I recently had the good fortune of attending the book launch for Andrew Burke’s Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s, a deep dive into the true north’s televisual archive and collective memory that includes considerations of the Hinterland Who’s Who vignettes, Michael Snow’s La Région centrale (1971), and SCTV. Professor Burke’s discussion and accompanying presentation diverted into a number of unexpected areas – the L’Atelier national du Manitoba film and art project, Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op commercials, electronic musicians Boards of Canada, the With Glowing Hearts short film (Ted Remerowski, 1979) – however two contemporary works stood out: Caroline Monnet’s Mobilize (2015) and Brett Bell’s Sign-off (2011).
Caroline Monnet, a Canadian artist of French and Algonquin heritages, obtained access to more that 700 films from the National Film Board of Canada to create Mobilize, an intense and passionate portrait of Canada’s indigenous people. With footage from the rural north and urban south, from traditional crafts to modern industry, Monnet captures the dynamism of the indigenous Canadian experience and, with the feverish score of Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq, provides a kind of sizzle reel made up of what the filmmaker calls “images of indigenous people kicking ass on screen.” MMC! fans may recognize scenes from Don Owen’s High Steel (1966)! Brett Bell’s Sign-off presents an absurdly nightmarish take on With Glowing Hearts and the anachronism of the television station sign-off culminating the day’s news and entertainment with a collage of landscapes and symbols set against the patriotism of the national anthem. Bell, born and based in Regina, Saskatchewan, creates something wonderfully weird and distinctly Canadian in Sign-off and for that MMC!’s heart does glow.
As is common for this time of year, MMC! is dividing time between catching up with last year’s blind spots and regular screenings. Thankfully, these last ten movies include some real gems. Khalik Allah’s experimental effort in portraiture, Field Niggas, is rhapsodic, confrontational, dignified, and humane. Ching Siu-Tung’s Duel to the Death is a late wuxia that gleefully verges on Looney Tunes and Monty Python-esque madness. Knives Out, Booksmart, and Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans offered plenty of laughs, however the groaning comedy of My Lucky Stars was only redeemed by the pair of stellar action sequences that bookend the film.
- Field Niggas (Khalik Allah, 2015)
- Duel to the Death (Ching Siu-Tung, 1983)
- Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019)
- You Can Succeed, Too (Eizo Sugawa, 1964)
- Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, 2019)
- Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans (Jeff Mednikow, 2019)
- The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (Robert D. Krzykowski, 2018)
- Riding Bean (Yasuo Hasegawa and Osamu Kamijo, 1989)
- Memory: The Origins of Alien (Alexandre O. Philippe, 2019)
- My Lucky Stars (Sammo Hung, 1985)
Welcome to 2020!
MMC! kicks off a new year of imagined releases of favourite movies (and various other miscellany) with one of 2019’s favourite short film discoveries — Matthew Rankin’s Negativipeg (2010). Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019) was a favourite of the 2019 Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival and MMC! happily gorged itself on Rankin’s various short works as well. Both the shorts and Rankin’s first feature are typified with DIY inventiveness, satirical humour, and spectacular visuals that easily inherits the prairie postmodern tradition of filmmakers like Guy Maddin and John Paizs, however this post celebrates an outlier in Rankin’s filmography.
Negativipeg is a fascinating documentary on Rory Lepine’s 1985 encounter in a 7-Eleven with Winnipeg rock legend, Burton Cummings of The Guess Who. Lepine, who was 19 when he put the boots to Burt in that North End Sev’, served 4 months in prison for the beating given to Cummings and the incident became emblematic of the longstanding tension between the musician and his former hometown, neither of whom felt loved enough in the eyes of the other. While lacking the visual wonder of Rankin’s later work, the short is captivating and easily stands as the most Winnipeg-like thing I’ve ever seen on screen – the shuttered homes, the bleakness of winter, Lepine’s particular accent and his code for life in the North End, the love-hate relationship toward Cummings and the ongoing question of his local credentials after getting big, and the Pizza Pops. Rankin dresses Negativipeg in droll Errol Morris-like eccentricity and incisiveness, creating something that is equal parts hilarious, tragic, and perplexing and all conveyed in an exceptionally local vernacular. As wonderful as Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007) may be, Rankin’s Negativipeg may cut even closer to the bone in revealing the city’s essence.
