Tuesday, 31 July 2012

FAT KID RULES THE WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - This funny, joyous and moving new comedy directed by Matthew Lillard focusing on teen obesity continues its run at Toronto's Coolest independent theatre, The Projection Booth

Fat Kid Rules The World (2012) dir. Matthew Lillard


Starring: Jacob Wysocki, Matt O'Leary, Billy Campbell, Dylan Arnold

Review By Greg Klymkiw
Upon seeing Fat Kid Rules The World, Matthew Lillard's lovely film from the fine screenplay by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, I was completely gobsmacked by how honest and real its portrait of teen obesity was. On every level, the film indelibly captures both the bittersweet and dark humour associated with the pain and horror of what it's like to be a fat kid. Most importantly, it tells an original, inspiring and genuine tale of how a fat kid not only gains the acceptance of his peers, but their respect for his inner qualities beneath the mounds of lard and flesh.

That the best independent American film of the past year also touches upon themes of friendship, loyalty and the importance of family is a mega-bonus.

That the film offers punk rock as a creative outlet for the main character to develop a greater sense of self-worth is several extra scoops of hot fudge marshmallow sauce on the cinematic ice cream sundae that is Fat Kid Rules The World.

Oh, and a few cheeseburgers, of course.


"Fat Kid Rules The World" continues its theatrical run at Toronto's coolest indie movie house The Projection Booth on Gerrard Street East, just south of India Town. For information and showtimes, visit the Projection Booth website HERE. MISS THIS AT YOUR PERIL.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

VITO - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Vito (2011) dir. Jeffrey Schwarz


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Growing up in New Jersey during the 1950s, young Vito knew early on that he wasn't like the other boys. Though warm and quick-witted, he was smack in the middle of post-war Italian Catholic machismo and always felt out of place amidst the rough, and tumble posturing of his peers.

Besides, Vito loved movies more than anything.

At an almost insanely early age, he was the first in his family to figure out how to use public transit. Most of his relatives and their friends never bothered to leave the neighbourhood. Vito, on the other hand, had little use for the insular world afforded to him by Jersey. Venturing into Manhattan yielded unrestricted access to his first love - the movies.

Following closely behind his passion for celluloid was Vito's burgeoning manhood - all the normal hormones raging, this led to an even greater discovery. In New York's Central Park, a seemingly endless line of park benches were filled with other men - all ages, shapes and sizes.

And they were all looking for the same thing.

It was here that Vito found acceptance amongst his "own kind" and discovered the joys of fleshly love. Mad, passionate, anonymous encounters were just what the doctor ordered. Alas, the doctor's name was Jekyll, furtively hiding the "beast" within - the Mr. Hyde of sexuality.

In the 50s and 60s, "aberrant" desires alone were enough to represent the influence of Beelzebub himself, but the very fulfilment of said desires not only instilled shame and a need for secrecy amongst the denizens of this secret club, but the one place that should have offered understanding, compassion and sanctuary did nothing of the kind.

Vito began confessing his "sinful" dalliances every week to the parish priest who gravely warned him that eternal hellfire would be the result of saluting the Rainbow Flag. Eventually, the less-than-kindly man of God blew his top (not the one that "counts") and declared he would no longer grant absolution to our young, gay Vito. He would be denied the flesh and blood of Christ until resolving to stop these sinful practises.

Though Vito always knew he was different, he had now found those who were likeminded, but instead of celebration, he and so many other homosexuals discovered that discrimination, disdain and outright hatred was packed into the pot at the end of the rainbow.

This, decided young Vito Russo, was wrong.

And he was going to do something about it.

Jeffrey Schwarz's superbly crafted feature documentary is dazzling! Vito, an always-compelling biography of a young man who became the most important activist for the rights of gay people in America is a movie that crackles with intense dramatic resonance. With peerlessly selected and edited archival footage, blended with new interview material, Schwarz delivers a movie that's as entertaining as it’s incendiary, as soaringly joyful as it is profoundly moving.

Following Vito’s incredible story in any way, shape or form would hold one’s interest, but Schwarz assembles the material with such drive and passion that watching the movie inspires the same feelings one gets whenever one is utterly smitten with a call to arms. Here, though, it’s a veritable cross-country road race of emotion. Schwarz places you so expertly in the various periods of Vito’s life while at the same time he manages to carve out actual nuance of character so that we’re embroiled in the narrative, swept along with the tide that is Vito and at times, impelled to action (or at least to imagine we are).

Granted, Schwarz has a phenomenal subject, but he delves into said subject with all the skill and artistry he can muster to deliver a movie that’s part biographical narrative, part history lesson (albeit a very thrilling one) and finally, utilizing all the skills and craft of a seasoned documentarian, he blasts through the barriers of expectation in the genre to keep us on the edge of our seats.

Astonishingly, for anyone who knows the arc of Russo's life, you're still sitting there hoping, almost demanding it will not go where you know it's going to go. And even when it gets there, Schwarz deals his cinematic cards so deftly that he delivers a climax and denouement that even the "converted" will be thrilled with.

Vito Russo's brilliance, understanding, wit, sensitivity and desire to bring people together were instrumental in rallying the Gay Nation to demand the same rights afforded to ALL Americans and allow them a safe, free and fulfilling life. Almost every major rally and protest involving gay rights was led with the commanding presence of Russo - brave, articulate, visionary, strong as steel and an orator of considerable panache and persuasion.

His love for movies, let to groundbreaking research in the field of gay images in film and resulted in "The Celluloid Closet", one of the most important books in the canon of cinema scholarship (and a bestseller to boot). Russo turned the book into a live performance/lecture with clips and toured it for 10 years. This resulted in his stirring activism that inspired a whole movement that challenged and examined gay imagery in popular culture.

And lest we forget Russo's most important and passionate fight during the AIDS epidemic when an entire generation of young men suffered, died and did so mercilessly when the American government and pharmaceutical companies turned a blind eye to this horrendous disease and the Right Wing Bible Thumping psychos used it as proof positive that God was punishing these aberrant sinners.

Russo, of course, would reject it from the grave, but if anyone deserves canonization in recent history, it's Vito.

Vito Russo fought for Gay rights, but in so doing, he fought for all of those who felt marginalized, disenfranchised, ignored, bullied and condemned. The Queer Nation is such a vital segment of the human experience that it's impossible to think where civilization would be without the input and influence of Queer Culture.

Jeffrey Schwarz, in making this important film is part of that contribution. This is a movie that MUST be seen by as wide an audience as possible and frankly, it's not enough for the film to appeal to only the "converted". Vito's story and the manner in which it's rendered by Schwarz yields a film that DEMANDS being utilized by every educator as an audio visual teaching aid within the syllabi of every middle school and high school. It is history, and as such should be presented with all the vitality educators can muster when they present overviews of how our lives were shaped by individuals and events of the 20th Century.

As a film, Vito places emphasis on what is, at least for me, the most important element that imbued Russo with the strength to fight - to the death - for basic human rights. Time and time again throughout the narrative, whatever strife or conflict Vito faced in his life, he did so secure in the knowledge that he had the support and, most importantly, the unconditional love of his family.

Love, ultimately, is what seems to drive Vito to greater and greater heights. Love for his fellow man, love for his family, and in turn, the love he was given by those who would often be the first to turn their backs on those who were Gay.

Not so for Vito.

The love and respect he received from his whole family was unconditional and this, might be the greatest lesson the film can impart on all who see it.

That said, those who need it the most are our youth - they're the future. If new generations, Gay and straight, can be infused with the notion of unconditional love, full acceptance and tolerance for ALL things, can't be too far behind.

See it, embrace it and demand that your Board of Education include it in their media libraries and demand that it be used in the social studies syllabi of all schools. It's one hell of a picture, but it also has the power to effect change for the better.

"Vito" is an HBO documentary that has been on the festival circuits and in limited theatrical release. In Toronto, it is currently playing at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas via Vagrant Films.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

"Le Combat dans l’île" - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Ultra Über Legendary TIFF Cinematheque programmer James Quandt "tire un lapin de son chapeau" to deliver the magnificent Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Alain Cavalier's moody thriller set in the world of colonialism and terrorism is a film as vibrant and necessary as it was in 1962. See it on a big screen and then, because you won't get enough of it after one viewing, you can acquire the sumptuous home entertainment release from Zeitgeist Films.

