Introduction: Hello and welcome to the Great Books Tent at Word on the Street… I thought I’d start by telling you a bit about why we’re all here today…
In addition to having just written The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen for ECW Press, I also host a movie review show called Reel to Real… it’s Canada’s longest running show about movies, and each year my co-hosts (Geoff Pevere and Katrina Onstad) review 200 plus movies, which means that I spend most of my time alone, and in the dark… and then, when I emerge into the light, I have to come up with — hopefully — clever things to say about them, which is harder sometimes than you would think…
I find the top 10% of movies and the bottom 10% the easiest to discuss… in other words the best and the worst are easy to review, but it is the middle 80% of mediocre films that are really, really hard to discuss… so when I was choosing the movies in the book I dismissed about 80% of the movies I have ever seen… much like most of the movies that were released this summer… so many sequels, it seemed like every movie that came out this summer had a number in the title… Charlie’s Angel’s 2… Legally Blonde 2… Bad Boys 2… Jeeper’s Creepers 2… there was a lot of number two at the theatres this year, if you know what I mean… anyway, I ruled out sequels from the book…
It seems that we are surrounded by bad movies… so to remedy that we go to the video store to find alternatives and generally all we find are more bad movies! Stats say that most people spend about 12 minutes in the video store when searching for something to rent, and never even make it past the new releases rack… so where do you think the chain stores put most of their energy???
So, keeping this in mind, and considering my job as a film critic, although I prefer “consumer advocate”… the Ralph Nader of cinephiles… I decided to put this book together, to help people choose good movies to rent… but keep in mind you must choose your video store very carefully!!! If everyone in the store is wearing the same colour t-shirt — a uniform — you’re probably in the wrong place… The corporate stores aren’t likely to embrace the movies contained within…
Look for the mom and pop shows and stores run by people who try and engage you in some kind of conversation… IE: When you try and rent Pearl Harbour… if the video store clerk doesn’t look at with a disappointed look on his or her face and then try and steer you toward maybe picking up Tora! Tora! Tora! instead then you are in the wrong store… anyway…
There are other reasons I wrote this book, and one of them is detailed in the introduction to the book…
Richard Crouse: You know there’s a long list of films, and it’s interesting to hear you talk about how A History of Violence could have been probably a much different film if it had been made by an American. There’s a long list of films that you’ve said no to, that I’ve read about.
Geoff Pevere: How different a film Flashdance might have been.
Richard Crouse: Absolutely.
David Cronenerg: It would have been a failure!
Richard Crouse: Geoff and I were talking about this earlier, Geoff said someone quoted to you the idea that there would have been a whole alternate world of blockbusters had you directed Top Gun, and Flashdance, and Beverly Hills Cop, and some of the other films you were offered and said no to. You’d probably get offered many many things.
David Cronenberg: Well, Witness was one of those, and it actually was the first movie that Viggo Mortensen was in.
Richard Crouse: That’s right.
Geoff Pevere: Oh, that’s right.
David Cronenberg: He played an Amish.
Geoff Pevere: One of the Star Wars movies too. Weren’t you offered one of those?
David Cronenberg: Uh, yes. Yes, I was. I got a phone call from somebody from Lucas Film, and they said “we’re thinking of you for doing this third Star Wars movie.” I guess it was Return of the Jedi, and I said “well, I’m not used to doing other people’s material.” And I think there was a hang-up after that. I think they were looking for unbridled excitement, and instead they got hesitation, and that was it. Anyway, you have to know what to turn down. Those movies wouldn’t have been hits if I had done them. I would have somehow screwed them up because what they needed was that full on … I mean I certainly remember very definitely why I turned Witness down, because I could see the structure of that movie demanded that you sort of idealize the Amish. And to me they were a very repressive, sort of cultish group that I didn’t have much affection for, and I knew that I couldn’t do that kind of idealizing that the script required, because that was paradise, and life in the big city was “bad.” And I just didn’t believe it. So that was as it often is with me, a philosophical problem. People think because I’ve done horror films, they send me things like Constantine, with demons and stuff. And I say “I don’t do devils. I don’t do the Devil. I don’t do demons. I don’t do angels. I don’t do ghosts. I really don’t. And that’s because it’s a philosophical question. All of those things presuppose an afterlife, which I don’t believe in. And therefore I don’t, even metaphorically – I mean, I suppose if there were an approach were you could really say all of those things were metaphors for something else, then maybe it would work – but mostly it’s not. I can watch The Exorcist and see why it’s effective, and enjoy it. But I couldn’t make it.
