LOOKING FOR BERGMAN

JOHN HOFSESS January 1 1972

LOOKING FOR BERGMAN

JOHN HOFSESS January 1 1972

LOOKING FOR BERGMAN

JOHN HOFSESS

Her breasts are going stircrazy imprisoned in a unisex tanktop. Her mauve satin hotpants make her look like a stray chorus girl from a 1940s Betty Grable musical. Her feet appear pinched in a pair of Joan Crawford pumps from the Mildred Pierce era. Her wiry Afro wig is supposed to make her look wild and revolutionary. Instead she looks like a bedraggled Mary Pickford whose ringlets have been grazed by lightning. Beneath the collage of old movies there’s a woman in her midtwenties, who in most other eras would have looked beautiful but who apparently feels obliged, until all vestiges of the quasi-hippie lifestyle are exhausted, to look like a tatty, tarty waif. We’re strangers on a train 20 miles out of Montreal headed for Ottawa. She’s reading It’s Your Turn . . . the Committee on Youth report commissioned by the Trudeau government. Suddenly she slaps the book shut and without a word of introduction having passed between us asks, “What does Canada mean to you?”

For a moment I feel like a character in a Dostoevski novel where strangers meet and immediately plunge into weighty conversations without first sniffing around circumspectly, exchanging names and amenities.

“Ambiguity,” I finally reply. “There may not be much freedom in Canada but there’s a hell of a lot of ambiguity.”

She plays impatiently with a curl around her ear. “This is the most depressing book I’ve read this year. According to its authors all that young Canadians want is legalized marijuana, abortions on demand, statesupported hostels — the clichés of bohemia. Nobody has a bigger or better dream than that.”

Oh no, I say to myself, not another discussion about youth. It has always seemed to me that a man must draw his own boundaries and not be interminably preoccupied with dumb problems. If the use of heroin is soaring, if body lice, hepatitis and VD are making a gratuitous comeback, it’s nothing to me. To much of modern life I have a balky response,

not self-piteous enough to be called “alienation,” and not sufficiently woebegone to be called “ennui.”

“I’ve just returned from Tadoussac,” I tell her, “where Paul Almond was shooting a film with Geneviève Bujold.”

“They’re getting divorced aren’t they?” she interjects.

“I didn’t ask,” I reply. “I interview people’s minds. It’s Rex Reed who interviews their genitals. Marriage doesn’t mean a person’s love is alive and divorce doesn’t mean it is dead. If you want to gossip about the Almonds I can’t be of any interest to you: I don’t have the poky nose of a prier, I don’t have a pair of RCMP eyes, nor a mind that feeds on malice and suspicion.”

I stop short, catching a supercilious tone in my voice. Her face is too impassive for me to guess her probable thoughts.

“Maybe I should warn you,” I say, “the more I talk about film the more I will likely talk with evangelical zeal. I make films. I write about them. I help manage a 2,000-seat theatre in Hamilton. Films are my bridge to the outside world.

“I expect to make a film every five years or so. It takes me that long to build up a new fund of ideas worth expressing. I made a film in 1967. It was sufficiently well regarded by the Czech director Milos Forman, among others, to win first prize at the Vancouver Film Festival. The distributor subsequently lost the print materials so no new prints can be made. A second film was seized by police and presumably destroyed after a lengthy obscenity trial. Hardly a trace of my past work exists.”

“There are some countries where you wouldn’t have to pay such a price,” she replies.

“It’s far more distressing for me to see demonstrably talented directors of the stature of Claude Jutra (her face expresses no recognition), Paul Almond, Allan King (she nods), Graeme Ferguson and others struggling to survive. A lot of chatty and cheerful things have been said about Canadian /continued on page 59

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BERGMAN from page 21 films in recent years but there isn’t a single director of note whose career is not in a quandary.”

I hand her several photographs. “I’ve been looking for Bergman,” I tell her.

She twists her face quizzically.

“In Canada,” I add, “that’s comparable to Diogenes’ legendary search for an honest man.”