Le Combat dans l’île (1962)

dir. Alain Cavalier

Jean-Louis Tritignant,
Romy Schneider,
Henri Serre


Review By Greg Klymkiw

I love black and white movies.

I’m not saying I prefer black and white to colour, or that it’s superior in any way, but for me, black and white photography – when used in movies – forces the deep examination (or at least acknowledgement) of various shades of grey with respect to the political, thematic and/or emotional qualities of the work itself. While it might be argued that my preference for cinema in b/w is purely subjective and relates strictly to preferring the ‘look’, I’d counter that the visual qualities take a back seat to cinematic storytelling elements, which indeed go far deeper than mere surface.

One of my favourite movies of all time is Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, a picture that details the grimy nightlife of New York press agents and gossip columnists. Most importantly is how b/w renders NYC itself – a city seen mostly from dusk to dawn – replete with violence, excitement, electricity, deception and despair. It is a city where the film's star Burt Lancaster, upon witnessing a violent drunken altercation outside a nightclub, literally salutes the swill around him and declares, "I love this dirty town".

Seen through the lens of cinematographer James Wong Howe, the atmosphere of Sweet Smell of Success and its setting – both exhilarating and rank with people and places of the most odious variety – would, if filmed in colour, make a completely different film. The world of the picture can ONLY exist in monochrome – a world replete with multi-layered emotions, desires and intentions. In a contemporary context, colour is often seen as ‘reality’ whereas anyone consciously choosing b/w is seen as applying a heavy brush of artifice and mediating the vision in some impure, unreal fashion. This is nonsense, of course. Aesthetically and narratively, the literal shades of grey that only monochrome can deliver are precisely what reveal and explore the thematic and emotional shades of grey that make the movie so powerful.

Is it artificial? You bet! All cinematic art (to varying degrees) involves the application of artifice. In this sense, the use of black and white is no less ‘real’ than colour.

And maybe, just maybe, it's more real.

I discovered the great Alain Cavalier picture Le Combat dans l’île a couple of years ago in the days leading up to Dominion Day (unimaginatively renamed Canada Day in the 1980s) – a celebration instituted by Mother England among the Commonwealth to celebrate its official status as the greatest colonial power in the world. Aptly, I viewed Le Combat dans l’île on plasma in my hideaway on the extreme northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula – a piece of land that was colonised not once, but twice – first, rather benignly by the French and secondly, less benignly by the British. In both cases, the Peninsula’s aboriginal nations were decimated by genocide, pestilence and the influx of land-gobbling inbred miscreants from the northern reaches of the UK. The Dominion of Canada still maintains official ties to the Crown of England, though it does so with unfettered self-determination, unlike the abused and exploited aboriginal nations before it.

In any event, it seems utterly appropriate for me to have watched the fabulous Zeitgeist Films DVD release of Le Combat dans l’île within the context of a colonial celebration in a region endlessly pillaged by the masters of colonisation. After all, Cavalier made the picture in the waning days of France’s Algerian War when le beau pays was fraught with division regarding its place as a colonial power. Reflecting those turbulent times, director Cavalier crafted an intensely powerful film – passionate, boldly political, charged with violence, rife with betrayal and sexy as all get-out.

And get this – it’s in black and white!

And yes, the shades of grey within the narrative itself begin early on in the proceedings as we’re introduced to Anne (Romy Schneider) and Clément (Jean-Louis Tritignant). Anne is a former actress who has abandoned her artistic calling to fulfil the role of dutiful wife to Clément. Her hedonistic qualities seem unfairly hemmed in by this arrangement and though she appears to love her husband, her happy-go-lucky nature in social situations wavers between innocent and overtly flirtatious.

Clément is clearly smitten with her charms when they’re alone, but less so in public (where he assumes she's trying to seduce everyone but him). The moronic jealousy-magma roiling in his head would (as it always is with us men) be better served if it travelled to the head located in the southerly nether regions below his torso to perform his husbandly duties instead of indulging in his envy-green imagination. With Romy Schneider as his wife – a catch if there ever were one – he’s a lucky fella indeed and should really be flushing out his obsessive jealousy.

Then again, the picture itself is firmly rooted in a neo-noir world where seemingly lucky (or unlucky) guys can never properly see what’s staring them right in the face. This is certainly the deal with rock-headed Clément. He comes from a wealthy family, holds a cushy, work-free position with his Father, a powerful industrialist, and yet, seeks rather pathetically to become ‘political’. He chastises Daddy for kowtowing to Liberal sentiments, leaves the firm and allows himself to be duped by conservative extremists into assassinating a key left-wing political figure.

In spite of all this, Anne is devoted to him. While she leaves Clément after one of his upper-magma-head outbursts, she soon returns to be his loyal sex kitten. When he’s betrayed after a foiled assassination attempt, his mug plastered all over the newspapers and television screens, she turns into his faithful moll and heads on the lam with him.

Things go awry when they shack up with his old chum Paul (Henri Serre), a sensitive lefty who eventually cottons on to Clément’s right-wing terrorist shenanigans. When our not-so-clear-headed hero takes off on an odyssey of revenge, Anne falls in love with Paul, who rekindles her acting career and a belief in a life of gentle compassion. It is, however, just a matter of time before Clément returns and wants Anne back, and given his transformation from a misguided, somewhat inept terrorist into a cold-hearted killer, the proceedings inevitably point to a showdown.

And what a showdown it is!

And if you haven’t guessed already, Le Combat dans l’île is one terrific picture!

Given the state of the world at this point in time, Le Combat dans l’île seems as vibrantly relevant as it must have been upon its first release in 1962. We currently live in a world where America, purporting to be a saviour, is little more than a colonial power – using Band-Aid solutions to pacify its near-Third World domestic conditions and forcing itself upon Muslim nations in order to control their wealth. Equally, we live in a world where young men on the extremist Muslim side, some from desperate straits and others from positions of privilege, are duped into committing acts of violence in the name of God and ultimately, to maintain control of the wealth America seeks to steal from them.

The puppet masters in both cases have everything to gain, while the puppets have everything to lose. And this is why Clément is never fully reprehensible as a character, at least not during the first two-thirds of the picture. Jean-Louis Tritignant’s great performance allows us to empathise with Clément. Through a sexy, tough-as-nails exterior we see a character who thinks he is making active decisions, but is, more often than not, manipulated by those who are quick to take advantage of his need for political fulfilment. In a sense, Clément reminds me of Tom Neal’s hapless, hard-boiled oaf in Edgar Ulmer’s noir classic Detour – so easily seduced, so easily duped, so easily abandoned – and we do feel for him in spite of all his miscalculations and failings.

I love how Cavalier’s script (with dialogue by Jean-Paul Rappeneau) adds very subtle details to Clément’s character, which in turn force Tritignant to engage in the thespian callisthenics of subtle, delicate shading. Perhaps the best example of this is the manner in which Tritignant conveys his relationship to his father and to his family’s money: there’s a sense that what he needs is not acceptance, coddling or an easy ride from his père, but love – pure and simple – a love that might have saved him from the arms of an 'evil' seductress.

That seductress is not the nasty ice-blooded femme fatale in Edgar Ulmer's noir classic Detour (exhuberantly played by the late, great Ann Savage whose final role, as Guy Maddin’s mother Herdis in My Winnipeg was one of the great swan songs in movie history). Clément’s temptress in Le Combat dans l’île is something far more insidious than a steely, deadly blonde, but turns out to be the extreme right wing and its insatiable need for power through colonisation, exploitation and deadly terror tactics.

This is, after all, neo-noir, not film noir – where misplaced idealism takes the place of a flesh-and-blood hottie.

If anything, the entity Clément admires most is what brings him down. He seeks acceptance from nobody other than himself – a worthy enough goal, but one that renders him irrevocably and tragically prostate to the whims of New World Order-styled power brokers.

Another fascinating element of Cavalier’s picture is the use of trinity within the narrative structure. This is manifested on a thematic and character level through the numerous triangles that stem from Clément himself. The first involves Clément, his wife Anne and his almost romantic obsession with the Bitch Goddess that is not flesh and blood, but the perverse ideals of the right wing. The second concerns his inability to bond with his father, his intense need to find his way in the world through politicisation of the most reprehensible kind and the fact that, ironically, his father is as much a part of the New World Order as the crackpots Clément is aligned with. Thirdly, and perhaps most tragically, is the literal love triangle between Clément, Anne and his old childhood pal Paul.

