SFFF Day 6 – Into the Unknown

The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.

A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.

Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.

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Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008)

SHUT UP OR DIE!

Shock jock Grant Mazzy has been kicked off the airwaves and now works the only job he can get as the host of CLSY’s early morning radio show broadcast from the basement of a church in the small Canadian town of Pontypool. What begins as another mundane day of school bus cancellations quickly turns deadly when bizarre reports start piling in of people developing strange speech patterns and committing brutal acts of violence. Before long, Mazzy and CLSY’s small staff find themselves trapped in the station and struggling with the reality of a deadly virus being spread through language. Does Mazzy stay on the air in hopes of informing the public and saving himself or is he providing the virus with its ultimate leap over the airwaves and into the world?

Based on Tony Burgess’ 1995 novel Pontypool Changes Everything and inspired by Orson Welles’s 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, Pontypool blends George Romero and David Cronenberg with Noam Chomsky and Richard Dawkins and creates a zombie apocalypse unlike any other.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director Bruce McDonald and writer Tony Burgess
  • Original radio drama with optional slideshow of on-set photos taken by Caitlin Cronenberg
  • A New Arrangement for Life, a new interview with McDonald and Burgess looking back on Pontypool
  • Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, a new interview with actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle
  • Infected Words, a new video appreciation by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • Siege Mentality, horror film scholars Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West on the Canadianness of Pontypool
  • Watching Night of the Living Dead, Canadian artist Dave Dyment’s 2018 reproduction of George Romero’s 1968 horror classic using clips taken from film and television that include footage from Night of the Living Dead
  • Two short films by Britt Randle: Dada Dum (2007) and Eve (2001)
  • Original theatrical teaser and trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Tim Robey

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