July 26, 2004 21:11Your Tax Dollars At Work
Last week I was in Toronto for a wedding, so I neglected to post a new Movies in Longshot. This week, I'll make amends by doing the entire James Bond series (or at least certain highlights) in one go.
The wedding party in question featured a gathering of some old-guard Canadian film-industry figures who date back to the glorious tax-break days of the 70's and early 80's. This was a period when our government funding came in the form of generous tax breaks for anyone who invested in a Canadian production regardless of the calibre of the project. With no one picking and choosing what was worthy of funding, the result was a unique stretch of time when our country actually produced lots of commercial movies. True, many of them were absolute crap, but at least they were chasing an honest buck, which made for a self-sustaining movie mill. Of course, people inevitably balked at the idea of tax breaks being handed out to slasher flicks and sex comedies, all of which were shot here, but none of which actually took place in Canada or portrayed the great Canadian experience (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang aside). So the system was changed, leading to the stuffy setup we have now, with most home-grown movies incapable of drawing an audience even at the gunpoint of Canadian content legislation.
To this day, you'll be hard-pressed to find many people who strongly advocate the old tax-break system, even if it did produce our longest-standing box office smash (Porky's) and gave rise to the career of David Cronenberg, widely celebrated as our finest director (who back then was directing the killing spree of Marilyn Chambers' armpit in Montreal's Eve porn house). I, however, regard that era fondly. And it was fun to hear the battle-hardened vets reminisce about their glory days shooting great Canadian epics like Pick-up Summer, My Bloody Valentine, The Mystery of the Million Dollar Hockey Puck, Loving and Laughing, and inevitably, Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia (the only film to have successfully killed off everyone's favourite she-wolf/harem keeper/wicked warden/etc.) The stories tended to revolve around how many mind-altering banned substances were consumed in the name of artistic inspiration, and how many stunt men were nearly killed by these low-rent operations that didn't have the budget to fake mortal peril and therefore had to go with the real thing.
Look hard enough and you can find many of these films available on DVD or as copyright-violating downloads. Believe it or not, though, there are places to go on the web to download movies in a perfectly law abiding fashion. No kidding. This site offers piles of public domain films from decades past. You can enjoy all sorts of propaganda, exploitation and comedy shorts from ages ago. There are even some cheesy B-films (of the hour-long variety) and a genuine classic or two. If you're looking for a TeleSynch bootleg of Spider-Man 2, you're out of luck. But if you're a indiscriminate film nut like me, it's a real treasure trove.
Now if only they would post some Canadian content…
July 09, 2004 16:18Signing On The Dotted Line
I love signing contracts.
Aside from heralding regular employment for the next little while, it's the closest thing to an instant influx of cash in my line of work. Thanks to the miracle of collective bargaining, whenever I sign a new contract under the terms of the Independent Production Agreement, I'm immediately owed 20% of the script fee. Yup, I just scribble my name a few times in a row and the money comes pouring in. I like how that works.
Then comes the hard part. Writing entire sentences and pages and scripts to fill my contractual obligation. But that first stage -- when all I'm writing is my name -- I love that part.
So after thousands of miles of travel and months of courtship, I'm finally, officially, on the dole. That mystery project I keep alluding to is well and truly a go, at least as far as the scripting chores are concerned. With my bread buttered through to the end of the year, I can be reasonably confident that my DVD addiction won't bankrupt me quite yet. That leaves time enough to enroll in some sort of digital versatile disc twelve-step program that could save me from myself. All I have to do now is decide I actually want to be saved from my addiction. That's the hard part. If DVDs are crack for film buffs, ten dollar DVDs are like wholesale narcotics. If only those bastard studios and bastard distributors had kept their disc prices up in the thirty-dollar range where they used to be, I'd be so much better off. Then I'd only end up buying one film I really want at a time, instead of three lesser films I can't say "no" to for that price.