As played by the sensitive, aquiline-featured Henri Serre, Paul is Trintignant’s opposite in every way, and given Anne’s warmth and vibrancy, he becomes the left-wing White Knight (or, if you will, Red Knight) in Shining Armour. Serre, by the way, was no neophyte when it came to love triangles, having played the role of Jim in the ultimate cinematic rendering of the ménage à trois, Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim – released, incidentally, the same year as Le Combat dans l’île.

Trinity is, of course, an extremely important element within the context of classical cinema, and Cavalier comes from a great tradition of French filmmakers who dazzled us with their commitment to a time-honoured storytelling form while, at the same time, maintaining clear, individual voices. While Cavalier made this picture during the period of French cinema's nouvelle vague, he is closer to the spirit of Jean Renoir, HG Clouzot and Jean-Pierre Melville (who delightfully makes a cameo appearance in the picture as un membre de l’organisation) than to the style-over-emotional-substance approach of someone like Jean-Luc Godard.

Le Combat dans l’île is the work of a great artist who works within a very structured narrative environment – approaching his mise en scène with the assuredness of a master, in spite of the fact that this is his first film. This is especially astounding to me. When it comes to contemporary filmmakers and their debut work, so much emphasis is placed by reviewers on pure (albeit occasional brilliant) visual flourishes, or worse, the obviousness of those like Christopher ‘One Idea’ Nolan or Wes (Aren't I cute?) Anderson who are armed only with trick-pony approaches to rendering drama. Cavalier’s mature, intelligent and genuinely emotional work in Le Combat dans l’île makes most of the aforementioned lot look like a playpen full of rank amateurs. Cavalier’s precision and attention to story detail is something that more young filmmakers should emulate, while the few real film critics left in the mainstream (and who should know better) need to bestow fewer accolades upon the masturbatory gymnastics of the poseurs.

And despite the claims of auteuristes and their apologists, movies are not made in a vacuum. With this debut feature, Cavalier was blessed to have as producer and mentor Louis Malle, a great classical filmmaker in his own right for whom Cavalier served previously as an assistant director. In addition to the co-authorship of Jean Paul Rappeneau (who would go on to direct Cyrano and The Horseman on the Roof, contemporary entries in the French classical cinema sweepstakes, though far less dazzling and more workmanlike than the works of Cavalier, Clouzot, Melville, et al), Le Combat dans l’île is stunningly shot in magnificent black and white by Pierre Lhomme, who went on to shoot, among many others, such classics as Melville’s Army of Shadows, Someone Behind the Door, one of the great French Euro-trash thrillers starring Charles Bronson, Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore and mon préféré du bonbon pervers du cinéma, Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie.

Cavalier’s most prominent collaborators, however, are his fabulous trio of central performers. Romy Schneider, after many historical roles in form-wrenching period girdles, made her debut here in a contemporary story and acquitted herself magnificently as Anne, the woman who acts as a deadly wedge between the two leading male characters. (With this film, Schneider also proves, that the girdles were, except for adherence to historical accuracy in her previous work, completely unnecessary.)

Serre as Anne’s lefty saviour has, without question, never been better (save, perhaps, for Jules et Jim). There is both peace and sadness in his eyes, yet his transformation from a gentle, lonely man to someone infused with both the passion of love and the requisite savagery needed for self-preservation makes him a more-than-perfect male counterpart to Trintignant.

All said and done, however, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who eventually gave an equally stunning performance (in a somewhat similar role) in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist, continually delivers the unexpected in the role of Clément. One aspect of his performance I love is his eventual transformation into a major creep – from an empathetic dupe, he slowly morphs into something that is, frankly, skin-crawlingly malevolent. It’s here where one pines for his character’s redemption even more vigorously than before, all the while sensing futility in such an exercise. It's a fleshy performance in a role endowed with an abundance of strata.

Shades of grey, it would seem, never offer easy solutions or pat feelings. In Le Combat dans l’île, they offer a rich neo-noir patisserie of the highest order, deliciously, thrillingly and densely layered.

Oh yes, and have I mentioned how great it looks in black and white?

"Le Combat dans l’île" MUST be seen, but to see it on film, on a big screen is a very special treat. For those living in Toronto, the TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinematheque programme from James Quandt will afford you this opportunity during the "Summer in France" series. For playdates, showtimes and tickets, visit the TIFF website HERE. Then, please consider purchasing the Zeitgeist Films exquisite DVD release.

To assist with the maintenance of this site, feel free to purchase "Le Combat dans l’île" from Zeitgeist Films by directly clicking on the Amazon Links below.

This review is a rewritten and re-edited version of a piece first published in my column "Colonial Report from the Dominion of Canada" in the very cool UK movie mag "Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema". Feel free to visit HERE.

Friday, 20 July 2012

PEACE OUT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - This award winning documentary by Charles Wilkinson is a potent, powerful plea to end the madness of gluttonous energy consumption before it's too late for us and future generations.

Peace Out (2012) dir. Charles Wilkinson **** Reviewed by Greg Klymkiw

For most of the year I'm happy to say I live off the grid. The decision to choose an alternative to traditional electrical power was, at first, the almighty buck - the savings would be substantial. That solar energy was environmentally preferable to Hydro was the maraschino cherry on the hot fudge sundae of blowing those clowns off the grid. What a great way to say, "Fuck you, Hydro." Peace Out, a film directed by Charles Wilkinson and produced by Tina Schliessler, further opened my eyes to the genuine importance of my decision to go off the traditional energy grid.

This movie is all about energy and the horrible price we all pay for our hog-at-the-trough need for Hydro. The price, let it be said, is not just dollars and cents. The price is the rape of natural resources and the destruction of our environment. And the real need, beyond "our" need, is the need for corporations to do whatever they want to do in order to generate profits.

Wilkinson and Schliessler have rendered a powerful, persuasive and important film that focuses upon the environmental decimation of Canada's northwest. In northern British Columbia, the picture introduces us to the Peace River Valley - an area of (seemingly) pristine wilderness that drains a geographical area larger than most countries in Europe. To the naked eye in most of the area and certainly the picture's numerous stunning shots of the heart-achingly beautiful landscape, it comes as a major head-scratcher and double-take to discover that the industrial development with this northern paradise is not only firmly rooted within the topography, but is, in fact, shockingly vast.

Due to government planning (yes, I know, an oxymoron) and strategic corporate development (the real power, as opposed to either government or the general populace), it had been decided to build a major power dam within the Peace River area which would flood the valley and back up the river by over 80 kilometres (also affecting two other rivers. They'd each be backed up 10 to 20 kilometres).

The picture skillfully draws us into a miasma of academics, corporate lackeys, politicians and just-plain-folk who live in the valley and we're delivered the simple facts that power consumption in the cities to the south is so gluttonous that this new source of energy is a simple, unavoidable necessity.

But at what cost?

Southern British Columbia - particularly Vancouver - is currently powered by the Bennett Dam in Hudson Hope. This monstrosity has created the largest man-made reservoir on the planet. Corporate scumbags with the various energy corporations maintain that this is "clean energy". The reality is that the reservoir is a living desert of toxins.

David Schindler, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta emphatically states that reservoirs are not greenhouse-gas-free as many ignorant politicians believe and greedy corporate swine maintain. When flooded terrestrial vegetation starts to decompose, methane-producing bacteria is driven and released into the atmosphere. Methane gas is 20 times more potent than CO2 emissions and the result is mercury entering atmosphere which, in turn is fed back into the fish population - doubling and quadrupling the mercury levels.

This is the fate of the Peace River Valley if this assault upon nature is not stopped. Let's not even mention, though we shall, the fact that Peace River is a world class wildlife habitat which currently allows for natural connectivity between the northern to southern Rocky Mountains which all the animals use in their migration patterns. Flooding the valley will seriously impact the natural ebb and flow of these creatures, and possibly result in their death and/or total extinction from the region.

This is unacceptable. For now, however, the juggernaut of destruction cannot be stopped. We're ultimately the losers if this occurs. The winners will be corporate hogs who suck humanity and nature dry.