“I watch bad movies so you don’t have to.” That mantra has turned Richard Crouse, “Reel to Real’s” bespectacled film critic, into the movie guru Canadians turn to for the lowdown on new Hollywood releases. Now Crouse serves up a century’s worth of lesser-known, eye-opening pleasers in his new book, “Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” (ECW Press). A sequel to his 2003 hit, “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen,” the Canada AM movie critic delves into those entertaining but under-appreciated film gems that fell by the wayside at the box office.
Crouse’s top 100 includes:
* “The Cameraman’s Revenge” (1912)
Calling this flick “13 minutes of sheer cinematic joy,” Crouse says this melodramatic love-triangle surrounding a philandering couple predates the juicy, adultery-filled novels of Jacqueline Susann by 50 years.
* “The Crime of Dr. Crespi” (1935)
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” Eric von Stroheim plays a chain-smoking doctor out to ruin the husband of his former flame. As Crouse says, “The film movie makes an impression because of the twisted story and even more twisted performance from von Stroheim.”
* “On Dangerous Ground” (1952)
Martin Scorsese calls this taut drama about a jaded cop one of his biggest influences. Directed by Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a Cause), Crouse says this film’s shy psychopathic killer character may have partially inspired the portrayal of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
* “Black Christmas” (1974)
“Without this groundbreaking 1974 Canadian horror film there might never have been a Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers,” says Crouse. Shot in Toronto on a $600,000 budget, this horror classic about a psycho terrorizing sorority girls will make your skin crawl.
* “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006)
“This is one strange movie,” says Crouse. In it an expert perfumer kills virgins to harvest their scent and make the ultimate fragrance. “This film isn’t for everyone, but should thrill adventurous viewers,” says Crouse.
Like its predecessor, “Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” is peppered with detailed plots, memorable lines and trivia tidbits. From the 1923 classic “Safety Last!” – which Premiere Magazine called on of the 50 greatest comedies of all time, to 2007’s “Akeelah and the Bee” Crouse’s witty compilation makes it easy for film lovers to make informed choices at the video store.
“Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” also includes interviews with Billy Bob Thornton on the movie that has most inspired him. Francis Ford Coppola discusses his grief after “One from the Heart” tanked. Even Mario Van Peebles’ shares his feelings on portraying his father, Melvin Van Peebles, in the original Blaxploitation flick “Baadasssss!”
“I didn’t want these movies to be so impossibly obscure that people would never have heard of them. That’s why you’ll find everything from Henry Fonda to Edward Norton. If you haven’t heard of the movie you’ll recognize the actor,” says Crouse.
Of course, Crouse’s definition of a great movie may not please all readers.
“People today will go and see Shia LeBeouf in ‘Eagle Eye’ because they liked him in ‘Indiana Jones.’ Sadly moviegoers who get sucked in by celebrity alone won’t give a more obscure film or actor a chance and that’s a shame,” says Crouse. “You’ll miss out on so many great movies if you only watch films that way.”
As Crouse says, “You can love my movie picks or hate them. That’s okay by me.”
TORONTO — Marijuana might be illegal, but few other illicit drugs have spawned such a thriving cinematic subculture: stoner movies, comedies that centre on the silly hijinks of pot-addled characters.
Wednesday’s highly anticipated release of “Pineapple Express,” an adventure film about two stoners played by Seth Rogen and James Franco, represents just the latest in a genre that was pioneered by legendary weed enthusiasts Cheech and Chong.
“People did drugs in movies long before Cheech and Chong,” Richard Crouse, film critic for CTV’s “Canada AM,” said Wednesday.