For seven hours we traveled by boat up the Saguenay. Paul Almond, Geneviève Bujold and their bilingual three-year-old son Matthew, so bright and handsome a child you realize immediately what a better world we’d be living in if people paid more attention to genetics. Lewis Evans, Almond’s former English teacher at Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, is the owner of the boat, a 29-foot cabin cruiser named Anne de/of Tadoussac. Every summer for more than 40 years Evans has returned to Tadoussac. He knows the river’s currents and the weather’s mercurial moods. He steers a cautious course. Paul Almond cranes his neck, peering up the 300-foot cliffs on either side of the river, searching for locations for the final sequences of his new film tentatively titled Journey. No boats pass us. There’s no sign of human life on the land. A whale surfaces 50 yards from our craft.

“Cliffs of age - old granite, grizzled with pine, pocked and veined by the centuries, thrust out of dense, black water and slide by. Between them, primeval, mysterious, the powerful river flows on. As her wide eyes focus, the girl, short, matted hair falling across her face, wraps her white arms around the branches of a floating tree, her white body lying half in, half out of the water, naked. She clings to the blasted tree as it floats down the massive current . . .”

The opening image in Almond’s screenplay for Journey. The girl is called Saguenay, portrayed by Geneviève Bujold, who is rescued by Boulder, played by John Vernon, and taken to the small community on the Margeurite inlet where he lives. The shooting schedule has placed the scene last. Certain sections of the Saguenay are warm enough to swim in during the summer, but now the water is bitingly cold, and the currents treacherous.

“For you Paul — anything!” Geneviève calls out, dipping a toe gingerly into the water and shuddering. She will spend several hours in the water before the shooting is completed. There are many actresses who would insist that such work be done by a

double. But Journey is a personal film and Bujold takes the risks herself. “What films of mine have you seen?” she asks. “King Of Hearts, La Guerre Est Finie, Isabel, Act Of The Heart,” I reply. “I haven’t seen Anne Of The Thousand Days.” “That’s all right,” she replies quickly. “You didn’t miss anything.” “And I haven’t seen the early one Amanita Pestilens. Nor the latest one The Trojan Women.” She smiles. “Well, that’s just about everything I’ve done. Did you like any of them?”

“King Of Hearts ...” I begin.

“Really? People often say they liked that one, but most films I do are a disappointment to me. They’re not what I expected.”

“La Guerre Est Finie has dated a great deal since 1966,” I continue, “but I saw it recently again and you’re clearly the best thing in it.”

No one is more critical of Geneviève Bujold than herself. She doesn’t reduce an honest commendation to mere flattery as most actors do, pretending to be surprised that they have any talent. “I’m glad you liked that

“If Journey is a flop,” says Almond, “it might be the end of me as a film director”

one,” she replies straightforwardly.

“I was somewhat indifferent to Isabel,” I tell her. “It may have been the film’s fault, or maybe it was my fault. Sometimes a critic sees a film at the wrong period in his life, and though critics customarily blame any and all discomforts on the film itself there can be dozens of private reasons that form his or her response. I think Act Of The Heart is a vastly underrated movie. There are moments in it that I still remember with my initial excitement. New York Times critic Vincent Canby said of it, ‘It possesses an intelligence all too rare in this zoom-rock age’; maybe in another age it will be rediscovered and appreciated.”

“I like working with Paul,” she replies, “I have complete confidence in him. I’m often offered roles that are completely unsuitable. Joseph Losey offered me the part — I don’t know the character’s name — played by Julie Christie in The Go-Between. I turned it down though I’d love to work with Losey, it would be such a challenge, he’s such a woman-hater. I’m not kidding, he hates them. It was the wrong time, and the wrong sort of role for me. I’m going to make a film

here with Patrick Watson, and then Kamouraska, based on Anne Hébert’s novel, for Claude Jutra. Claude’s an old friend and I’ve wanted to make a film with him for some time.”

“Do you work here to help Canadian directors?” I ask. She rejects the thought. “Right now, the best films for me are here. It has nothing to do with helping anyone. I’m not sure what you mean . . .”

“Wouldn’t a director possibly find it easier to raise money for a film if you agree to be in it?” I ask.

