Archive for the ‘Canadian Film’ Category

The House that Jack Built

June 7, 2009

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This interesting 1967 NFB film is a nice twist on Jack and the Beanstalk.  It’s amazing that 40+ years later people are still concerned about urban sprawl, and suburban life.  Jack yearns to be different and to find a life that isn’t the same as everyone else.  Even in wealth, Jack is merely unique but not different. His dreams, goals, and aspirations remain the same as those around him.  Perhaps we are all Jack, striving to be ourselves, while settling to be like everyone else.


May 24, 2009

While reading up on the theme of isolation I came across this delightful Yvon Mallette directed NFB animated filmThe Family That Dwelt Apart is an adaptation of an E.B. White short story. You may know him as the author of Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little. Although the story is set in the Northeast United States, the setting could easily be anywhere in Canada.  The film has a dark sense of humour.  The use of jazz in the soundtrack adds pace to the playful animation.  The 1960’s and 70’s era of animation have a distinct style that is instantly recognizable.  The animators generally created a world bordering on the surreal, but with enough reality to make people, places, and objects recognizable.

On the theme of isolation, this film highlights what might be one of the potential problems of withdrawing from society.  In this family’s case, other people decided that help should try to reach their island.  The end result is somewhat funny and somewhat tragic.  In real life people who isolate themselves may at first illicit a sympathetic reaction from others (if anyone is around to notice) but ultimately they may become completely alienated from everyone.  While this could lead tothe kind of gossiping we find in the film, it likely won’t produce the same response.  Obviously, this comparison is a rational leap, but it does contribute to a discussion of intentional isolation.


May 21, 2009

Today, The Alder Fork presents another piece of the mighty National Film Board of Canada collection.  Julian Bigg’s 23 Skidoo is an eeire look at the possible devestation of a neutron bomb.   If you are familiar with Montreal’s downtown than this film will be even creepier to you.

The basic premise of the film, that a neutron bomb has killed everyone in the city, while leaving everything intact, represents two realities. The first is the Cold War fear that the entire world would be destroyed by nuclear weapons.  That concern is less present today, as people seem to be more afraid of viruses and terrorism than nuclear war.  In fact, for younger generations, the cold war worldview is more of a historical curiousity than a reality.  The destruction of society in this film is caused by an accident, as a by product of a test gone wrong.  That plot twist is intriguing because it departs from the standard mutually assured destruction model.  By the 1960’s people were beginning to oppose the testing of nuclear weapons because of the potential dangers.

The second reality in this film is the understanding that a neutron bomb would only kill people.  Since the technology was brand new in 1964, it’s understandable that the filmmaker wouldn’t know the way these weapons were later utilized.  Indeed, a neutron bomb still yields in the kiloton range and would cause sizable material damage.

The phrase “23 Skidoo” was popular in 1920’s America as a way of implying that someone was going to “get while the getting is good.”  What a witty choice for a film about the death of everyone.

This film won awards from the UN and BAFTA.  It’s striking message, creepy soundtrack, and stiring visuals bring the extinction of humanity into focus.  It is still shocking today, and were it not for the teletype machines and old tv monitors it could be from 2009.  23 Skidoo asks, where are we going and how soon will we get there?

I Now Remember

May 13, 2009

Yesterday I caught an enlightening documentary on the Canadian/British/American/Polish invasion of Italy, focusing specifically on the Canadian effort. I knew some bits and pieces about that part of World War II but was foggy on the details.  It made me realize that most of what I know about that war, or at least what I remember, relates to the events after D-Day in Normandy.  Thanks to the National Film Board I am able to bring you this wonderful documentary on Canada’s part in the war prior to June 6, 1944.  Some of the events are more well known, such as Dieppe, the Battle of Britain, and the North Atlantic convoys.  Yet I still think many of us forget that a lot of fighting took place before the final push from the beaches of France to the gates of Berlin. Long before the boats came ashore at Juno Beach, brave Canadian soldiers were fighting and dying among the remnants of the Roman Empire. Be warned, the following video is close to 1 hour long, but if you have the time, it’s well worth watching.  You can also see Part II and Part III of the big documentary on the NFB site.