“There were drug references in movies as early as the 1930s and ’40s but people using drugs in those films were always drug addicts, there was reefer madness, there were huge consequences to doing drugs. But when Cheech and Chong came along in the 1970s, things were changing dramatically, and they were among the first to take drug use in movies to a different level and make it really funny.”
Indeed, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong blazed a trail for a long string of stoner movies that include classics ranging from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” – featuring one of the best stoner characters ever in Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli – to “Half-Baked,” “Dazed and Confused,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Clerks” and the popular “Harold and Kumar” movies, to name just a few.
In every one of these films, pot-smoking is largely portrayed as a relatively innocuous pastime that simply results in a lot of silly – and often hilarious – behaviour.
“There are not a lot of funny heroin movies out there, nor a lot of funny crystal meth movies,” says Crouse. “Marijuana is certainly easier to poke fun at, and it’s because pretty much everyone of a certain generation now believes that smoking a joint is a fairly harmless thing to do. Hollywood pretty much equates smoking pot with having a Scotch.”
Heather Watson, a pop culture blogger (cvxn.tumblr.com) and city editor of the BlackBook guide to Vancouver, adds that pot smoking in films is becoming even more acceptable than cigarette smoking and boozing.
“You can’t have a movie with an unrepentantly drunk character in the way you can have an unrepentant stoner character. It’s an interesting shift, kind of like you can’t have a hero that smokes cigarettes anymore in most things, and yet pot is OK,” says Watson, who describes herself as a member of Vancouver’s “weederati.”
“As a drug, pot is pretty G-rated, and the consequences of its use are – especially lately – comedic and not at all life-threatening. At worst in these films, society gets its pants pulled down in the town square by the lovable loser armed with no weapon save a thick cloud of sweet smoke and a fit of the giggles.”
Stoner movies often have subtle social messages, Crouse adds, that can be even more effective than those in heavy-handed dramatic films.
He cites the “Harold and Kumar” movies and their pointed – but still funny – commentary on everything from prejudice, racial profiling and the frightening realities of post-9-11 America.
“There is real commentary in the ‘Harold and Kumar’ movies – particularly the second one, ‘Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.’ They delve into race relations in America and how the war on terror has really spiralled out of control, and they’ve been far more effective in terms of communicating that stuff than an earnest film like ‘Lions for Lambs’ was. And many more people saw the ‘Harold and Kumar’ movies than ‘Lions for Lambs.”‘
Watson believes there’s even substance for the lofty intellectual to chew on in an outwardly goofy stoner flick.
“If you want to look really closely at a clown character like Jeff Spicoli, you’ll see roots in commedia dell’arte and the archetype of the fool who speaks the truth when others can’t see it,” she says.
“I’ve been watching stoner movies since long before I was a stoner, and ultimately I suppose they are about boring stuff like ‘codified communications’ and ‘re-drawing the paradigms of polite discourse’ in less threatening ways than aggressively laddish movies like ‘Jackass.”‘
Which brings Watson to her next point.
“The bigger question that remains unasked here is where are all the lady stoner flicks? Pardon the pun, but isn’t it high time for a female Cheech and Chong?”
Reel to Real and Richard were parodied by Canadian comedy legends The Royal Canadian Air Farce on the Friday December 21, 2001 episode of CBC Television’s Air Farce. In the skit an obnoxious film director (Jonathan Torrens) is interviewed by Richard (Roger Abbott) on the Reel to Real set. To see a clip, cut and paste this into your browser: https://www.airfarce.ca/video/011207.html or click here.
TORONTO – Danielle McNally is an 18-year-old high school student who loves the raunchy hit comedy “Superbad” as much as the next teen, but her all-time favourite movies are ones that were made before she was born: “Sixteen Candles” and “Say Anything.”
“The stories are just so simple but they’re so funny,” McNally says of the 1980s cinematic classics that are still popular among today’s teenagers.
“I love ‘Superbad,’ but it is kind of gross in places, and those movies weren’t and that’s definitely part of what I like about them,” she says while on her lunch break at a downtown Toronto high school. “They were just funny and sweet. My friends and I never get tired of watching them.”