I’m generally pretty open-minded about cinema, but I wanted to be challenged in 2019 and so one of my resolutions for the year was to watch films that are too easy for me to avoid — films that are too long, too dense, or too specific. The results of those efforts have been astonishing as 2019 has provided new appreciations for John Waters, Terence Davies, and Tsui Hark, introductions to Toshio Matsumoto, Craig Baldwin, and the Japan Animator Expo shorts, new favourites in already beloved movie franchises like the Showa Godzilla titles and the Tora-San series, and a bevy of brilliant discoveries from Eastern Europe.
Below are my 20 favourite first-time screenings and you can see my top 50 discoveries in my “New to Me for 2019” list on Letterboxd, but the truth is these lists could have gone up to 100 or more and they would still be stacked with killer titles. This is year is almost over so let’s get to it!
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927)
“Berlin in five acts and one day. An astonishing array of footages, from sleepy, early morning hours to commerce and industry, from midday dining and rest to nighttime sport, recreation, and leisure, from children to the elderly, from affluence to poverty. Wonderfully constructed, briskly paced, and always fascinating, I could watch this time capsule again and again and never grow tired of it. Hooray for city symphonies!”
Nothing says Christmas like a post-apocalyptic rumination on peace by anthropomorphic rodents and so MMC! happily presents Hugh Harman’s Peace on Earth (1939) and its Cinemascope remake, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna’s Good Will To Men (1955). Peace on Earth’s anti-war sentiment is expressed through a grandfather squirrel who describes the senseless self-destruction of humankind through war (guessed at as a battle between vegetarians and meat-eaters). The short’s rotoscoped depictions of gas masked soldiers are chilling and provide a rather staggering contrast to the pleasantly plump and happily caricatured animals that now claim domain over the Earth. Hanna and Barbera’s post-World War II version manages to be even grimmer in its details, taking images of infantry helmets and gas masks and adding flame-throwers, machine guns, bazookas, missiles, and nuclear annihilation. In doing so, Good Will To Men brings man’s capacity for mutual destruction into fearsome relief. Both of these MGM shorts garnered Academy Award nominations and Peace on Earth in particular has developed a reputation in the animation field as being Harman’s masterpiece and a heralded classic of the form.
To all those who stumble into the blog (intentionally or not), Make Mine Criterion! wishes you and yours a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!
Stay safe, share some love, and watch something amazing!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Limey.
Terence Stamp is Wilson, a English ex-con who arrives in Los Angeles to hunt down the man responsible for his daughter’s “accidental” death, a record producer named Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda). Propelled along an increasingly brutal search for the truth, Wilson’s singleminded desire for revenge splinters into a meditation on cultural dislocation, an elegy on fatherhood, and a radical, fragmentary investigation of memory. Conceiving of the film as “Alain Resnais making Get Carter” and featuring throwback casting with Stamp, Fonda, Barry Newman, and Joe Dallesandro, Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey is a modern tough guy classic and a seminal work of American independent cinema.
- Restored 4K digital transfer, approved by director Steven Soderbergh and cinematographer Edward Lachman, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary with Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs
- Audio commentary with Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, Barry Newman, Joe Dallesandro, Soderbergh, and Dobbs
- New introduction by Soderbergh
- New conversation with Soderbergh, editor Sarah Flack, cinematographer Edward Lachman, and actors Luis Guzmán and Lesley Ann Warren
- Deleted scene featuring Ann-Margret
- Isolated music score
- Trailers and TV Spots
- PLUS: A new essay by critic Ashley Clark