February 06, 2007

CanCon Confidential #1

In an attempt to raise the profile of Canadian film just one iota more, I hereby begin regular reporting on the films I've been screening at the Film Reference Library and from various alterna-video sources. Feel free to chime in if there's a title you'd like me to hunt down.

ONE MAN (Robin Spry, 1977) ** 1/2
The first fully-fictional film from docu-hybrid director Spry (Prologue), this makes a shaggy dialectic of NFB social conscience and tax-shelter era sensationalism. Len Cariou is a TV newsman who runs around chasing gun-toting gangsters; he stumbles onto a story when a nurse reveals the slow poisoning of her children's hospital by the polluting factory across the street. This naturally occasions some chasing, some manly soul-searching and a variety of threats and payoffs from the company at fault. One can see the documentary background in the unbroken takes and uncontrolled mise-en-scene, as well as the awkwardness with Hollywood tropes; still, it gets points for trying, plus there's Jayne Eastwood on hand as the long-suffering wife.

WHY ROCK THE BOAT? (John Howe, 1974) ***
This is straight-up, non-radical filmmaking all the way, but it's surprisingly polished and seems to know wherof it speaks. Stuard Gillard is the virginal greenhorn who gets a nonunion job at "the worst newspaper in Canada"; he then must navigate the meanspirited publisher, the macho reporting staff, and his crush on Tiiu Leek, a communist who writes for a rival paper. Based on a novel by Montreal Gazette veteran William Weintraub, it has a firm footing in its postwar milieu and seals the deal with its well-drawn (and somewhat coarse) characters.

WHY SHOOT THE TEACHER (Silvio Narizzano, 1977) ***
Another straight-shooting memoir movie (this time from Max Braithewaite), Teacher features Bud Cort as the naive schoolteacher who gets sent to rural Saskatchewan during the depression; not only do they refuse to pay him in anything other than food and IOUs, but the kids prove, shall we say, rather alienated from their lesson plans. Well-shot by Narizzano, and with a nice sense of see-sawing sympathy from Cort for the townspeople he at once hates and feels for. With a nice turn by Samantha Eggar as a war bride going stir-crazy.

SKIP TRACER (Zale Dalen, 1977)***
This could very easily have collapsed into imitative camp, but Dalen has a sense of his own vision rather than Hollywood's. David Petersen knocks it out of the park as a debt collector who's having a crisis of conscience; he's been the agency's biggest earner for several years running, but he's sick of the racket and the constant plaintive cries of the people he victimizes. Things go downhill when he tries to teach a younger charge the secrets of the business and turns him into a heartless prick. Wobbly in spots, and that apprentice sure has big hair, but the film has real charge thanks to Petersen and a genuinely acid sense of capitalism and its discontents.

Next: past masters discussed.


reel2reel said...

I mentioned this in the last Cancon entry, but probably after everyone was done reading it...

I saw Peter Mettler's The Top of His Head years ago (1989, I think) and remember it being one of the more interesting films I've seen. Non-linear storytelling, interesting characters, excellent Cinematography and Sound Design.

Of course, nobody else I know has ever heard tell of it.

tmhoover said...

I did see The Top of His Head- and was rather negatively impressed. First, the central salesman character was limp and wussy, when we all know you have to be aggressive to sell. Second, the whole set of "performance artist" shenanigans were the sort of thing that only a cloistered fellow-artist could consider newsworthy and/or radical. Third, the film doesn't actually put much against the hated salesman-milieu beyond people waving lights above their head- which, though photographed nicely, doesn't stick in any ideological/practical sort of way. Mettler remains the most technically adept of Canadian directors, but this ain't the movie I'd praise him for (try Scissere).

reel2reel said...

I think you need to see it on acid, like I did.

Where else are you going to see a woman give birth to a lab monkey on a Go Train, anyway?

Or was that the acid?

reel2reel said...

Actually, I think you're selling short some of the more subtle touches in the film.

tmhoover said...

Yeah, I imagine acid would improve that movie. Though I'll have to see it again to get the subtleties- seemed pretty jackhammer when I saw it.