Films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” – all of them from John Hughes – are still so big that they are among some of those most commonly rented movies on Zip.ca, Canada’s online movie rental service.
Of 72,000 films in the Zip.ca catalogue, “The Breakfast Club” – the high-school detention caper that starred Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson – ranks No. 794, an impressive showing considering its age and how many modern-day blockbusters it’s competing against.
Other Hughes classics and films from Cameron Crowe, including “Say Anything” and
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” are also popular rentals.
Film critic Richard Crouse says the Hughes films, in particular, represent the glory days of teen movies largely because they so perfectly portrayed genuine adolescent angst amid the belly laughs.
“The John Hughes movies are the gold standard of teen films,” says Crouse, the film critic on CTV’s “Canada AM.”
“For the first time, kids with real problems who weren’t really afraid to talk about them and take action were seen on screen. Those films have a real insight into what matters to kids, and what still matters to kids. They had a huge impact on the films that came after them, for sure, but I think they were done best back then, and that’s certainly why they’re still so popular.”
But is there a renaissance afoot for the teen comedy genre? Crouse suggests producer Judd Apatow and Canada’s Seth Rogen, who wrote the screenplay for
“Superbad” when he was a teen and stars in the stoner film “Pineapple Express” this summer, seem to be making a play for the crown.
“Superbad is really racy in parts, but the characters in it – the three boys – were likable, smart and funny and they had real teen problems,” Crouse says of last summer’s Rogen/Apatow hit comedy.
“If we do indeed have another teen comedy heyday, it will be a different kind of movie – they’ll be more like ‘Superbad’ than ‘Sixteen Candles,’ that’s for sure, so perhaps not quite as innocent,” he says.
“But the thing about ‘Superbad’ and ‘Pineapple Express’ is that Seth Rogen wrote those scripts when he was a teenager, so there’s serious authenticity there. It gives him a real leg up on 40-year-old screenwriters pumping out something that they feel will appeal to kids.”
There’s no question Hughes, who now lives a low-key life in Chicago, has profoundly influenced Rogen and Apatow.
Apatow has long called Hughes a major inspiration dating right back to his short-lived TV cult favourite “Freaks and Geeks,” starring Rogen and James Franco (who appear again together in “Pineapple Express.”)
“John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time,” Apatow recently told the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, with outrageous humour and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’ films. Whether it’s ‘Freaks and Geeks’ or ‘Superbad,’ the whole idea of having outsiders as the lead characters, that all started with Hughes.”
For Bern Euler, there’s no irony in showing, at a festival devoted exclusively to Canadian movies, a 46-minute documentary on why these same Canadian movies never seem to get a break or find an audience in the theatres of our home and native land.
“That’s just the way it is,” he said the other day from his home in Toronto where, as founder and director of the Canadian Filmmakers’ Festival, he was putting the finishing touches on the festival’s fifth annual instalment, which starts tomorrow.
Euler will be screening 14 Canadian-made features and 22 shorts over five days in Toronto, stuff with titles like Confessions of a Porn Addict, Bedwetter and Insanophenia, and it’s a good bet few if any of them will get (or have gotten) theatrical distribution in a country where last year English-language Canuck features accounted for just 1 per cent of the total gross domestic box-office. Even Euler’s festival is something of a pariah. It has survived largely as a labour of love, fuelled by the fumes of hope, with no financial assistance from any government movie-financing body such as Telefilm Canada or the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
“It’s more than just a festival,” Euler asserted. “It’s” – no, not an exercise in futility or sado-masochism or a kind of inverse snobbery re: Hollywood’s slick glick, but, yes – “a cause.”
In this case, to show Canadians – or at least the 6,000 or so who are expected to attend this year’s CFF (“Every single year we’ve seen growth in our audience,” Euler declared. “Last year almost half of our screenings were sold out!”) – that Canuck films “are not boring, are not all artsy, do not all have bad sound. They’re not all about drug-addled fishermen from PEI dealing with their lesbian daughters who are hooking on the streets of Vancouver.”