“That’s completely untrue,” she replies laughing. “You should talk to Paul about the problems he had getting money for this one. The CFDC [Canadian Film Development Corporation] said yes, no, maybe, no — I don’t know how many times it was on and off. Now it’s done, that’s the important thing, and I think it’s the best film Paul’s made to date.”

After being rescued from the river and brought to the settlement, Saguenay warms herself by a fire. She then delivers the longest speech in the film. Geneviève dislikes the speech at first. “It’s impossible to play,” she protests. She reads the lines over and over and then enters a trancelike state. Through artful pausing and intonation she makes the speech come to life. Every word sounds like the fragment of an oracle.

“There! Over there, see it? Perfect!” Paul Almond shouts out from the bow of the boat. He has a hurried conference with the cameraman Jean Boffety. Lewis Evans notes the location in his log. “Perfect place for her to be rescued,” Almond says. But another crew member points out that the cliff, a massive sheet of stone, probably can’t be climbed. “Nonsense,” replies Almond, and within minutes the 40-year-old director has scampered up the rock, and waves his arms from the top. “The trouble is,” he says upon his return, “John Vernon suffers from vertigo. Well, we’ll try it anyway.”

A good film requires not just talented ideas but great amounts of energy. There are so many different personalities to contend with, so many details to be given attention, it is a psychological feat for a director to remain in control. Canadian film directors have technical and artistic problems as directors everywhere do, but they have an additional set of problems that puts even our best minds at the ends of their tether.

“If Journey is a flop I don’t know what I’ll do,” Almond says. “It may be the end of me as a film director. Paramount says Isabel has yet to make a profit. Universal says Act Of The continued on page 64

BERGMAN continued Heart never will. The Canadian Film Development Corporation was extremely reluctant to invest any funds in Journey. They said it wasn’t commercial enough. I put every cent I had into it. I negotiated with the CFDC for months on end. Finally they agreed to put up around $250,000. Everyone working on the film receives less than they normally would just to help see it made.

“Film makers in Canada aren’t free to make films. We’re all engaged in inventing desperate solutions. Some men go to Hollywood. Some go into skin-flicks. Many are forced out of the business altogether. The CFDC has been undeniably helpful in getting more Canadian features made. Ten years ago it was virtually impossible to make a feature film here. Now it’s possible but extremely aggravating. Like the girl who gets all dressed up and has nowhere to go, we make films but are hard pressed to get them exhibited in good theatres, with proper promotion, at good times of the year. The theatres — it’s no secret — are largely American owned, or British owned, and Canadian films get shown as a rule only when there is a lack of foreign product.”

With new productions being announced every month — Eric’s Till’s A Fan’s Notes and The Silent Village, Gordon Sheppard’s Eliza’s Horoscope, Ivan Reitman’s Cannibal Girls, Timothy Bond’s Stop Me, Tom Shandel’s Another Smith For Paradise, Jack Cunningham’s Up Evil — it may appear that Canadian film productions have never been more numerous. More than 150 million feet of

film (16 mm and 35 mm) was processed in 1971. Some 50 features are currently in production. But booms have occurred before. The first authentic Canadian feature came in 1914 with the release of Evangeline, produced by the Canadian Bioscope Company in Halifax. The same year saw the production in Montreal of The Battle Of The Long Sault and by 1917 The Foreigner was completed in Winnipeg. The American-born Robert Flaherty who moved to Canada when he was 10 completed the famous Nanook Of The North in 1922. Ernest Shipman made Cameron Of The Royal Mounted in Alberta, and in 1922 made two films in Ottawa based on Ralph Connor’s Glengarry novels. The biggest disaster of the early period occurred with Bruce Bairnsfather’s Carry On Sergeant. It was riddled with disputes during its production, and its budget climbed to $500,000, only to play to empty houses upon release. Talkies were the rage, and Carry On Sergeant — among its many deficiencies — was a silent film. From this point Canadian films fell into a slough of despond, and economic control of the medium was sold to American and British interests.

