Thursday, May 20, 2010

Canadian Cult Review: Three Slackers

Monkey Warfare (Reginald Harkema, 2006)
*** (A Must-See)

Reginald Harkema’s Monkey Warfare (2006) follows two middle age hoarders, Dan (Don McKellar) and Linda (Tracy Wright), who are refuging in a gentrifying Toronto neighborhood. They left Vancouver where they set accidently set a security guard a blaze. This isn’t your postcard portrait of Toronto. The CN tower is always cut off in establishing shots as well the protagonists worry about police and the complexities of relationships and finances. Dan meets a twenty-something cute drug dealer Susan (Nadia Litz). In the process of befriending one another Dan introduces her to Leonard Cohen and the Black Panthers, the Fugs and the Baader Meinhof Complex. Susan has her own personal revolution as her views shifts towards radical activism. The film bookends with the perseverant Dan and Linda couple responsible for someone else’s third degree burns. The only previous screening of Monkey Warfare in Ottawa was as a one-night screening as part of the 2006 Canadian Top Ten, which was hosted by the Canadian Film Institute.

One of the films production companies is Masculine-Feminine Films. This reference to the Jean-Luc Godard feature is telling as Reginald Harkema interlaces the film with some Godardian touches. Firstly the theme of revolution, which is also relevant in an other recent Canadian film, Jacob Tierney’s The Trostky (2009). These films posit an ambiguous stance on the relevance of activism; is it useful or are people apathetic? And aesthetic influences like interlaced reverse shots of people addressing the camera and colorful intertitles to accompany the films pleasant jingles. There should be more films that are this ambitious.


Work Bike Eat (Keith Lock & James Anderson, 1971)
*** (A Must-See)*Keith Lock in attendance

Keith Lock and James Anderson’s Work Bike Eat (1972) tells the half-hazard story of a Toronto anachronistic dweeb who works at a Chinatown pharmacy when he is not biking with strangers and eating and drinking with friends and family. The ADHD camera movements and narrow close-ups gives off a hazy quality and the films apparent 1200$ funding, other then camera and stock cost, looks like it went towards pizza and beer. Though what it expresses is the joys of a youth picking up a camera and the pleasures of filmmaking as everyone looks like their having a great time. As the co-director Keith Locks noted some contributing factors to its style were cinéma vérité and caméra-stylo.

What is so fascinating about Work Bike Eat is in its depiction of personal experiences within a locked cultural moment that remain universal. Like the clash between parent and youth, overcoming intimidation threats, meeting girls, telling bad jokes, and just hanging out with friends. This theatrical screening is the first for the film since going straight to television broadcasting on PBS in the 1970s. The context of seeing this old 16mm print, that was having difficulty even being projected, seems like the equivalent of browsing through a box of someone’s old photographs at a garage sale. There is a nostalgia of sharing something something so private within a public space. In a black-and-white and with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 Work Bike Eat is a rare and rewarding experience.


Waydowntown (Gary Burns, 2000)
*** (A Must-See)

Set in Calgary in the “Plus-15” system of elevated walkways connecting nearly all the buildings in the downtown core Gary Burns’ Waydowntown tells the story of three guys and a women who have a strange bet to never leave the confines. No matter what! Calgarians apparently love the film. For more information on the film check out fellow Ottawa online film-critic Joel (David) Crary’s interview with Gary Burns here.

Don McKellar in Waydowntown plays the creepy cubicle neighbor who ends up stapling weird motivational messages onto his chest. It is interesting to see how he adapts to his different roles with candor and honesty. Even though his presence is slight it still has a memorable quality. His performances are so varied like the off-kilter gay fish-store owner in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica (1994) and as the touchy censorship-board categorizer in The Adjuster (1991), he also wrote the screenplays and acted in Bruce McDonald’s Highway 61 (1991) and Roadkill (1989). Don McKellar presence in a film provides a familiar face and bankability, which is one factor that can make or break an indepedent Canadian film.


The Canadian Cult Review, which is programmed by Paul Gordon and John Yemen, had their Slacker-Triple Bill on Wednesday May 19th 2010. The films that were screened include Monkey Warfare, Work Bike Eat, and Waydowntown.

Look out for June’s Canadian Cult Review screenings of Canada’s oldest surviving photoplay Nell Shipman’s Back to God’s Country (1919) and a Hoserama that includes Donald Shebib’s Goin’ Down The Road (1970), Rick Moranis and David Thomas’ Strange Brew (1983) and Michael Dowse’s Fubar (2002).


Spencer said...

Man I really want to check out Waydowntown!

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