One of the CFF’s “world premieres” this year is that 46-minute documentary alluded to earlier. Titled Maple Flavour Films, it’s the tale of a cross-country screening tour that Toronto screenwriter/producer/director Michael Sparaga undertook by car in April, 2006, on behalf of his low-budget feature Sidekick. It also functions as an anatomy of the anemic state of Canadian English-language cinema, with Sparaga eliciting risible answers from ordinary Canadians in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver to questions such as “What is the name of Canada’s annual movie awards show?” “Do you know any Genie winners from the past decade?” and “What was the last Canadian movie you saw?” Providing sober assessments of our cinematic malaise are the likes of critic Richard Crouse, producer Anna Stratton, distributor Brad Pelman and Michael Kennedy, the last executive vice-president of filmed entertainment for Cineplex Galaxy Cinemas.
Sparaga, who graduated 12 years ago from the film production and screenwriting program at Toronto’s York University, originally conceived Maple Flavour Films simply as an extra for the DVD release of Sidekick, not a standalone documentary. But after completing the screening tour and looking at the video that he and his pals shot during “the great Canadian road trip,” he realized the footage could serve as the basis for something larger. In fact, the last interview, with Cineplex’s Kennedy, wasn’t bagged until last summer.
Ironies, of course, abound in the saga of both Sidekick and Maple Flavour Films. For instance, Sidekick – a smart, charming but dark story of a comic-book-obsessed computer geek who ends up mentoring, with deadly results, a feckless colleague with telekinetic powers – was the winner of the people’s choice award at CFF 2006. A month after that, well, “triumph,” Sparaga and the film’s director Blake Van de Graaf were on their cross-country preview-screening tour, promoting Sidekick in an effort to drum up buzz to lure a theatrical distributor. As they did so, they shot the footage that eventually became the backbone of Maple Flavour Films.
Sidekick was originally shot on digital video in 2004 in Toronto for $35,000, virtually all of it paid for with a $10,000 line of credit and maxing out credit cards. “I’d pay off one credit card with another, and as I paid off the balance, they’d raise my limit,” Sparaga recalled recently. “It was great.” The film had its world premiere in fall 2005 at the Calgary International Film Festival where it enjoyed enthusiastic crowds and piqued the interest of several other film festivals, including one in Boise, Idaho. But Sparaga was broke by then. He knew if the film was to have any legs, the digital version needed to be transferred to a 35-mm celluloid print.
Desperate, he sent what he now calls “a Hail Mary e-mail” to Telefilm, begging the federal funder for help. Amazingly, it agreed, giving him $40,000 from something called the alternative distribution fund. In January, 2006, a print consisting of two 35-mm reels was struck and a few weeks later Sparaga was hauling those reels to the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.
After all this, Sidekick did, in fact, get distribution, from Toronto’s Maple Pictures Corp., not as a sexy theatrical release, mind you, but as fodder for the direct-to-DVD and television markets. Still, the movie continues to persevere; the U.S. DVD, for example, is coming out June 10, which means Sparaga and his buddies are planning a “celebratory day trip to Buffalo to get wings at the Anchor Bar and buy a copy at Best Buy.”
Moreover, all the media that Sidekick got has brought Sparaga into Telefilm’s good books. It has actually landed him development money for “a Canadian creature feature” about Bigfoot, tentatively titled Footprints. “Every country’s got a mythological hominid lurking in the forest,” Sparaga observed. “In Canada, I’m betting that next to hockey, Bigfoot is one of the things kids think about the most.”
The hope is that principal photography can start some time in spring 2009. And who knows, maybe it’ll play at some future Canadian Filmmakers’ Festival. But it better be good.
“We’re not going to show any movies that aren’t worth showing,” the CFF’s Euler attested. “It’s very hard to get into the festival. We never say, ‘Well, it’s Canadian; let’s show it.’ At the end of the day, a good movie is a good movie.”
