Anyone who’s seen my Letterboxd account knows I’m a big fan of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries. I’ve also alluded here at MMC! to my wife’s love of running. With that in mind, I thought I’d get 2017 off on the right foot with Gabe Spitzer’s Every Day (2015), a portrait of elderly runner Joy Johnson that I saw for the first time this week and left both me and my wife teary-eyed by its end. Johnson didn’t begin running until age 59 but became an accomplished distance runner nonetheless, completing numerous races at various distances, running the New York City Marathon 25 consecutive times, posting a best time at NYC in 1999 at 3:55:30 while age 73, and even running the Twin Cities Marathon and New York City Marathon just 4 weeks apart at the age of 81. Watching Joy should offer some ambition in facing 2017.
Einar Baldvin’s The Pride of Strathmoor (2014), the animator’s thesis project for USC, presents extracts from the fictional journal of Pastor John Deitman of Strathmoor, Georgia, from June and July, 1927. Inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), The Pride of Strathmoor resembles the racist mind of H. P. Lovecraft as illustrated by Ralph Steadman and makes for an unsettling work of madness and the macabre.
THE GREATEST VAMPIRE WESTERN-MUSICAL EVER MADE ABOUT SNOOKER!
Set within a twilight labyrinth of concrete corridors and bunker-like rooms, director Alan Clarke plays out a musical grudge match between conflicting generations of master snooker players. On one side is Billy the Kid (Phil Daniels), a cocky young cockney decked out as an Old West outlaw. On the other is seven-time world champion Maxwell Randall (Alun Armstrong as the Green Baize Vampire), a bloodsucking traditionalist resentful of his young challenger. Manipulated by his manager T.O. (Bruce Payne as “The One”) and a scheming loan shark called the Wednesday Man (Don Henderson), Billy agrees to a seventeen-frame snooker match against Randall where the loser will put down his cue forever. Can Billy vanquish his foe or does the Wednesday Man have some more tricks up his sleeve?
Featuring music by celebrated composer George Fenton and inspired by the rivalry between true-life snooker players Ray Reardon and Jimmy White, Alan Clarke’s Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire is an uncharacteristic foray into fantasy by a British master of gritty realism. The result is an astonishingly strange and captivating work that resembles a musical adaptation of The Hustler if remade by Ken Russell.
- New high definition transfers of the film in its 93-minute and 121-minute versions
- High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD Presentation
- Original 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Options
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Making BTK – Extensive interviews on the film’s making with cinematographer Clive Tickner, composer George Fenton, production designer Jamie Leonard, costume designer Tudor George, and editor Steve Singleton
- Shooting from the Hip, a brand new interview with Phil Daniels made especially for this release
- Biting Back, a new interview with Alun Armstrong made especially for this release
- Being #1, a brand new interview with Bruce Payne
- Sullivan Reporting, a new interview with Louise Gold
- Bride of the Green Baize Vampire, a brand new interview with Eve Ferret
- Sports Life Stories: Jimmy White, an ITV documentary on Jimmy White, the inspiration for Billy the Kid
- Archival interview with Ray “Dracula” Reardon, the inspiration for Maxwell Randall, on the eve of the 1981 World Snooker Championship
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Brooke
It’s Saturday and we’re now midway through week 5 of the Canadian Football League season. In tribute to bigger balls and fewer downs, let’s all enjoy William Pettigrew’s Oskee Wee Wee (1968), a fascinating examination of the CFL’s 1967 championship game and all its associated reveries. Oskee Wee Wee takes its name from the appropriated chant of Hamilton’s football fans, but their Grey Cup contest against the Saskatchewan Rough Riders takes a backseat to police bands, beauty contests, and parties – lots and lots of parties. Sharp-eyed CFL enthusiasts will even notice some Calgary Stampeders fans having managed to ride their horses in and out of a Woolworth’s, proving that some traditions, however ridiculous, never seem to die. And for the record, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won 24-1 and I still miss a 9-team league that had one team was called the Roughriders and another called the Rough Riders!
As per the NFB:
This documentary is a zany portrait of the particular fever that hits the city of Ottawa, Ontario, during Grey Cup Finals. The film is as much about the football game, where the Hamilton Tiger Cats face the Saskatchewan Roughriders, as it is about Ti-Cats fans and their infamous “Oskee Wee Wee”, the magical chant with which they exhort their team to victory.
