The Days Before Christmas (Stanley Jackson, Wolf Koenig, and Terence Macartney-Filgate, 1958)

NFBMerry Christmas Eve!

With the holiday season in mind, enjoy this short made for The Candid Eye documentary series recounting Christmas preparations in Montreal, Canada. The Days Before Christmas (Stanley Jackson, Wolf Koenig and Terence Macartney-Filgate, 1958) has everything you’d expect from the Christmas season and more – department store Santas and anxious children, choir practices, recitals, and Christmas pageants, holiday travellers and long-distance calls home, smoky nightclubs and lively jazz acts, cab drivers, traffic cops, and Brink’s guards with pistols drawn.

And to all those wonderful readers who arrive here regularly or stumble into MMC! accidentally, happy holidays and the best of the season to you! Enjoy yourselves, stay safe, and keep those titles in order of spine number!

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On and Off the Record!

NFBWhen it comes to high culture respectability, Canada loves to hold up Glenn Gould, considered to arguably be the greatest concert pianist of his century. Made for the Documentary 60 TV series, Glenn Gould: Off the Record (Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor, 1959) and Glenn Gould: On the Record (Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor, 1959) offer a glimpse at the acclaimed musician in studio and out, although it hardly seems to matter. In both settings, the young Gould reveals himself as an affable and idiosyncratic personality equally at home with music as a theoretical construct as he is with music as an auditory experience. Directors-producers Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor once again appear in this retrospective, a testament to their tremendous activity within the NFB and the Documentary 60 series (working as directors and/or producers on at least a quarter of its episodes).

As per the NFB:

In this short documentary, Canadian concert pianist Glenn Gould enjoys a respite at his lakeside cottage. This is an aspect of Gould previously known only to the collie pacing beside him through the woods, the fishermen resting their oars to hear his piano, and fellow musicians like Franz Kraemer, with whom Gould talks of composition.

As per the NFB:

This short documentary follows Glenn Could to New York City. There, we see the renowned Canadian concert pianist kidding the cab driver, bantering with sound engineers at Columbia records, and then, alone with the piano, fastidiously recording Bach’s Italian Concerto.

Behind the Microphone

NFBFans of the Criterion Collection’s array of music documentaries will find a number of films by the National Film Board of Canada to appreciate. Presented here a pair of great shorts made by four of the NFB’s most prolific filmmakers that provide absorbing views on the artist, their work, and the business that surrounds them. From the zeitgeist that swarms around Paul Anka to the self-effacing ruminations of Leonard Cohen, Lonely Boy (Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor, 1962) and Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen (Don Owen and Donald Brittain, 1965) are captivating portraits of two popular Canadian performers.

As per the NFB:

This short film portrays the story of singer Paul Anka, who rose from obscurity to become the idol of millions of adolescent fans around the world. Taking a candid look at both sides of the footlights, this film examines the marketing machine behind a generation of pop singers. Interviews with Anka and his manager reveal their perspective on the industry.

As per the NFB:

This informal black-and-white portrait of Leonard Cohen shows him at age 30 on a visit to his hometown of Montreal, where the poet, novelist and songwriter comes “to renew his neurotic affiliations.” He reads his poetry to an enthusiastic crowd, strolls the streets of the city, relaxes in his three-dollar-a-night hotel room and even takes a bath.

The Romance of Transportation in Canada (Colin Low, 1952) and City of Gold (Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, 1957)

NFBIf anything has made my immersion in the NFB worthwhile, it is my newfound appreciation for Colin Low, Wolf Koenig, and Roman Kroitor. These men were prolific contributors to the NFB, working together and apart on seemingly countless productions as directors, animators, producers, and writers and acting as pioneers working in the art of Direct Cinema, developing the IMAX format, and directly influencing the work George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, and Ken Burns. Presented here is Colin Low’s humourous The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952), animated by Wolf Koenig and Robert Verrall. Romance won the Short Film Palme d’Or and a special BAFTA Award, and holds the distinction of being the NFB’s first Oscar-nominated animated film and the first international nominee in the Animated Short category. Also offered here is Low and Koenig’s City of Gold (1957), winner of the Palme d’Or, recipient of an Oscar nomination as a documentary short, and boasting narration by beloved Canadian historian, journalist, and television personality Pierre Berton. American documentarian Ken Burns has acknowledged City of Gold as a foundational film to his own work, and the debt owed to Low and Koenig’s use of archival photographs is obvious. Low, Koenig, and Kroitor should be widely know in film circles given their contributions to cinema and we’ll have more on them tomorrow and as our tribute to the NFB continues!

As per the NFB:

A light-hearted animated short about how Canada’s vast distances and great obstacles were overcome by settlers. The story is told with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness and takes us from the intrepid trailblazers of long ago to the aircraft of today and tomorrow. A 1953 Cartoon Short Subject Oscar®-nominee.

As per the NFB:

This classic short film Pierre Berton depicts the Klondike gold rush at its peak, when would-be prospectors struggled through harsh conditions to reach the fabled gold fields over 3000 km north of civilization. Using a collection of still photographs, the film juxtaposes the Dawson City at the height of the gold rush with its bustling taverns and dance halls with the more tranquil Dawson City of the present.