I left the production office after a long, hard day of writing my name four times in a row, and made my way to Centre-Ville, hoping to score more ten buck discs from my pushers. I was jonesing. Unfortunately, it's summertime in Montreal. And that can only mean one thing. To get to my objective, I would have to wade through fifty festivals.
Let me step aside here for a second to address the tourists. Montreal is a wonderful, cosmopolitan city. European in flavour, yet North American at its core. Culturally diverse, yet unique in its distinct personality. There's no other place quite like it on Earth, and it's well worth coming to visit to appreciate the sights, the beauty both architectural and natural. And there's no better time to come than in the summer, when the weather is warm and the festivals are in full blossom. Fireworks competitions, stand-up comics, live music, films from around the world. It's really quite something. So let me just say this to you:
Seriously. I know it sounds like a grand time for the whole family, but stay the fuck out of my city. There's too much going on at the same time, and it draws tourists like flies to three-day-old road kill. The streets are packed with you people and I've had enough. Don't come anywhere near us ever again. We appreciate your tourist dollars, they're a boon to the local economy. But please, don't come onto the island. Just stuff your tourist dollars into a plain brown paper bag and leave it at the end of one of our conveniently located bridges. We'll send someone around to pick it up. Then get your ass back in your SUV and drive your screaming family to Disneyland or Lake George or some other tourist destination far away from here.
Probably the worst summer tourist attraction in the city is our increasingly misnamed Jazz Festival, which is more of a general music festival because I've never actually heard anything remotely like real jazz being played there. People come from all over and absolutely choke the streets, largely because much of the festival is outdoors and free. Cheap tourists love a vacation they can drive to and then not have to pay to get in. This, the primary offender of the Montreal Festival Fest, is what I had to detour my way around yesterday.
I was shocked when, for once, they were playing something remotely akin to jazz. Chances are, at any given moment of the Jazz Fest, you'll hear "world" music. This usually comes in the form of a klezmer arrangement of a Barney song as performed by the Vienna Boy's Choir on kazoo and didgeridoo. Variations exist, but your chances of hearing something just like that are odds on. Despite the music being on topic for a rare change, I decided to move on before the Swahili chanting drowned out the Kodo drummers who were doing their very best to sound completely unlike Gene Krupa.
The final destination I had in mind was a local movie house that was playing our homegrown documentary masterpiece, The Corporation (which, incidentally, as a left-leaning indictment of our current political landscape, absolutely spanks Fahrenheit 9/11, no disrespect meant to Michael Moore's otherwise enjoyable feature editorial). As I've established at great, tedious length before, I'm a card-carrying member of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, which means I get to flash my card and see Canadian flicks for free.
Yet again, my card was refused.
"I'm sorry, sir. We can't accept your card. This isn't a Canadian film."
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it fucking is.
Of course the reason they incorrectly assumed that The Corporation was an American film is because it's lasted in theatres for more than a week, and it's proved to be a popular movie people actually want to go see. This is unheard of in Canadian cinema -- so therefore, Canadian it cannot be.
The last time I had this sort of problem was scoring a ticket for Decoys. That was a shitty movie that closed fast because no one wanted to see it, so you'd think it fit the Canadian profile perfectly. But not so. Decoys was clearly an attempt to make a commercial genre film, so again the assumption was it must be American. As we know, no Canadian film actually tries to make money by being broadly appealing. That would cut it off from its government funding.
I tell you, it's hard to gather support for Canadian cinema when everyone assumes that our rare commercial offerings must, by their very nature, be from somewhere else. You'd think the theatres would at least have some vague notion of what they were showing. Hell, it only takes one person who works there to have actually seen the goddamn thing to be able to tell immediately, by its content alone -- never mind what's clearly stated on the movie poster -- that it's Canadian in origin. But of course the ushers, managers, and candy counter monkeys are all too busy using their comps to go see White Chicks.
After a long argument, during which no one ever conceded that I was right, I finally had my free ticket to see The Corporation…again. I felt good. I had stood up and won a small victory for Canadian cinema. It was time to reward myself.
And that's when I walked into the American film I really wanted to see instead.