We return once again to the work of seminal Anglo-Canadian filmmaker Don Owen, “a bellwether of the times” who began his career with the NFB in the 1960s producing short documentaries. First up (for my wife), is Runner (1962), Owen’s gorgeously crafted observation of Canadian distance runner Bruce Kidd. More than 50 years later, Runner feels fresh and galvanizing, achieving a vitality in its crisp narration, its enervating score, and its smooth tracking that only gets vaguely approximated at now between shills for shoes and sports drinks. Owen’s High Steel (1966) considers the role of indigenous peoples in American high rise construction. The film’s lively narration by Don Francks is based on interviews with Harold McComber, a Mohawk iron worker whose daring occupation is made relatable by the sincerity of his professional pride and his practical faith in family tradition.
As per the NFB:
This captivating short documentary profiles the young Canadian long-distance runner Bruce Kidd at 19 years old. Kidd eventually went on to win a gold and bronze medal the 1962 Commonwealth Games, and was a competing member of the 1964 Canadian Olympic tem. Directed by Don Owen (Nobody Waved Goodbye, Toronto Jazz), the film is luminously photographed by John Spotton and features poetic commentary composed and spoken by the great Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden. The camera follows Kidd’s sprightly movements as he runs on piers, practice tracks, and finally, in an international race. Oblivious to the clapping crowds and the flash of cameras, he knows full well that in the long run it is the cold stopwatch that tells the truth.
As per the NFB:
This short documentary offers a dizzying view of the Mohawk Indians of Kahnawake who work in Manhattan erecting the steel frames of skyscrapers. Famed for their skill in working with steel, the Mohawks demonstrate their nimble abilities in the sky. As a counterbalance, the viewer is allowed a peek at their quieter community life on the Kahnawake Reserve, in Quebec.
Hockey may not be Canada’s national sport but it is certainly its favourite pastime, and while the National Film Board of Canada may not be overflowing with films about hockey as some might expect, the sport has prominence in its collection.
I expect that almost any review of the NFB’s best and most representative films likely requires some space for Sheldon Cohen’s The Sweater or Le chandial (1980), a beloved animated short based on Roch Carrier’s popular story. (A line from the story even appeared on Canada’s 5-dollar bill from 2001 to 2013.) To The Sweater, I’ve matched two more films that emphasize the place of hockey at all levels of Canadian society. First up is Leslie McFarlane’s Here’s Hockey! (1953), a celebration of the sport from small, outdoor rinks to hallowed ice palaces. Here’s Hockey! is propelled by newsreel narration and full of gee-whiz optimism. Rounding out this trio is Overtime (Marrin Canell, 1984), an examination of the sport’s spirit even in the face of the flesh’s failure, told with the aid of worn-out equipment and stubby beer bottles. Recreational leagues like the one in Overtime are a fixture of many Canadians’ lives, whether it be playing in them, cheering from the stands, or hearing about them by the office water cooler.
As per the NFB:
In this animated short, Roch Carrier recounts the most mortifying moment of his childhood. At a time when all his friends worshipped Maurice “Rocket” Richard and wore his number 9 Canadiens hockey jersey, the boy was mistakenly sent a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey from Eaton’s. Unable to convince his mother to send it back, he must face his friends wearing the colours of the opposing team. This short film, based on the book The Hockey Sweater, is an NFB classic that appeals to hockey lovers of all ages.
As per the NFB:
Featuring Jean Beliveau, this short film focuses on hockey from the inside out. Known as Canada’s national pastime, this film demonstrates why hockey is such an exciting spectator sport. From east to west, the connection between fans and players is evident in the excited cries of “we’ve won!” From Pee-wee to Bantam, from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to the big league pros, Here’s Hockey! shows what it takes to make a great hockey player.
As per the NFB:
This short documentary profiles a group of men from the Toronto Lakeshore Oldtimers Hockey Club. Although middle-aged, they still play the game with as much energy and passion as they did 25 years ago. They claim that playing hockey is more fun now than it was when they were kids, despite the toll of aches and pains, injuries, gruelling schedules and late-night partying. Cares and responsibilities are cast aside once they are on the ice, and the locker room becomes a haven of uncomplicated camaraderie and fun. In refusing to grow old gracefully, they feel they won’t grow up at all!