Euler himself got the Canadian film bug earlier in the decade. “I remember one time I went to the video store in the mood for a monster movie,” he recalled. “So I grabbed Ginger Snaps [a female werewolf movie released in 2000] and I didn’t even know it was Canadian until after I watched it. And I just thought, that was such a good movie, I would have paid to have seen that in the theatre. In fact, I would rather have seen it on the big screen. But I’d never seen it until I bumped into it in the video store. That’s the way it seems to go for Canadian movies, y’know.”
Maple Flavour Films will be screened at 3:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto. A panel discussion, moderated by Richard Crouse, will follow. For information on the 2008 CFF, which concludes March 29, go to https://www.canfilmfest.ca.
VANCOUVER — When Steven Kerzner was 14, he put on his slightly-too-small bar mitzvah suit, grabbed a briefcase he found in his house, and took the bus over to the tiny local community television station in his Toronto neighbourhood. He walked in, pitched a show called Let’s Talk, and was hired – as a volunteer – on the spot.
By the time he was 18, Kerzner was running the station. In the meantime, he had created several shows and personas – including Ed: a mouthy, cigar-toting, politically incorrect sock puppet.
Ed the Sock is now a bona fide TV star, having made the leap from community to mainstream television in 1994. Guests of Ed’s Night Party (now Ed & Red’s Night Party) have included Christina Aguilera, Hilary Duff and Coldplay.
The red carpet Ed now frequents seems a very long way from the threadbare studios of Newton Cable, but community TV was integral to Ed the Sock’s creation. “It was a great opportunity to have all these toys there to play with, without the commercial pressures that are there now,” says Kerzner, 40. “We could go and play around and have fun and see what worked and learn … without there being [the] pressure of being graded for it.”
This week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is considering removing the requirement that community channels remain on basic cable as part of a sweeping review of broadcast distribution regulations. The public hearings began Tuesday in Gatineau.
Alarmed by the possible disappearance of community television, where he spent more than 30 years as a volunteer, Richard Ward of the Community Media Education Society has written to the CRTC, urging it not to expel community TV from basic cable.
While Ward acknowledges that the issue is just a tiny part of the CRTC’s review, the overall discussion about deregulation has him worried. “We have got distinctly Canadian things to say and the community channel [has] the broadest reach of all of the parts of Canada’s broadcasting system,” he said from Calgary. “I think it’s prudent to be on guard, even if the threat is not directed primarily at the community channel. I don’t think you wait until everyone else has been destroyed before you speak up.”
In probably the most documented rise from community television, Tom Green went from hosting a show on Rogers Cable 22 in Ottawa to The Comedy Network in Canada to MTV in the United States. The Tom Green Show – part talk show, part gross-out prankfest – made him a star.
Like Kerzner, Green was an early community television volunteer, starting when he was 15 at Rogers 22’s predecessor, Skyline Cable, learning lighting, camera and reporting. He vividly recalls seeing himself on TV for the first time, reporting for the station’s news program about an earthquake fault in Ottawa. “I remember just being completely amazed when it aired,” he says. “I was sitting at home watching it on my television and I just literally couldn’t believe that I was able to sort of volunteer there and then be on TV, on real TV.”
Times have changed: Tiny stations like Skyline and Newton Cable have been swallowed up by conglomerates like Rogers and Shaw. And thanks to regulatory changes introduced in 1997, advertising is now allowed. Nowadays, much of what’s on community television is slick, professionally produced programming. Fourteen-year-olds aren’t running the show any more.
Take Reel to Real: The Rogers-produced film review program is a community-TV hybrid, the hosts are paid freelancers, a Rogers-employed staff person runs the show and volunteers do the technical work.
The show, in its 15th season, attracts A-list guests like George Clooney, Halle Berry and Jerry Seinfeld. Only once in recent memory has it been denied a big-name guest because it was a “community TV” show (the U.S. publicist’s decision was reversed, and the guest, ironically Canadian music producer Daniel Lanois, did ultimately appear).
Reel to Real has made a celebrity of co-host Richard Crouse, who has parlayed the gig into other projects, including books (his sequel to The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, called Son of The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, comes out in September) and a just-launched radio show.
