-so, cut "Quest For Fire" off the list, what should we do with the rest of them? If you only want Canadian artists to act as dopplegangers to celebrated filmakers from other countries--then, the battle is already lost. If you don't like the loaded word "patriotism" what about pride? How about some of that
"endless hope"? Let's hear some solutions instead of vague accusations of "mediocrity".

Dave Gibson said...

Sorry...that should be "Doppelgangers", I should never try to be so dang twee.

Anyways,I'd like to reiterate that I too believe that the Canadian film industry is in serious need of fixing. As I've mentioned before, I believe that the most serious problem is access. France and The United States are the most celebrated film communities in the world--so, I don't believe that even in the best circumstances that Canada will ever have, even remotely, the same profile as filmakers from those countries. That said, my motivation in offering those "lists" (always a dangerous proposition) was not to posit that everything is fine and dandy, but that Canada does have a fairly comprehensive film history (past and present) that is mostly ignored (and, I believe those lists do contain some truly great films) To use some of your examples, I believe that Denis Villeneuve and Robert LePage are easily the equals of the worthy filmakers you mentioned--but, yeah, more people have seen "Sex Is Comedy","L'Emploi du Temps" or "Code Unknown" than "Le Confessional" or "Maelstrom"--so, again quality is not as big an element of the disconnect as is so often suggested. Some outmoded funding practices are a big reason why it seems every flagship Canadian release is based on a dubious Can-Lit classic (the precious few that make it to the theatres anyways)--but, the filmakers are just as peeved at this as you are. At the recent Toronto Film Festival, dozens of Canadian films were screened--but, you'd be hard-pressed to find much ink spilled on any of them, not because all of them sucked--but, because most media outlets (especially the Canadian media) would rather offer the 1,345 th assesment of why "Elizabethtown" stank--rather than one about a nifty gem like: "The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico". It's all about butts in seats--and yes, I'm in favour of a little cultural protectionsim and national pride when it comes to approaching the solution. National identity and patriotism are invariably linked with culture (everyone's who's been to France must know this...)--so, the truth is, nothing is going to change unless people truly act like Canadian films are worth saving. I think that every major theatre chain should be required to have one screen that shows nothing but Canadian films. Crappy, transcendant, mediocre--whatever. The horrifying thing is, that even THIS is considered an impossible dream. If we build it, they will come.

As a kid, I was raised on the CBC and saw tons of NFB shorts and feature lengths on 16mm. It wasn't untill I reached my teen years that I realized I was supposed to consider Canadian films (and television)inferior. Yeah, still tired of "Tall Poppy Syndrome", "Catholic Guilt" (Both Circa. Confederation)

Where's Canada's Catherine Breillat? I dunno. Why don't you go look for her? I'll helps ya.

As for "Black Christmas" awesome. I used to live down the street from the house (it's now a duplex)--got my DVD signed by a bemused Lynne Griffin too...

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

You guys know shitload more than me about Candian Cinema then I do, so I'll just stay out. But just wanna add a layman perspective, Dave, if there are so many great Canadian films that come out and are still being made, why is it that the only Canadian films I, as a Canadian, get to see are so horribly pretentious that they seem like bad student films ? It's not like visibility or distribution are the only problem ! I see a lot of canadian films on TMN. Most of them suck and if that's the cream of the crop, I don't even wanna know what bad ones are like.

Dave Gibson said...

Well, TMN specializes in junk (Canadian and otherwise) but, your point is well taken, the preponderance of dismal Canadian flicks on that particular network owes a great deal to the toothless content regulations. TMN (like most other Canadian broadcasters) fulfills this obligation as cheaply and dismissively as possible—more room for screenings of Alone in the Dark, I guess. In television terms, this is also the reason for the existence of Global’s loathsome Train 48. Not to say that there isn’t a lot of garbage to go around—but, I’d say the main reason that you don’t see good Canadian films—is because its not really in the interest of TMN to show them. The purpose of all Canadian broadcasters and film exhibitors is to pump American product. Since film is so inextricably bound with commerce, it’s really impossible to discuss the state of the industry by only dissecting the films. Ultimately, unless Canadians take an active role in protecting and promoting their own culture—nothing will ever change. To shamelessly bowdlerize classic Harlan Ellison: “Canadian Film doesn’t suck. It is sucked”

tmhoover said...

Been meaning to get in on this action for some time- but my spyware-lousy computer keeps sabotaging me. At any rate, Dave is right on the money when he says vague accusations of "mediocrity" aren't going to get us anywhere; indeed, the buck-passing idea that someone else has to come up with a solution to "bad films" is subliminally the same appeal to authority that's been bollixing us up. (i.e.- Please, Daddy, won't you make a nice movie?)

I was trying with my post (and there will be more to come on various and sundry other Canadian film issues) to suggest that we do have to plough into our cultural history to see the patterns- and in terms of devoting our time to exploring them, there really hasn't been much progress since Margaret Atwood's "Survival" (That's a book every one of you should read, by the way).

My thesis wasn't merely that Canadians don't want to have fun, but that their approach to desire is an attempt to not deal with our problems- to say either that one either refuses to actively enter society or does so in an unconsciously destructive manner. The idea that you might be in control of how you deploy desire, and have to work out how the give-and-take of control works, is something we are loathe to do: we'd rather blame ourselves, blame America (no angel in our lives, admittedly), or come up with some other way to pre-empt the complexity of our situation.

The example of Catherine Breillat is a great one, because she's all about the politics of desire: she doesn't say they're bad (half her movies would vanish if she did), she just says they're not working, and in "Anatomy of Hell" tries to change the rules of the game. Canadians, because they believe such forward motion is suspect, sabotage themselves in trying to change them.

Though many have tried to posit our failure-fixated cinema as a stinging riposte to Yankee dominance, in fact they form the yin to their yang: we say America will dominate us, acquiesce to that dominance, and then occupy the moral high ground of the completely powerlessness. Which is shitty and smug and unacceptable practice in any sort of intellectual pursuit.

So that's the positive step I'm trying to take in my writing on CanCon: I want to turn us from resentful and/or self-flagellating cowards and into someone actively creating our identity. Instead of the many critics who cling tenaciously to our blighted self-image as ours and thus untouchable, I want to activate our ability to think beyond shame or oblivious destruction and get us everything we ever wanted, if only we'd fight for it.

Bill C said...

While I agree that (my) accusations of mediocrity were/are less than proactive, I'm not going to tell Canadian cinema that that dress doesn't make her ass look fat when the question arises. Such a desire to not make waves strikes me as equally symptomatic of our tendency to "pre-empt the complexity of our situation."

tmhoover said...

Wasn't suggesting that Canadian films aren't mediocre; our cinema's ass does indeed look enormous, and somebody has to point it out. I was merely suggesting that the conversation shouldn't stop there. The whole point is that we have to be more articulate about why our movies are terrible- i.e., come up with a gameplan for beating the ideological system in which we've found ourselves entangled. Only when we've formulated ways out of our patterns- patterns which can only be divined by studying massive amounts of terrible Canadian films- can we fix (or replace) the machine. The complaint is merely the starting pistol; running the race is an whole 'nother ball of wax.

Still, I didn't mean to make it look like I was spiking the ball in your face, Bill. Will choose my words more carefully next time.

Bill C said...

Fear not, kemosabe. Game on.