And much of this is our fault for requiring so much energy. In fairness to our own gluttony for energy, the film points out how it is indeed technologically possible to reduce energy - it happens all the time. That said, making devices energy efficient inspires a rebound effect wherein a multitude of devices are created to replicate these energy efficiencies in the production and use of more devices that draw even more energy - not to mention the energy required to manufacture them in the first place.

Who benefits? The corporations that design, manufacture and market these goods.

Government and business both maintain there is no choice but to rape the land since the demand for energy is so high amongst the general populace. The citizenry, in turn, refuse to reduce the incremental load requirements through energy efficiency.

One of the horrendous effects of destroying the Peace River Valley is, according to local farmers, the eventual loss of prime farm land to provide future generations of Canadians in British Columbia with food. Currently, most of BC's fruits and vegetables are imported from California and it's a fact that this will dwindle to almost nothing when America itself will face a growth shortage and be taking care of its own needs first.

The supply of food from California is not endless. Instead of destroying the environment, BC should take the lead in terms of self-sufficiency. Alas, one of the woeful statistics the film points out is that 80% of the food for the region used to be grown locally, but is now less than 7%. This is not only appallingly myopic, but there's zero attention paid to the monetary costs of transporting the food and most notably, the environmental costs of said transport.

Natural Gas companies maintain that they have the cleanest energy, but their record of pillaging nature is just as bad, if not worse than hydro electricity.

"It's greed," maintains Roland Wilson, Chief of the West Moberly First Nation. "They're making billions of dollars on oil and gas. They go into third world countries and kill people for the amount of money they're making up here."

Even more annoying is how all the power companies, like government, do little more than finger-point at each other in terms of whose rape of the land results in cleaner energy. Peace Out, ultimately proves this, but does so in a cool, collected and even balanced manner. We get a litany of indiscretions which are defended by the perpetrators.

Fracturing is, for example, a necessary evil in the extraction of natural gas, but requires an insurmountable amount of fresh water to do so. Chief Roland Wilson points how just one gas company will extract 10,000 gallons of water from Peace River. One company out of a multitude who are all doing the same thing.

We meet a local trailer camp owner who is the victim of a water shortage. We see one huge truck after another, barreling along the road outside her camp, all full of water extracted from Peace River. In the meantime, her well has run dry.

Even more staggering is that these for-profit companies are allowed to extract this water for free. The government (such as it is) allows these pigs to slurp up millions upon millions of cubic meters of publicly-owned water and doesn't charge ANYTHING for this. In this area alone there are thousands of natural gas wells using free water. In some cases a mixture of salt water and fresh water are used for fracturing and the corporate mouthpieces insist this is extremely "clean". When the saline escapes into the land, is this truly "clean"?

Our government is allowing corporations a free ride and worse yet, has no stringent regulations in place. The elected-powers-that-be prefer industry self-regulation. This has one academic in the movie laughing. He maintains that self-regulation never works. If someone is driving 120km in a 100km zone, are they going to self-regulate by pulling over and calling the police on themselves to ask for a speeding ticket? Of course not. So why would a corporation, entrusted by law to make profits for its shareholders, self-regulate when it's their job to save money at any and all costs. With no regulations, abuse is inevitable.

There are, of course, government inspectors, but in an area the size of the state of Nebraska, there are 1.2 such watchdogs.

Effective, yes?

Government is so ineffectual in such matters that permits are actually issued to companies for cross purposes in one location. A mining company is allowed to blast its way through rock with explosives in the same vicinity an energy company is extracting natural GAS. Last time I checked, gas and explosives are not a happy combination.

In the case of Peace River, the very remoteness is what contributes to the almost impossible task of promoting awareness and thus allowing, under the cover of being in the middle of nowhere, such intense and irresponsible levels of industrial activity.

And then there are the dirty hippie hypocrites who were children of the 60s - they're the ones who are aware of the risks, but they're also old and want to reap the benefits of their shares in energy companies. It's easy for them to acknowledge, but finally not care whether the environment is messed up. As a stock trader notes, these are the fake lefties who "want a comfortable life and don't care if 100 ducks died in the oil sands - they will not shun things that make money."

Shareholders and corporations think in the present. They have no long range plans save for amassing wealth. Industry itself is always driving up the demand for cheap power sources as they manufacture goods that the public needs to expend energy upon to operate in their ignorant bliss.

Peace Out takes you by surprise and leaves you breathless. At first, the filmmaking seems like rudimentary TV-doc-stuff, but as we dive further into Wilkinson and Schliessler's vital film, we're eventually a party to cinema of the highest order. Clever, subtle juxtapositions, smooth transitions between the beauty of nature, the destruction of the environment, the fluorescent-lit government and/or corporate offices, the dark, almost Gordon Willis styled shots of energy executives and in one case, an utterly heartbreaking montage of energy waste set to Erik Satie's Gymnopedie #1 - all of these exquisitely wrought moments and more, inspire sadness, anger and hopefully enough of these emotions will translate into inspiring action - even, as a Greenpeace interview subject suggests - civil disobedience.

Corporations will do nothing. Government will do nothing. The people have to do the right thing.

Time's a wasting, though. We need to fight for the right to a better world. If not, it's going to die.

Actions, as the film subtly suggests, speak louder than words. Images, as stunningly relayed by the makers of Peace Out, inspire, or can inspire change.

That said, it all begins in our own homes. We need to turn the lights off for a brighter future - to shine as a beacon to our children and their children that we didn't put ourselves first.

See this film.

Then do something.

I don't think it's too much to ask.

"Peace Out" is currently in platform release across Canada via Indie-Can Entertainment and Torontonians can see the film at The Bloor Cinema. For showtimes, info and tickets click HERE

Thursday, 19 July 2012

GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD - Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw - A personal history and appreciation of one the greatest films of all-time and the most important narrative feature film ever made in Canada. Playing to superb boxoffice and garnering rave reviews upon its first theatrical release in 1970, it is, without question, the film that inspired and allowed for a rich legacy of personal indigenous cinema in Canada. Donald Shebib's classic is now available on a restored, extras-packed special edition DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Combo that includes Shebib's 2011 sequel DOWN THE ROAD AGAIN

Goin' Down the Road (1970)
dir. Donald Shebib
Starring: Doug McGrath, Paul Bradley, Jayne Eastwood, Cayle Chernin, Nicole Morin, Pierre La Roche, Sheila White, Don Steinhouse, Ted Sugar, Ron Martin, Dennis Bishop


Review By Greg Klymkiw

"In Goin' Down the Road, Shebib does what the Cassavetes of Shadows knew how to do, and he does it better." - Roger Ebert

"There is scarcely a false touch . . . at times one forgets [Goin' Down the Road] is an acted film." - Pauline Kael
Greatness in any work of art is distinguished as something or someone achieving the highest, most outstanding levels of magnitude, significance and importance. Based on this, there is simply no question that Donald Shebib's Goin' Down the Road is a great movie. Its tremendous force, power and lasting value is one that is achieved by very few amongst so many. The picture, on so many levels, represents the quintessence of greatness, but must also be regarded as a work that expresses a wholly indigenous cultural representation of a country that has lived in the shadow of the cultural and economic dominance since its very inception.

When Shebib first made the movie in the late 1960s, my only exposure to the idea of a Canadian movie was through the medium of documentary - specifically those produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). While tons of NFB films were screened in public-school classrooms, I'd also see them on television - often at weird times like Sunday afternoons on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Ever so delightfully I'd see NFB shorts on big screens. Chains like Famous Players (via a theatrical distribution deal NFB had through Astral Films which, like ALL major distributors, had fully-staffed branch offices in Winnipeg, but were long-ago closed and centralized in Toronto) would book them into the theatres as shorts. In Winnipeg, the branch office of the Famous Players chain (at the time fully staffed, though now non-existent for any exhibition chain) would go so far as to get a local artist to generate an original poster for the shorts and mount them in their own case in front of the several picture palaces (all gone).

Can you imagine it? A time when a branch office of a major exhibition chain commissioning original posters from a local artist to advertise a National Film Board of Canada SHORT?