“We’re on a low number on the dial in the biggest TV market in the country,” Crouse says. “It’s created a loyal following for us.”
Being low on the dial is key, Ward believes, to community television’s survival. “A lot of people still watch television as opposed to watching a particular show,” he says. “They flip through the dial [and] when they pass the community channel, a surprising number of them stop there.”
It can be surprising indeed to discover how many people have seen a particular community-TV show episode. Ed the Sock’s public access tipping point came the night actor Robert Vaughan, who was in the area doing dinner theatre, was a guest. The former star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. seemed furious at Ed’s questions, and the segment created all kinds of buzz. “Nowadays it would be all over YouTube,” Kerzner says. “But in those days, people just videotaped it and took it to their friend’s house and it sort of spread and from there it kept going.”
So in the age of YouTube, is community television still needed?
Steve Anderson, the co-ordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media, says yes. “Most people still get a lot of their news and information from TV despite the Internet,” says Anderson, who is also a graduate student in communications at Simon Fraser University. “Also, the Internet is a very global medium whereas community television … is locally focused, locally produced and locally watched.”
And for people starting out in TV, Green says, an online forum can’t possibly replace a hands-on experience. “At the end of the day, if you go down and volunteer at a public access television station, there’s a lot of people there who are really passionate about television and they’ll teach you a lot of stuff,” he says. “You wouldn’t really be able to learn any of that kind of stuff on your own just sitting at home putting clips on YouTube.”
Green, who this year launched a new show, Tom Green’s House Tonight (The Comedy Network), says he used the skills he learned from community television to create the program. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for that,” he says. “If I hadn’t picked up all that stuff on the way at Rogers Cable, I wouldn’t have even known where to start.”
The British Commonwealth spelling of the word “flavor” is your first clue that we aren’t in Kansas anymore. Actually more like Toronto, the home base of Canadian filmmaker Michael Sparaga, whose documentary Maple Flavour Films premiered on Wednesday, March 26th at the Canadian Film Festival.
The premise of Sparaga’s directorial debut is simple but intriguing as it commingles interviews with industry folks and critics alongside those of average men and women on the street to determine the temperature of Canadian moviemaking. Since there are far fewer well-known movie critics in Canada than there are in the U.S., Sparaga felt it imperative that his doc feature one Richard Crouse.
“The lists of professional folks we wanted to talk to were pretty short, and we pretty much got everybody we wanted right off the bat,” Sparaga tells Excalibur, a newspaper published by his Toronto Alma Mater, York University. “I mean, Richard Crouse specifically has the longest running movie review show in Canada, Reel to Reel, and he’s pretty much the only personality that’s recognizable as a critic. So, it just felt like a natural [choice] to talk to him and get him involved.”
Perhaps the most intriguing revelation of Sparaga’s research is the lessons English Canada needs to learn from French Canada, a.k.a. Quebec. Although the perception in the former is that French-Canadians embrace all cinematic offerings in their native language, it’s actually more a matter of a standard preference for high-concept action and comedy.
“Those [high-concept] movies do better because they’re made for audiences, and that’s what English Canada has to realize, that we can’t rely on Away From Her,” Sparaga suggests. “We can’t rely on a drama to be the engine of our box office. A one-million-dollar box office success is not successful at all. It’s successful for a drama, and for the style of film it is, but it can’t be everything we’re betting on that year at the cinema.”
Further confirming Sparaga’s views is the fact that the recent 2007 Canadian film Silk, despite the presence of Keira Knightley in the lead, failed miserably at the box office because of its murky 19th century narrative. Conversely, he suggests that even though the Mike Myers films Wayne’s World and The Love Guru were made by Paramount Pictures, their maker and narratives easily tip them over the 49th parallel.
“The Love Guru is about a guru who comes back to Toronto to help the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup,” Sparaga notes. “That’s going to be the most Canadian movie this year, I guarantee it. It’s a hundred times more Canadian than Eastern Promises. I still think Titanic is more Canadian than Eastern Promises.”