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Hockey Night In Dreamland

May 11, 2009

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The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing, and the IIHF World Hockey Championship has just ended.  Some would argue this is the best part of the hockey year.  In honour of that I offer you another interesting National Film Board of Canada short.  This 2008 animated flick was created by Iriz Pääbo a director who admits she knows very little about the sport. She relied on Eric Nesterenko to fill in the gaps, yet managed to create a very abstract treatment.  Hockey is already a bit of an unusual sport, in that it involves skates, sticks, and allows fighting.  This film takes the sport in a surreal direction.The sound is familiar yet abstract, with distorted commentary and the regular ebbs and flows of a knowledgeable crowd.  The action captures the fluid and explosive essence of hockey. Perhaps this HA’Aki is hockey through the eyes of a child or a dreamer.

The Whole Wide World

May 2, 2009

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Yet another delicious National Film Board archive piece for you.  I have exactly 1 Expo ’67 story, and it isn’t exactly mine since I wasn’t alive.  My mother attended the Expo with her grade 8 class, and I’m sure she was very excited to check out this amazing event. Unfortunately, she collapsed at the front gates and spent the entire trip in a Montreal Hospital.  Her doctors and nurses only spoke French, so they could not explain to her what was wrong (I’m not sure if they even knew).  So you and I have now seen more of Expo ’67 than my mom, who was there.

The World’s Fair movement continues to this day, but many argue that Expo ’67 was the Zenith.  This remarkable effort in Canada’s centennial year exceeded all expectations. Over 50 million people visited Montreal that summer including a record 590 000 in one day.  It is even more remarkable that many observers at the time believed the Expo was unfeasible.  Instead people from around the world were treated to a marvelous experience.

This film captures much of the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the Expo.  It is a cultural milestone for Canada that may never be matched. The film itself lacks narration, which is fine for this kind of documentary/commercial.  The images speak for themselves.

A Long Time Ago

April 25, 2009

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In honour of Earth Day and Earth Week, I resent this interesting take on human evolution.  It’s a bit of a tradition on this blog to feature animated NFB films from the 70’s.  Zlatko Grgic blends humour and social consciousness into an entertaining trip through history. Deep Threat seems a bit dated today, and it’s message has certainly been heralded to death in the last 30 years.  The use of eccentric animation is not something you would see today in an environmental film. In fact, you are much more likely to see live action shots of whatever habitat/creature/society that is threatened.  This film may be a time capsule of the film industry and environmental movement of the 1970’s, but it’s remains enjoyable today.   I think the environmental movement takes itself far to seriously sometimes, with very dramatic tales of humanity’s destructive powers.  Deep Threat put a nice spin on the overall message of protecting the earth.  Perhaps people don’t need to be scared in order to act.

Let’s Go Out We’ll Take No Prisoners

April 9, 2009
Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.
(An errant ‘Canadien’
Banished from his homeland
Weeping, he travels on
Wandering through foreign lands

French Canadian Folk Song

Un Canadien Errant

Went out last night and caught One Week an interesting Canadian made film.  I want to spend a few paragraphs to discuss the film.  Let me begin by saying I really enjoyed this film. It had most of the elements that impress me in movies: wide open spaces, fantastic music, a simple and subtle story, a little bit of the eccentric and the surreal, and some sadness.  The story revolves around Ben Tyler (played by half Canadian Joshua Jackson) and a cross country road trip intitiated by a cancer diagnosis.  Most of the cast is made up of Canadian musicans including cameos by Gord Downie, Joel Plaskett and Emm Gryner. 

This is a throughly Canadian film.  People from other countries won’t understand many of the references, from Tim Hortons to Canadian Tire to the omnipresent Steam Whistle.  I read one review that claimed this film would appeal to those who think Canadian films are inherently superior to Hollywood. I am not one of those people (see my thoughts about Passchendale), but without knowing it Michael McGowan made a movie that specifically appeals to me. I love the basic premise of heading West, trying to stay one step ahead of the deadly disease that threatens to destroy Ben’s life.  I loved the occasional mention of Grumps though I felt it was an angle that could’ve been fleshed out. 

The story is narrated by what first appears to be an omnipresent viewer, but later turns out to be something else. When the narration began I groaned and thought, oh no please don’t ruin the film this way.  I came to enjoy the random bits of information, including the vignettes explaining how Ben’s decisions touched other people’s lives. Yes that concept may be a little sappy, but in a film about a man facing his own mortality, I think it’s important to be reminded of the bigger picture.  It would be easy to become lost in the hopelessness and the sadness of Ben’s predicament, yet at every turn the film wants the viewer to know that his cancer won’t be the end, at least not yet. 

