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.
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.
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!
In anticipation of our next proposal for a Criterion treatment, MMC! thought it might preview that upcoming discussion with an oddly related short – Peter van der Ham’s Clapping Music (2005). The film performs Steve Reich’s minimalist score “Clapping Music” through a scene from John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) where Angie Dickinson flails away at an impassive Lee Marvin, hitting him 1,344 times before crumpling at his feet. The effect of the short is fascinatingly hypnotic and it offers a kind of weird portrait of cinematic chauvinism in its exaggerated futility.
And so, if you like van der Ham’s Clapping Music, Point Blank, and novel editing choices, you should love MMC!’s next imagined Criterion edition! (Maybe I’ve said too much?)
An inspiration to the Nelvana animation studio’s first feature, Rock & Rule (Clive A. Smith, 1983), The Devil and Daniel Mouse (Clive A. Smith, 1978) was the Canadian animator’s second television special. Following 1977’s A Cosmic Christmas (Clive A. Smith, 1977), this Halloween program takes its inspiration from Stephen Vincent Benét’s classic short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and mines Canadian artistic anxieties over American cultural imperialism and selling out. Struggling folk duo Jan and Daniel Mouse are fired from their last gig and Jan sells her soul to the demonic record producer B.L. Zebub, transforming her into the hit sensation Funky Jan. Success is bittersweet for Jan as she misses Daniel but when B.L. claims his payment under the contract, it’s Daniel who stands up for her in a trial of the damned that culminates in a musical final statement that carries the day. The short features some solid tracks by John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and singer-songwriter Valerie Carter, as well as some stunning animation for the infernal B.L. Zebub.
Those looking for more on The Devil and Daniel Mouse, Rock & Rule, and the failed early efforts of Nelvana to achieve its own commercial and artistic independence should consult Keir-La Janisse’s excellent essay “A Song from the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: The Fear of Selling Out in Nelvana’s The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rock and Rule” in Gina Freitag and André Loiselle’s The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul.
BREAKING NEWS! Halloween is sneaking up on us and MMC! has been slow to embrace the spooky season. (Actually, MMC! is hard at work on an imagined Arrow Video edition of a modern Canadian horror classic!) Let’s remedy MMC!’s omission with a favourite horror-comedy short from the 2018 festival circuit – Anthony Cousins’ The Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds (2018). This quasi-riff on The Burning attends to the summer camp-in-peril trope at the hilariously named Camp Nawgonamakit and has a grand time nostalgically mocking the fashions and film themes of past eras while an iron-pumping former camper in a vacuform mask wreaks his bloody vengeance. And don’t worry, there are s’more horror shorts still to come! (I can’t believe I made that camping “s’more” joke again! I’m really sorry. I’ll try to stop.)