These days, one practically needs to put a gun to the head of Cineplex Entertainment (which eventually swallowed Famous into its maw to create a near-monopoly in motion picture exhibition in Canada) to put up a poster for ANY Canadian film in its lobby, play a trailer for ANY Canadian film on choice screens (if any at all) or, for that matter, to play a Canadian feature film (much less shorts) theatrically. (And so not to solely crap on Cineplex, though they deserve the lion's share of putrid faecal matter, Canadian distributors and producers need to step up their game and generate good trailers, posters, ad slicks and, uh. . . movies. Most of all, Canadian producers need to stop whining behind closed doors about the woeful state they're in and start vocally, aggressively and courageously confronting this head on instead of worrying about their product being black-balled and mishandled further.)

In those days, there actually WAS a bright future for Canadian cinema - the charge led, frankly, by Goin' Down the Road. However, the state of exhibition and distribution was also more adventurous and visionary.

During the 60s and 70s, commercial exhibitors played shorts and cartoons in addition to trailers - and NO commercials. Libraries too also had regular showings in their A/V auditoriums on 16mm. Most contemporary whippersnappers reading this probably have NO experience with 16mm and perchance, don't even know what it is - but it was the primary means of shooting documentaries and anything requiring a light, handheld camera. Additionally, 16mm film prints were also lighter, smaller and easier to ship and project for the huge non-theatrical institutional market. (And call me what you will, digital will NEVER be as gorgeous as film.)

Even cooler was watching NFB documentaries at home on 16mm.

A long time ago, in a Dominion of Canada far, far away, my Dad was the Sales Promotions dude at Carling O'Keefe Breweries during a time when ALL traditional advertising outlets for ANY alcoholic beverage were prohibited on a variety of regional and national levels. In order to market and sell beer, my Dad and his huge sales team had to make in-person visits to every conceivable watering hole to buy rounds, get to know individual staff and patrons, install lights, signs and mirrors bearing the brand names of the beers, hand out logo-emblazoned swag like gym bags, shirts, bottle openers and my personal favourite, the OV lif-de-loc a handy-dandy wooden paint stick with an opening on its end to allow you to comfortably reach over and open car door locks in the days when electronic door openers did not exist. (They not only made for great lock openers, but could be used as actual paint sticks or, as my mother does to this day, use as support posts for stuff growing in her garden.)

My Dad's favourite activity involved sponsoring every manner of urban and rural sporting activities with beer banners everywhere, 'natch, and for outdoor events, he commandeered the Carling O'Keefe Caravan, a huge house trailer with brand names of beer emblazoned on it. Equipped with a humungous sound system for announcements, introductions and even play-by-play (replete, of course, with plugs for Carling-O'Keefe beer product) this phallic, missile-shaped monstrosity was fully climate controlled, stocked with chilled stubbies of OV and adorned with a hospitality suite for - ahem - VIPs.

The celebrities, so to speak, were usually rural civic officials, small town media, long-retired local sports personalities, grain or mustard seed barons, officers from the local R.C.M.P. detachment, hotel-keepers, watering-hole owners and, on occasion, very pretty young ladies who were corralled into the caravan by some gap-toothed prominent local businessman with a cyst or two on his forehead. These ladies (very young, as I remember it) perched themselves on the knees of all the happy fellows who, in turn, force-fed them hard liquor with beer chasers. Once in awhile these young ladies, on the arms of these prominent gentlemen, giggled and stumbled into the back-room bedrooms. I'm still not sure why, but perhaps they needed naps.

Amazingly, the various government agencies that banned booze advertising, but allowed booze promotions, were too stupid to realize that this hands-on approach to marketing had far more potential to "corrupt" youth since most of the events sponsored were decidedly family-friendly. This is above and beyond the behind-the-scenes "corruption".

The one promotion that, for me, was the TOTAL "cat's ass", involved my Dad buying shitloads of short films from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) on the company dime, editing Carling-O'Keefe beer commercials into the prints (yes, on a Moviola in my Dad's office - which he showed me how to use), then going from watering hole to watering hole with a few 16mm NFB prints, a Bell and Howell projector and a portable screen to present free movies to the beer-quaffing patrons.

Dad would always cover the first round.

But then, just guess how many beers with the Carling O'Keefe brand were purchased and consumed by patrons during the screenings? When the "boys" started to get especially misty-eyed over the slam-dunk "feature" presentation (the NFB's Canada at War series, which always followed a few NFB docs and cartoons), the stubbies littered the old wooden tavern tables like so many discharged shells on the beach during D-Day. Some of those "boys" fought in the World Wars and others had Grandfathers, Dads, Uncles, brothers, friends etc. who died in them. In fact, one of Dad's favourite gimmicks was to tour small town Royal Canadian Legion Halls and show nothing but "Canada At War" and other related docs. His product flowed down the gullets of malcontent veterans with the force and volume of Niagara Falls itself.

As a kid, my Dad took me on innumerable promotional runs with him all over the Canadian prairies and northwestern Ontario. When I waltzed into taverns with Dad, nobody batted an eye that I was a minor. In fact I usually wasn't the only minor in the dens of "depravity". In addition to kids sitting and watching their Dads quaff back double shooters with beer chasers, I often saw other kids wandering in and dragging their supremely inebriated fathers home for dinner.

Ah, the joys of post-war prosperity. Then again, there was the myth of post-war prosperity - often mirrored/exposed through docs and dramatic feature films from the late 40s and up into the early 70s. Goin' Down the Road, in its own way, is a "first" on so many fronts, and I'd certainly cite it as a Canadian "first" within this near-sub-genre of cinema.

And ever-so delightfully, the brewery had more than one projector and hundreds of prints in their library. Our family home - long before the advent of home entertainment - was the most popular place in the neighbourhood. I also had lots of pocket money from basement and/or backyard screenings. I charged a dime for every admission. So sue me, I was only seven years old when I began the film exhibition portion of my career.

In retrospect, one of the neatest things is that a favourite title in "my" collection of NFB shorts was directed by Don Shebib, 1965's Satan's Choice which detailed the early beginnings of what became Toronto's notorious East-End biker gangs. Even as a kid, and especially within the working-class north-end of Winnipeg, biker culture reigned supreme. Hell, I eventually went to school with guys who ended up in Winnipeg's Los Bravos and even peripherally knew one guy whose entire family was murdered when he turn-coated on the gang. (Interestingly, they meant to kill him, but he hightailed it through his bathroom window. They slaughtered his pregnant wife and two children instead. Revenge for the gang was even sweeter that he had to live with the reality of how both his betrayal and cowardice led to the savage deaths of those he held dearest.)

Memories, it seems, die hard. As do my memories of the context with which I viewed the hundreds upon hundreds of films I watched as a kid.

Being a geek of the highest order, even at that tender age, I kept detailed files on every movie I saw - theatrical, shorts, documentaries, cartoons and much later, when cable TV came to Winnipeg, select MOWs on TV (a la the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Spielberg's Duel, the Dan Curtis horror classic adaptations, etc.). As a movie nut since age 4, I saw plenty of movies on TV, but I'm especially precious about having seen some of the coolest movies in movie theatres during my pre-teen and teen years.

Amazingly, this included such counter-culture Canadian pictures by Don Shebib as Rip-Off, Between Friends and yes, his legendary Goin' Down The Road, a movie that practically invented English Canadian cinema with its neorealist portrait of two losers from the Maritimes making their way in the big, cold and mean city of Toronto. For me, as a crazed lover of movies, Shebib continued to deliver the goods. I went ape over Heartaches and Fish Hawk and yes, even Running Brave (a Disney production starring Robby Benson in which Shebib chose a nom-de-plume for his directing credit).

But it all started with one picture.

My first helping of Goin' Down the Road occurred in a huge first-run theatre in downtown Winnipeg on a Saturday afternoon during its opening weekend. As far as I was concerned, it was just a "normal" Hollywood movie. There were mega-ads for the picture in the newspapers and though I went to see everything, there was something, even then, that attracted me to the ad slicks. I should clarify that I saw every movie I was allowed to see on my own and that my parents took me to all those requiring an adult to accompany me. God bless them! Of course, those who know me and/or my regular readers are aware of the fact that in my early teens I forged fake I.D. - driving licences and birth certificates were my specialty. I generously forged these items for both myself and friends - the latter for a price, 'natch.

So there I was, every inch the burgeoning movie geek, sitting alone in an aisle seat. When my Mother started letting me go to movies by myself, I promised her I would sit in aisle seats as they afforded an easier escape route in case I was approached by a child molester. It's a habit I've kept up for well over forty years. It appears to have worked (save for the time when, as an adult, I went to a porn theatre on west Bloor Street in Toronto and realized that the nice fellow who sat next to me was, in fact, looking for a blow job.)