A Canadian film maker is forced to decide early in his career to endure these special difficulties, or sell out. He can sell out by moving out. Sidney Furie went bankrupt trying to make films in Canada in the late Fifties and didn’t recover until he moved to England and made The Leather Boys and The l per ess File. Norman Jewison moved to Hollywood and did Doris Day comedies. His latest film Fiddler On The Roof and a projected

film version of Jesus Christ Superstar indicate that his taste is that of a self-satisfied hack. The loss to the Canadian film industry of such men may be minimal. They are not artists, merely competent craftsmen. More insidious is the attempt by Canadian film directors to imitate American films. John Trent’s Homer was filmed in Ontario but he called it Wisconsin, and it told a lame tale about a draft dodger. Don Haldane’s The Reincarnate scrupulously avoids any reference to Canada, though it admittedly wouldn’t be any credit if it didn’t. With productions such as Ivan Reitman’s Foxy Lady, Al Waxman’s The Crowd Inside, Harvey Hart’s Fortune And Men’s Eyes, George McGowan’s Face-Off, we have reached a new stage in Canadian films. In the name of “universality” all reference to Canadian society has been expunged.

Second-rate minds — having little resilience, no distinctive voice or vision of their own — are more easily dominated by American mass culture. Genuine artists are imbued with a sense of place and social awareness. No one seeing Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine could mistake it for something made in Hollywood, England or Italy. “Maclean’s was first to give the film recognition,” Jutra comments, “but I’ve watched the months pass and nothing has happened with the film. Then in October it won eight Etrogs at the Canadian Film Awards. Still the film didn’t open anywhere until November.”

Claude Jutra’s most ambitious project Kamouraska, which he and author Anne Hébert are preparing to shoot this year, should establish him firmly as one of the most talented directors working in films today. It won’t however necessarily ensure that his films will be widely shown.

“There is so little being done that could be done,” Jutra says. “The CBC could have a special series of Canadian films. It could be national in prime time, or regional on late shows. They could show dozens of films and shorts that have never had much distribution. They could obtain prints from the Canadian Film Archives of the early silents and talkies. But they’re too busy trying to outbid CTV in piping in Laugh-In. We could institute a quota system for Canadian films. I don’t know precisely how, but we’ve got to gain some control over theatres in Canada, and not leave programming decisions to some mogul in Hollywood or New York.”

Allan King, the director of Warrendale and A Married Couple, plans to distribute his new film Come On Children himself. “The main problem that continued on page 66

BERGMAN continued a Canadian film maker has is getting money returned to his producer, even when his film is a success. If your film is distributed by an American firm, they keep adding costs against distribution and taking money away, so that the producer and the director end up with very little, sometimes nothing. I’m sympathetic to the demand for a quota system, but dubious about its benefits. Currently there is also a call for state-supported theatres, but that too seems a drastic and not necessarily helpful step. At present the Canadian film industry is being mined by Americans, it’s a purely extractive process, and the best change that could occur would be a tax system that fed money back into Canadian films. England, France and Sweden among others do this and it greatly aids native film production.”

In May, 1971, the Standing Committee on Broadcasting, Films and Assistance to the Arts met with the executive members of the Canadian Film Development Corporation, Michael Spencer and Gratiën Gélinas, to discuss the current problems in Canada’s film industry. In 1969, gross receipts from film admissions in Canada totaled $118,020,089.

When asked by Committee member David MacDonald, MP for Egmont, what percentage of the gross revenue left the country through the ownership of theatres by Famous Players and Odeon, Mr. Spencer replied, “Oh, it must be between 70% and 80% anyway. The Canadian market is considered to be 10% of the North American market, and 5% of the world market for any motion picture.”

Peter Morris, curator of the Canadian Film Archives in Ottawa, says, “The Canadian film industry became what it is, piece by piece, through sales to American companies. Here a theatre, here a small distribution company, here a whole chain of theatres. No one protested. No one thought twice about it. To the outside world we must look like a lady that’s been selling her favors for years, only to wake up one morning screaming she’s no tramp.”

