Sunday, May 1, 2016
A Must See: Operation Avalanche
There are too few leaps into the imaginary abyss in Canadian film history, which is typically reserved in naturalistically documenting social classes, issues, and events. If there’s no such thing as a unified Canadian cinema then it’s made up through its diversity, with competing interests fighting for more representation. But what gets lost in these debates is the art of film and the history of film form in general. There’s nothing at all like Operation Avalanche in the history of Canadian film, except for perhaps John Paizs’ Crime Wave, because its basic premise reinvents what could even be a Canadian film: 1967, at the height of the Cold War, the a/v department for the CIA wants to plant a mole at NASA. With a Zelig-like approach to archival footage, and building on other films like Opération Lune and Capricorn One, the film is even being positioned as a documentary, playing at this year’s Hot Docs, which is fair in terms of the film’s first half at NASA with real staff interviews about their archival library. But it’s its side Méliès that really elevates Operation Avalanche. How to make a film think and put into practice the lessons of Le Voyage dans la Lune or even 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick even appears in cameo)? Its use of image manipulation and the outmoded front-screen projection effects are particularly well used, and even shown and discussed, for the simple reason of: why not? Operation Avalanche is full of the contagious joys of filmmaking. But it’s also a lot more than that! Johnson, through going back to this decisive historical American period, and in the conspiracy mode, is critiquing these powerful governmental institutions and their corruption and use of coercion. While also, in a Godardian tradition (see the Le Mépris poster), calling into question the veil of fiction and lies of all photographic images. But Operation Avalanche isn’t a thesis film which beats the audience over the head with its message. It looks to the moon and stars for inspiration to say something extremely intimate. It’s a personal film for Johnson as since Nirvana: The Band to The Dirties he’s been pursuing the dissolution of a friendship due to an individualist megalomania. So when Owen gets killed due to his negligence it is actually heartbreaking. For Matt Johnson, similar to Brian de Palma, the end result of failure is guaranteed. But the important thing to do is try! Operation Avalanche is a bittersweet film full of joyous affects that inevitably falls apart. But a sad truth is always better than a fake lie. Johnson’s methods are just the best way to say a message like this in contemporary times. With a few secret projects in the works, Johnson and his production staff are the eccentrics that are redefining the mainstream center. How to think of an innovative and insolent Canadian cinema today? Just look to these guys.