As per usual, I digress.

So there I was, sitting alone in an aisle seat near the front. With anticipation I listened to the pleasant Muzak which always played during the pre-show and gazed at the beautifully-lit majestic curtains draped over the humungous screen. Once all the shorts and previews of coming attractions unspooled, Goin' Down the Road finally began.

The first thing I noticed was Shebib's name, which I recalled from the NFB biker documentary I loved. I even remember thinking, how nice it was that a Canadian director was making a Hollywood movie - just like Norman Jewison (who, even by this time I was well acquainted with).

In no time at all, it became very clear to me that Goin' Down the Road was not a movie from Hollywood. It had characters, a good story and yet, I was reminded of all those NFB documentaries I'd seen, all those "Hey Mabel! Black Label" beer commercials my Dad cut into the doc film reels. People said, "Eh!" I'd never heard that in Hollywood movies. Most of all, during scenes inside a bottling plant and numerous taverns, I was confronted by settings, language and people I knew.

This was Canadian!

And this made me feel great!

September 18, 1970 was, what they say in the parlance of old-style journalism, a pretty good news day.

The Jordanian army ordered a temporary cease fire to allow Arab Palestinian guerillas the opportunity to surrender while Uncle Sam ordered additional planes and ships into the Mediterranean to beef up their presence in case Americans needed to be evacuated.

In the Dominion of Canada, a doctor in Vancouver pled guilty to performing abortions and read a court statement about how he performed over 500 procedures to save women from back alley hatchet jobs.

The Feds announced their support for birth control and ordered further research into the eventual use of "The Pill", whilst provincially, the Manitoba government announced they were giving serious thought to the idea of a $1,000,000 lottery.

A different world on one hand, but on the other, one that's strangely familiar in a contemporary context. The names change, but everything old becomes new again. With the passing of each year, decade and generation we see the same patterns and realize how much mankind still has to learn.

In Winnipeg, mirth-seekers had their pick of numerous entertainments - swinging nightclubs and the famed World Adventure Tours. Music lovers in the 'Peg were headed to the ticket agencies to buy seats for upcoming concerts that featured - among many others - Ella Fitzgerald, Wilf Carter and Kitty Wells.

At the movies, Cineplex-Odeon was holding over every single picture - all of them hits; most notably Carry On Camping (which I'd already seen three times), the counter-culture styling of Elliot Gould in Move, an adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's The Virgin and the Gypsy with Franco Nero (both of which I wanted to see, but regrettably, unable to convince my folks to take me) and amazingly, entering its 6th week, Bud Yorkin's (still hilarious) Start the Revolution Without Me starring Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder (a movie I'd managed to indulge in four helpings of).

The Famous Players chain, however, gave me much food for thought as I perused the movie listings and planned my Saturday movie-going. There were a few openings I had my eye on. Luckily, my Dad had already agreed to take me to the Drive-in to see The Sicilian Clan (a super-cool French crime picture with Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura and Alain Delon). The bottom half of the double bill was the totally insane Bedazzled (with Stanley Donen directing Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Raquel Welch). With that out of the way, it was pretty easy picking my Saturday movies.

That Saturday morning I hopped on the bus, headed downtown and hung out in my favourite musty, wooden-floored North Portage Avenue sleaze emporium Dominion News. There, I'd read Variety (yeah, I was - pathetically - that smitten with movies even as a child - but hell, most young fellers my age hadn't yet even begun learning how to peruse the box-scores as would soon become their wont). I'd flip ravenously through some comics (Marvel, 'natch) and then, with the dexterity of "that deaf, dumb and blind boy", rack up as many matches, bonii and pointage replays with as few quarters as possible.

I sure played a mean pinball.

All this under one roof.

Then, with plenty of Saturday morning to spare, I took a nice stroll along Portage Avenue, popped into a few comic book stores, record stores, head shops, poster palaces and pinball parlours until I finally reached the Gaiety Cinema.

I laid down my 75 cents and watched Jackie Gleason in a pretty good comedy called Don't Drink The Water (based on a play by Woody Allen - someone who was just beginning to enter my radar of pop culture precocity).

I then hightailed it to the Northstar Cinema (the first huge twin theatre in Winnipeg) and went to see a movie that looked really good. The ad had pictures of two cool guys leaning against a cool old car. I wasn't totally sure what I was in for, but the guys were wearing leather jackets and the tagline in the ads suggested they'd be drinking beer.

The beer part was good enough for the son of a beer salesman.

As I shelled out for a ticket, little did I know that Goin' Down the Road was going to knock me on my ass, change my life forever and become a good friend for the next 40 years of my life.

I'm goin' down the road, boys
Seeking what I'm owed, boys
And I know it must get better
If far enough I go
Composed and sung by Bruce Cockburn, a delicate, haunting folk song bearing the same title as the film, plays gently, almost tentatively over a stunning aerial image of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton and Glace Bay. It's a God's-eye gander just to make sure the physical world is still as it had been in the Beginning when He looked down, and indeed "saw that it was good".

Dissolving from the Heavens to a more earthly point of view, we find no hint of Gnostic or Puritan/Protestant denial of the Earth's goodness. A series of bucolic tapestries of the physical beauty of the world, and in turn, even more images of how this good Earth had indeed been wrought and shaped by man (in, if you wish, His image). The farms, the country homes and the open, inviting roads continue a visual affirmation of the physical world and its greatness.

The first two lines of each verse of Cockburn's song root us in the simple, but vital accomplishments of both the land and the people:

In the isle of Cape Breton my father did stay
And his father's father before . . .
I remember the fishing boats returning so gay
Their nets with the silver cod blessed

Juxtaposing the natural beauty, is another reality - bleak cinematic etchings of poverty and squalor amidst a ramshackle cannery town.

Cockburn's lyrics in the final lines of each verse accompany a desolate world with little hope, shattered dreams and forgotten people:

Fishing the banks and digging for coal
From the mines that don't give no more ore . . .
They couldn't compete with the company fleets
Now it's welfare, relief, or go west . . .

Two young men - Joey (Douglas McGrath) and Pete (Paul Bradley) - are leaving behind this world behind.

Maybe forever.

And there is, to be sure, a certain melancholy when you say goodbye to the place of your youth, but when all that's left is stagnation and unemployment, perhaps goodbye, farewell or good riddance are the best sentiments after all.

And when you're facing a brave new world like Joey and Pete are doing from behind the steering wheel and dashboard of a 1960 Chevy Impala - blasting down an open road, chugging stubbies of beer, throwing their heads back, laughing and smiling whilst their eyes twinkle with that special gleam of hope that only an open highway can bring - their loins immediately gird themselves for whatever opportunities new horizons will bring.

My first viewing of Goin' Down the Road was not only a huge eye-opener for me, a precocious, movie-crazy little shaver, but eventually became a movie I saw more than 30 times in the 42 years since that virgin print unspooled.

I've grown with the picture all these years and I never tire of it and, in fact, it always seems to get better. Every passing year - with new experiences under my belt - Goin' Down the Road is a picture that never ceases to speak to me and get richer with every viewing.

The answer as to why it has such staying power is found, I think, in its seeming simplicity at both the narrative and stylistic level.

The story, like most great stories, is on its surface, very simple. Two young dreamers from a small town search for a better life in the big city and struggle with the challenges inherent in not being anchored in what's familiar. They make it over a few hurdles, but soon the weight, breadth and scope of big dreams that a concrete jungle squashes like a barbell dropped on a watermelon is too much and in desperation they're faced with doing whatever it takes to survive which, in turn, is what forces them to move on, ever-searching for that pot of survival that surely must be at the end of the road - if, in fact, the road even ends.

Stylistically, though the film is a drama, beautifully written by William Fruet from Shebib's original story idea, the overall documentary tradition of Cinéma vérité ("truthful cinema") springs immediately to mind while the pictures unspools. Though the look is grainy (due to varying light conditions and a 16mm to 35mm blowup) and often handheld, the late Richard Leiterman's photography magnificently renders an overwhelming sense that what we're watching is reality and not fiction. Leiterman's compositions are beautifully wrought and most importantly, balanced to provide maximum dramatic impact with care, subtlety and the highest level of artistry.