I could’ve done without the somewhat hackneyed cliche scene with Gord Downie.  The old line about being in love, “if you have to ask, you’re not” is very overdone in film/television, and in life.  I do appreciate that the love story was honest with itself.  The filmmakers didn’t try to fix everything in the end, though somehow the outcome probably did anyway.

I mentioned the music earlier. Head here to check out tracks from the film.  Much like another film I love, Things To Do,  this film has a fantastic collection of indie rock. It also veers into country and folk at times, particularly for what must be the centrepiece song, Un Canadien Errant.  Just like the film itself the soundtrack is thoroughly Canadian.

One Week has elements of many of the great road films of all time, but is set in Canada (unlike most of them).  The visual journey makes the film worth watching.  The enjoyable story and solid acting add beauty to the unbeatable canvas.  A German tourist, late in the film remarks, “You live in one of the most beautiful countries in the whole world.”  I’d recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a film that is not plot heavy, tells the tale of a journey, and most of all, to people who like Canada and Canadian films.  I suspect that One Week will find itself up for a few Genie Awards next year, and without knowing the field I bet any win is well deserved.


These Are The Good Old Days

April 8, 2009

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Before you click on the video be forewarned there is a little bit of swearing in the song, so it’s likely not appropriate for work or small children.  This is another of a long line of National Film Board clips that I have featured.  The video was made in 2006 as part of the Making Music initiative (as part of Pop Montreal). Filmmakers and musicians submit their proposals and several are chosen. Ben Steiger was fortunate enough to be selected in 2006, and made this unique and intriguing film.

The artist is Socalled, a hip hop/klezmer act from Quebec.  According to his bio he’s had quite the intriguing life.  His music fuses a very traditional music form with a very contemporary one.  I caught a full scale Klezmer band this summer in Ancaster and thoroughly enjoyed it. Socalled’s music is probably unlike anything else out there.  I’m glad to see he is still thriving in the Montreal scene.His music really does seem to be what happens when Judaism meets the inner city.

The video itself is quite surreal.  The concept seems to be the life of the 6 armed accordionist MC.  I don’t want to give too much away about it, but I really scratched my head to figure it out.

I love the recording of this song because it is very raw.  I think it captures the sing-a-long quality of the main melody.  The rap portion is suitable for the overall song.

This film is quite good, and well worth a watch. I’d also recommend checking out Socalled’s other work.

They Go Twirlin’ Down And Down White Water

March 29, 2009

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I believe I once linked to this video, but this is the first time it’s been embedded.  This classic Canadian folk song, about an apparently defunct profession is quintessential Canadiana.  No one really makes animated films like this anymore.  The Log Driver’s Waltz was regularly played on TVO when I was a kid, so I am quite familiar with it.  It was one of the films I was desperate to see again, so I have to thank the NFB for giving it to the world for free.

I can understand that some people may not see the purpose of animating an old Canadian folk song.  Obviously, the audience for such a piece is limited.  That was certainly the case in 1979 when John Weldon took a version by Mountain City Four and turned it into a short film. It’s popularity, however, is almost unsurpassed in NFB history.  I think there are two main reasons for this.

First, as was the case for me, many people associate seeing this film with significant parts of their life.  It is directly linked to my childhood, and thus is a nostalgia piece. I’m sure many others share similar memories of the song and the film.

Second, it represents a way of life that is at the core of the Canadian experience.  Many of us who live in the bigger cities of the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes corridor may forget that this country was founded and has thrived on natural resources.  Logging, Pulp and Paper, Mining, Drilling, Fishing, Trapping, and Farming have been the backbone of Canada’s economic development for much of its history. Going forward, the vast supply of fresh water could surpass all of the items on that list. Certainly manufacturing, such as the steel mills of my hometown, have also played a significant role, but it would be hard to argue against natural resources as our greatest strength as a nation.  The Log Driver’s Waltz, without even intending to, casts the young lady in the role of Canada, as she realizes the value of the soft footed labourer against the bankers and doctors of the city.  Without vast natural resources, and the hard work it takes to extract them, there wouldn’t be much of a country here.

I think The Log Driver’s Waltz is an important piece of the cultural history of Canada.  The version heard here is performed in part by Kate and Anna MacGarrigle who showed up in my piece on Martha Wainwright’s concert.  I really believe that tru folk music is the sound of the soul of a nation.  In this case there can be little doubt.