Marshall McFuhan once commented (in his usual buckshot manner that both hits and misses the target) that Quebec is the only bulwark against American culture that Canada has, yet the film industry in Quebec runs to two extremes — the Cinepix “skin-flick” such as Love In A FourLetter World, Pile Ou Face, Loving And Laughing — and the parochial “chamber film” such as the work of Jean-Pierre Fefebvre (Q-bec, My Love, Les Maudits Sauvages), and Gilles Groulx’ Entre Tu Et Vous, and

L’Acadie, L’Acadie by Michel Brault and Pierre Perrault. The first group of films is so American oriented that it is hardly surprising to learn thát Cinepix (who built their company through films invested in by the CFDC) recently sold controlling interest to an American firm. The second group are conceived on such a narrow political and cultural wavelength that they are not transmissible to English-speaking Canada (and barely intelligible even to the French). Quebec cinema consists principally of Gilles Carle (Rape Of A Sweet Young Girl, Red, and the immensely entertaining Les Mâles which unfortunately has no English version available yet) and Claude Jutra. Paul Almond is virtually the only film maker in Canada who releases simultaneously a French and English version of his films. English-speaking cinema in Canada consists mainly of Don Shebib, who after a long apprenticeship In 16-mm student films (The Duel, Revival, Surfing) and television documentaries (Satan’s Choice, Summer Of Love, Good Times, Bad

The Canadian film industry is being mined by Americans, it’s a purely extractive process

Times) achieved recognition with Goin Down The Road, and Allan King, whose new film Come On Children is probably a definitive portrait of the late-Sixties-early-Seventies international youth culture and its impact upon young Canadians. It is the last taps for a generation rapidly passing into adulthood, a moving, melancholy film about opportunities forfeited and lives wasted. From one year to the next there are a lot of shadowy, peripheral figures that appear and disappear in the story of Canadian cinema. But our artists are the only ones who matter. They are few in number, they receive little encouragement, but they endure.

The train seat is strewn with papers and photographs. We’ve been talking for two hours. The sun is bright orange. The farmlands outside the window are a riot of autumnal rot. The cornstalks are blighted, waiting to have their spines snapped by the weight of winter.

“You said you were looking for something. Did you find it?” my com panion asks. She takes a last sip of her Irish Mist.

There’s án ache inside. At the 1971 Canadian Film Awards it was clear that our film industry has become dominated by second-rate minds, avaricious minds interested only in making money — small minds have no room for other considerations. The awards were given mainly to independent film productions by Claude Jutra, Clarke Mackey and Graeme Ferguson. CFDC-funded films were virtually ignored. Were the government to levy a tax on all foreign films, or if the provinces were to free the existing entertainment tax for new Canadian productions, it would be advisable for an agency such as the Canadian Film Awards jury to annually award the funds to our most gifted film makers. In that way, whatever policy the CFDC has, there would be a counterbalancing group able to help film directors. They would judge films by a different set of standards. If men such as Paul Almond, Claude Jutra, Graeme Ferguson and Allan King have difficulty raising funds for new films then there really isn’t a film industry in Canada worth having. All we’ll see is one piece of cheapjack opportunism and floundering ineptitude after another.

‘Tril looking for Canadian artists who are exemplary,” I reply. “Not the sellouts. Not the ones waiting to catch a plane to Hollywood. I’m looking for the chances that will let such artists develop in Canada. There are many film makers and critics in Canada who treat the question of ‘nationalism’ with disdain. But, revealingly, it is only Canadian nationalism that they deprecate. I’m not talking about flag-waving films. Or ones with a sound track of Ontari-ari-o. D. W. Griffith was steeped in the values and geography of early America. Sergei Eisenstein loved his Russian country and its people passionately. It shows in their films.

“Ingmar Bergman would hardly consider making a film outside Sweden. Fellini has said he’d never presume to make a film outside Italy. For Fuis Bunuel, Spain has provided the wellsprings of his work though he lived in exile for several years, in the way that Ireland for James Joyce, or prerevolutionary Russia for Vladimir Nabokov, was an imperishable memory and inspiration. ‘Nationalism’ isn’t some gratuitous, political quality which we add to art hoping it will be compatible. Part of any great artist’s awareness of life is the land he lives in and his love and hate for all that he sees transpiring in that land.”

There is a long silence between us. She stares out the window. We fall back into respective solitudes. ■