An interesting sidenote is that some shots during the "road" sequences in the first ten or so minutes were shot by Shebib's old pal from film school Carroll Ballard, who would go on to direct many terrific films including The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf. Surprisingly (though not really, given his visual aplomb), Ballard was also responsible for some of the cool painting on the car itself.

An especially salient style element is the film's rhythm. Edited by Shebib himself, he selects his shots with the eye of a documentarian. That said, the doc medium is a storytelling medium. In fact, I prefer to often consider documentary cinema a genre as opposed to a distinct medium and as such, Shebib cuts the footage with all the skill a master storyteller brings to bear within film as art.

The pace of Goin' Down the Road is achieved by deftly intermingling the natural highs and lows of the characters' journey and as such, the story unfolds with the kind of judicious cutting that allows key scenes to play out naturally. Happily and effectively, numerous sequences are infused with the sort of breathing space that not only serves the drama, but like all truly great films, imbues the work with the poetry that's inherent in the medium of cinema, but is so seldom employed and/or carried out with no pretence.

Though similar to that of John Cassavetes's early work (notably Shadows), the story itself and Shebib's vérité approach brings it more into the domain of Lionel Rogosin's landmark documentary On The Bowery. a harrowing examination of America's forgotten men who lived lives of misery and shattered dreams during the myth of post-war prosperity. Rogosin's film is comprised of numerous dramatic recreations and improvisations with the actual subjects. In comparison, I'd suggest Cassavetes's work (though often compelling in its own right), suffers from a self-conscious and mannered approach. Though Shebib (and, of course, Rogosin) consciously directed/manipulated their respective films, the work was delivered up with such raw honesty and integrity that while watching them you never feel that you are being manipulated. (In my opinion, "Manipulation" is NOT a dirty word in storytelling - especially in cinema. It's only objectionable when you can see it - that's when an artist is NOT doing their job.)

On every level, Goin' Down the Road does its job and then some. Fruet's screenplay provides every hurdle our characters would realistically face. Not once are any of these dramatic beats contrived and Shebib's direction adds to either the urgency or relief by "documenting" the actions as if he were a documentary filmmaker.

Following Pete and Joey as they try to connect with friends and relatives is their first major setback. Upon entering the city, they're stoked. Alas, Pete's Aunt doesn't even recognize him and refuses to answer her door and an old pal from their hometown takes Pete's phone call, but basically blows him off. On their first night in Toronto these two parties respectively quash the boys' hopes for a place to stay and steady employment.

After spending a night in a mission flophouse, it's Joey who resourcefully scours the want-ads and discovers there are a myriad of job openings. Though Pete often seems more rooted and levelheaded, he is too much of a dreamer to accept his station in life. Joey gets a job in a soda pop bottling plant while Pete spruces himself up in his finest cheap dress duds and waltzes into an ad agency for an interview as an account executive. Needless to say, the interview goes so poorly that Pete bites the bullet and joins Joey at the bottling plant.

Capturing the mindless, dirty, back-breaking physical labour the men endure is not only dramatically important to both narrative and character, but Shebib's documentary sensibilities, coupled with Leiterman's raw take-no-prisoners lensing takes us into this world by capturing the physical griminess and dank claustrophobia these men spend hours in - sweat pouring from every pore, their muscles bulging as they lift one heavy crate after another and finally, as both actors are clearly doing the actual physical labour, what we see is the greatest acting of all. What the actors feel as they actually perform these tasks seems etched into every inch of their bodies and their expressions of pain and exhaustion are real. However, they must also never break the "illusion" of who they are as characters and during these sequences, the script offers up any number of realistic moments Pete and Joey must react to and/or engage with as they experience real strenuous activity and endure the what is clearly the gruelling agony of the menial labour.

The upsides are a roof over their heads, money in their pockets and plenty of downtime to hit the wild pavement of the bawdy, glittering carnival of Yonge Street. It's here where Shebib takes us to sublime heights when the boys from the plant wander into A&A Records, the sprawling, multi-level vinyl emporium. Awash in the blasted out fluorescent glow, Pete breaks off from the raucous antics of Joey and the fellas from work when he spots a mind-boggling beauty walk into the store and follows her into the bowels of the classical music department. Music, image, dialogue and a poignant, romantic tenderness converge and the film delivers one of the most poetic, heart-achingly beautiful sequences ever committed to film.

The movie is full of moments like this, though they're contrasted with moments of despair and desperation. The film is a whirlwind of emotion and we're constantly bearing witness to a truth that only cinema can come closest to revealing.

When Pete and Joey begin double-dating two cute, perky "regular gals" Betty (Jayne Eastwood) and Celina (Cayle Chernin), it's the devil-may-care Joey who ends up falling head over heels with the dry-witted pragmatic Betty. Celina, a warm, friendly and goofily introspective young lady feels like a perfect match for Pete, but alas, Pete's sights in all matters - especially love - are set far too high. He's a romantic, to be sure, be he's blinded by his dreams of perfection. There's a lot of warmth and humour in these scenes involving this oddly-apt-for-each-other foursome. Joey and Betty eventually rush into marriage. She's pregnant, but they both believe (or at least want to believe badly enough) that it's love that has brought them together and that will keep them in this state of bliss forever.
I came to the city with the sun in my eyes
My mouth full of laughter and dreams
But all that I found was concrete and dust
And hard times sold in vending machines
So I'm goin' down the road, boys
Seeking what I'm owed, boys
And I know it must get better
If far enough I go
During the wedding reception, Shebib's stunning observational eye captures an event that at first seems warm and full of fun, but as it progresses, Joey's inebriation-levels rise very rapidly. Many of the shots at the head table, though medium or wide, favour Betty in the compositions. There are looks on her face - looks ranging from extremely subtle mock-happiness to embarrassment and even desperation. These moments play themselves out naturalistically and not only do we get a hint of things to come, but we're blessed with blocking, camera work and acting so intensely real that one forgets, as one often does in this extraordinary work, that we're watching a drama.

Betty, it seems, has dreams too. We see how much she wants Joey to be the one to help her get there, but in another sequence later on in the film, Betty is again favoured in the compositions and there are looks on her face (brilliantly rendered by Jayne Eastwood) that reflect her horror over what she's about to plunge into.

The sadness, the squalor, the shattering of dreams is in the cards for everyone and in the final minutes of the film, under the harsh glare of a supermarket's lights and in the dark of a Canadian winter's eve - the grey and slushy pavement of the grocery store's parking lot, illuminated by the glow from within the store and the dim lights towering atop the rigid electrical poles - comes an act of desperation so unexpected and so shocking that the very truth of the film is what keeps us from expecting it.

As the snow falls gently from the Heavens, a single action of such seeming finality occurs that we're cringing with the sort of, "Oh God, please don't" emotions that fill us in melodrama and genre work.

But it's different here.

What we feel, we also believe and even when the worst occurs, we're so invested in the REALITY of these people that they almost cease to be characters, but genuine subjects of a documentary camera's probing, provocative eye.

Most of all, we hope against hope. We beg for salvation or at least redemption.

We, not unlike the characters, look to the road.

What else can we do?

We are, after all, Canadian.
A restored deluxe edition of "Goin' Down the Road" and its excellent sequel "Down the Road Again" are packaged with Bluray, DVD, Digital Copy and tons of extra features including the brilliant SCTV parody of the movie. In Canada, this special edition is available via Alliance Films. It's a first rate piece of sell-through home entertainment and well worth buying instead of renting.

Of special note is Don Shebib's commentary track over "Goin' Down the Road". It's not only full of the sort of details one would want from such a track - the sort most directors are incapable of properly delivering on when they do (save for a select few). In fact, much of what Shebib has to say about the making of the film is - in and of itself - a kind of basic how-to blended with an inspirational you've-got-to-do-what-you've=got-to-do-to-make-your-movie.

I especially urge young filmmakers to watch the film repeatedly, study it, listen to Shebib's commentary - more than once - and wipe the repulsive grimace of entitlement I see on so many of your faces when you think you can only make your magnum opus with every filmmaking toy known to man and a crew size unbecoming of any real independent filmmaker.

Most all, let this groundbreaking work of Canadian Cinema, inspire you NOT to create some impersonal calling card that ONLY delivers the message, "Look Ma, I can use a dolly. I have nothing to say, but at least I'm employable."

