January 11, 2007

CanCon: The Last Stand

A couple of disturbing notes from the CanCon wilderness.

1. Decided to go back to my stomping grounds at the Film Reference Library and watch myself more Canadian movies. Specifically, Canadian films made from the mid-sixties to about 1980, when the groundwork was still being laid and things were up for grabs. There were Quebecois films to see, and hybrid documentary-fiction hoo-has: specifically, things beyond the big names in the CanFlick canon. Unfortunately, a little digging unearthed two unpleasant surprises:

a) most of the Quebec movies were crusty VHS tapes...that were unsubtitled. Nobody in English Canada had cared about them to begin with, and the intervening years had made them more obscure- and nobody was filling the gap with DVD releases with plentiful extras. So a whole avenue of Canadian film (and by all accounts, the superior avenue) was cut off due to apathy.

This left me with the Anglo features. Of which I made the second unpleasant discovery:

b) Aside from the big names, there are about eleven titles from that period in the library. Not an exaggeration. And this is the premier place in Toronto, if not Canada, to do film research. So an entire, crucial period of Canadian filmmaking is more or less lost to human eyes.

But that's not as bad as what happened next.

2. Discovered the minor Canuck thriller The Pyx at my local alternative video store. I was disappointed, however, to find that the print they had secured was disastrously bad: sometimes even broken frames could be seen, and the fading of the image was disconcertin. I was annoyed for a minute, but then decided that that was the luck of the draw.

But then later I wondered: was it? Films as mediocre (or worse) than The Pyx had gotten the royal treatment from major studios- but it was The Pyx that got the bum's rush. And I realized: there is nobody owning a Canadian film library (or more likely, individual sources dribbed and drabbed from here and there) who had the resources to fix up the negative and strike a minty-fresh print. I made a second realization: this is what happens if you're a Canadian film. You get forgotten no matter how good, or good enough, you might be.

Faithful readers of the site know of my annoyance with standard Canuck film practice. But the way to fix what you don't like is to understand it. You have to watch and study; to see what tendency comes from where and how we wound up in this mess. At present, it is next to impossible for someone to get a complete impression of our country's cinema- it sits mouldering in a vault, a little more deteriorated every day, on its way to at best neglect and at worst total disintigration. And if we lose touch with what is about to disintigrate, we lose the ability to understand it and change its course.

We will continue on our one-way ticket to irrelevance if we burn the Library of Alexandria. And I don't see a way to stop it. If anybody has ideas on how to stave off disaster, I'm all ears.


Bill C said...

Been dying to see The Pyx ever since VIDEO WATCHDOG covered it in their "Tapes from the Attic" section. At the time they used the review as a platform to lobby for a new transfer, but unless you're a Canadian horror movie that happens to be named Black Christmas, it's an uphill battle. (Though Anchor Bay did put out a Special Edition of Pin.)

tmhoover said...

The Pyx wasn't all that, but it had its moments of interest- such as an interesting structure that had cop Christopher Plummer investigating Karen Black's death, the events of which were recounted in clumsy flashbacks. Not brilliant, but it was trying. Plus, any movie that combines Plummer and devil worship can't be all bad.

Anonymous said...

Could you tell me anything about this bilingual film Bon Cop, Bad Cop? I'm told that it was Canada's most successful domestic film (unadjusted for inflation), although most of its box office draw came from Quebec. If true, has there been any kind of an attempt from the Canadian film industry to capitalize on that success? And, in that case, could the vested interest in bilingual film result in an attempt to "bridge a gap" between French and English-speaking filmgoers by offering subtitles to older Quebec films?

Alex Jackson said...