Think about telling a story that's actually ABOUT something, a story that exposes you and your voice as honestly as possible and most of all, to place everything in rendering a work rooted in humanity - work that reflects our condition, our place in the universe, our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments.


Feel free to order directly from the Amazon links below and assist with the maintenance of this site. In addition to the new Alliance version, there are used copies of the slightly older Seville DVD release which I still own. If you own it, DON'T GET RID OF IT. It's an excellent version and includes a magnificent commentary track by Canada's finest film critic Geoff Pevere. It makes little sense to me why this track was not ported over or re-recorded for this new restoration.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

THE SKULL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - An enjoyable Amicus Horror film with Peter Cushing and directed by the legendary cinematographer of "Glory", "The Elephant Man" and "The Straight Story". Available on Blu-Ray as a double-feature with "The Man Who Could Cheat Death".

The Skull (1965) dir. Freddie Francis
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Michael Gough, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe, Nigel Green and George Coulouris


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you one of the most perverse antagonists in horror movie history: the skull (yes, I'm not kidding, the skull) of one Donatien Alphonse François, The Marquis de Sade.

Yup, you got it - everyone's favourite pornographer, that happy-go-lucky libertine who, until his death in 1914, spent 30-or-so of his 78 years on this good, green Earth, incarcerated in prisons and asylums as a reaction to both his writings (including Justine and The 120 Days of Sodom) and (to say the least) his unconventionally cruel sexual practices.

During the 70s, Hammer, the reigning champ of British horror films, was given a considerable run for its money by Amicus, an upstart UK purveyor of all things ghoulish. Known primarily for its E.C. Comics omnibus pictures, the near-perfect Asylum and Tales From The Crypt as well as the solid Vault of Horror and Tales That Witness Madness, Amicus also delivered a clutch of non-portmanteau efforts. Based on Robert (Psycho) Bloch’s screen treatment and directed by the visually gifted cinematographer Freddie (Glory, The Elephant Man, The Straight Story, etc.) Francis, The Skull was the best of that single-story lot.

Getting off to a rip-snorting start, the picture opens with a fabulous grave robbing scene that involves the decapitation of de Sade’s rotting head. Followed closely by the pre-phrenologically-inspired prep that involves the removal of flesh, hair and other viscera by burning and boiled it all off, the result is a pristine and gleaming skull. The Marquis de Sade was never cleaner. Alas, cleanliness is only skin-deep (as it were). Do what you will to his skull, the good Marquis' thoughts are as dirty and nasty as one would ultimately hope in a movie designed to administer a few good jolts of horror.

As a Director of Photography who always delivered the goods, the work of Freddie Francis as a director could often feel phoned-in. The notable exceptions are this delectable de-Sade-o-rama and a handful of others in a directing career that spanned approximately 30 features. One can only assume Francis excelled in the task at hand ONLY when he was faced with material that truly tickled his fancy and that the rest was so much gun-for-hire fodder.

Though The Skull feels about ten minutes too long (and it’s already short), the movie still packs a decent wallop. Feeling more like a solid horror second feature from the 40s made smack in the middle of the swinging British New Wave period, it's a picture that ultimately does what it's supposed to do.

Peter Cushing plays an academic specializing in occult research who collects strange oddities from all over the world in order to study them. His wife begins objecting to the house corpulently overflowing with paraphernalia representing evil. Though one suspects she’s a typical harridan coming down on her collecting-obsessed hubby, she perhaps has a point when Cushing starts to slowly go psycho after he acquires the skull of the notorious de Sade.

The story is told with numerous visual flourishes – lots of cool dollies and pans, sumptuous lighting and endless Skull-Cam shots so we can get a glimpse of what the evil spirit of the Marquis de Sade gets to see. After the spirited opening, the movie does slow down a bit, but once it picks up steam, it seldom lets up and builds to a genuinely creepy and (at least for this fella) scary climax.

A superb supporting cast includes an extended cameo from the always-delicious Christopher Lee as a collector who realizes and tries to warn Cushing about the dangers of hoarding occult items and we’re blessed with a truly slimy turn from Patrick Wymark as an underground occult dealer and an even sleazier one from Peter Woodthhorpe as the dealer’s foul landlord.

If you’re a fan of British horror films, this won’t be the best you’ve seen, but you’ll still be glad you did – if, indeed, you do – and, of course, you should.

"The Skull" is one of several British genre pictures distributed in North America by Legend Films. It's currently available as a double-disc Blu-Ray with the added Hammer Horror attraction, "The Man Who Could Cheat Death".

This is a must-have Blur-Ray disc for vintage horror fans and the price is certainly right. The movies are also available as single-disc DVDs. If you plan to buy, please consider supporting the maintenance of this site by ordering it via the links below:

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) dir. Terence Fisher
Starring: Anton Diffring, Hazel Court and Christopher Lee


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Even if The Man Who Could Cheat Death were an awful movie (and it is far from that), it would have one big thing going for it. Well, actually two big things – those soft, milky protuberances heaving ever so-delicately beneath the low-cut velvet dress of Heaven itself; namely, the breasts of that utterly flawless example of womanhood, Hazel Court. These bounteous pillows of perfection are, however, not all that mesmerize Dr. Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring) the title character of this delicious Hammer Horror picture from master Terence Fisher. When his (and our) eyes gaze above her cleavage, then glide upwards along her perfect breastplate and delicate neck, they run smack into a delectable puss replete with full lips, exquisite cheek bones and eyes you want to dive into. There’s also that pile of soft scarlet atop her crown, tied and trussed in a manner that hints, ever so invitingly, at the cascading waterfall that awaits when the pins are removed and the locks tumble down. And beneath it all – beneath her upper bounties – is a svelte torso, supple, childbearing hips and, no doubt, other hidden fruits best left to our imaginations.

The estimable Miss Court as the comely model Janine Dubois makes her first appearance in the picture on the arm of the dashing Dr. Pierre Girard (Christopher Lee) during a private gathering in Bonnet’s home where the mad-scientist/artist is about to unveil his latest sculpture to a small, but admiring public of society people. It is obvious to all, including Girard, that she and Bonnet are former lovers and it is here we discover that Bonnet’s artistic output has been reserved to sculptures only of the upper portions of the most beautiful women imaginable. Once the party disbands, we are treated to the revelation that the 30-something Bonnet is, in fact, over 100 years old and that he’s found the secret to eternal youth through the occasional implantation of a fresh gland in addition to a lime-green potion. His goal is to steal, Janine from Pierre, implant a new gland – making her “immortal” – and to spend the rest of eternity in bliss.

And who wouldn’t want to spend an eternity with Hazel Court? Only a madman, right?

Well, there’s the rub. Implantation of the gland and adherence to steady doses of the lime-green bubbling Kool-Aid renders all those under its influence to go stark raving, psychotically bonkers. This, of course, will not do and it’s up to Girard (one of Christopher Lee’s few heroic roles) to save the day.

With a Jimmy Sangster screenplay adaptation of a creaky, but oddly literate play by Barre Lyndon (“The Man of Half Moon Street”, already made as a film in the 40s) is one part “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, with dashes of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Dracula”. It’s perfect material for Terence Fisher who delivered some of the finest and most stylish British horror films of all time. Though much of the action is constricted to a few rooms, it’s an always engaging thriller thanks, in part to Fisher’s splendid direction and, most of all, because of the superb cast. Peter Cushing look-alike Anton Diffring (star of the luridly magnificent “Circus of Horrors”) is the perfect tragic villain with his aquiline features and sorrowful eyes, Lee handles himself expertly as the hero and Miss Court is breathtakingly engaging in her role.

“The Man Who Could Cheat Death” is a welcome addition to Fisher’s fine work from the 50s (including “Curse of Frankenstein” and “Horror of Dracula”). In fact, it’s kind of cool seeing Fisher work his magic in a genre film that is bereft of an already identifiable monster (he also helmed versions of “The Mummy”, “The Werewolf” and “Phantom of the Opera”) and if the picture seems a trifle dated and a smidgen derivative, these are but minor flaws in an otherwise delightful chiller.

Besides, it stars Hazel Court and that is, of course, reason enough to see pretty much anything.

“The Man Who Could Cheat Death” is available on DVD from Legend Films.