I discovered the first two and a half minutes of Idiocracy on Ebaums.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the archive of Canadian films in libraries and video stores is woefully substandard. Chronic lack of financial will and largesse is a primary culprit, but we’re also battling against a Canadian distribution system which heavily favours American and European product as well as the unfortunate, ingrained attitude that Canadian films are inherently inferior to mainstream films from other countries. Charitable support from the TIFF and the myriad of other foundations might help in restoring/archive Canadian film history outside the NFB---but, this still requires the will of an organization to advocate on behalf of Canadian Film History; which is one tough walnut to crack. There are plenty of individuals more than happy to step up and diagnose what’s wrong with our movies—but not many who have the will or interest in doing anything about it. There are some nice programs offered by the TIFF and the Canadian Film Centre—but, they often strike me as anecdotal gestures, made quickly so that they can get down to the business of pushing Oscar Bait or training people for jobs that don’t exist. Canadian comment on the Canadian film industry is often tantamount to offering annual autopsies on a patient which is still alive. To me, this is a desperately sad situation. As a horror film buff, there are innumerable Canadian films which deserve the Black Christmas treatment (Rituals, Death Weekend and Curtains just to name a few)—these aint high art of course, but I’d stack them up against a sizable chunk of the Anchor Bay catalogue any day—Canadian, and a hell of a good time—who’d a thunk it? American and French film is intrinsically wedded to their respective cultural identities—which is ultimately a big the reason that those industries are so powerful and celebrated. Pride is an intangible force which goes a long way in explaining why Quebec films are doing just fine, merci. Grassroots support is key—and it can work. “Good Cop/Bon Cop” for instance. It’s no classic of course. But it was a good bit of fun that a lot of people went to see. Now, if one’s response to that is “Well! It only made 13 million!” then all is lost. Not the point. When matched with the US and Europe economically, Canada loses—it’s not even worth debating. Point is that plenty of people in Canada did see that film, not on TMN either—in actual movie theatres. So, what’s the answer? I say bring back the tax shelters. Make it a little sexy to invest in Canadian movies. Once there are more models for financial success out there, it will be much easier to get folks to pony up and preserve a bit of our history. Or, try to get Don Cherry involved somehow—in a few months, “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Claude Jutra” will be on everyone’s wish lists.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Try George Mendeluk's Stone Cold Dead (1979) and The Kidnapping of the President (1980).

Also, George Kaczender's Agency (1980) is an enjoyable little thriller.

Alex Jackson said...

Also, George Kaczender's Agency (1980) is an enjoyable little thriller.

Huh? Your own eFilmCritic review gives it two stars out of five. I personally thought it was pretty unbearable. Never bought a minute of it.

Rick said...

Someone save The Final Sacrifice!!!!

Bill, are you going to post a full Idiocracy review? I finally saw it and the ideas driving it were amazing. This seems up Walter's alley, did he see it yet? This was the angriest comedy ive seen in a while (actually since Click, but Judge's viscousness is justifiable), so hateful at points it seems Judge does not care about the humor being accessible. I still loved it though despite a slightly off-stride execution. The Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505 hahaha oh man, good stuff!

Alex Jackson said...

It's still a short wait at Netflix. Shortly after posting that link I checked out Youtube and they've posted almost the whole thing!

Jack_Sommersby said...


I had to give it 2 stars because it's just too ludicrous, but it's one of those guilty pleasures I enjoy watching. I mean, how many films are you going to see that dares cast Lee Majors as an advertising executive? Yeah, it's never believable for a second, but there's something fascinating about it that I've never been able to shake off.

Kirk said...

If anybody has ideas on how to stave off disaster, I'm all ears.

Get David Cronenberg on the line!!!!
Now I'm thinking what his secret movie-savin' hotline phone would be like. It's probably all lumps of flesh and eyes and you have to touch it in juuust the right way to get it to work.

I'm gonna call it the Cronenphone.

tmhoover said...

Sounds good- It'd throb like the tapes in Videodrome and secrete one of three hallucinogenic substances like in Naked Lunch.

reel2reel said...

I'd love the chance to see Peter Mettler's 1989 film The Top of His Head on DVD! This film left a lasting impression on me and was way ahead of its time. It really makes me cringe when people talk about non-linear storytelling like it's a new invention.

Amazing cinematography and sound design in this one, too.