FILMS

FILMS

What did Canadians do to deserve this?

JOHN HOFSESS August 1 1972
FILMS

FILMS

What did Canadians do to deserve this?

JOHN HOFSESS August 1 1972

FILMS

What did Canadians do to deserve this?

JOHN HOFSESS

An 18-year-old thug was accused of beating a 95-year-old pensioner and robbing him of $2.85. In court he pleaded guilty. His lawyer asked the court to consider the extenuating circumstances. The defendant had just had an Opportunities For Youth grant refused: he had asked for $25,000 to develop a new strain of marijuana that grows underwater. Compounding his depression, the counterfeit tickets he had assiduously duplicated for a Rolling Stones concert weren’t selling as well as usual. The judge was unmoved. He sentenced the youth to 10 years’ detention in a maximum security prison, during which time he was to watch two Canadian movies a day.

“Foxy Lady, 300 times,” the judge said. “The Crowd Inside, 200 times.

Face-Off, 100 times. The Whiteoaks Of Jalna, 400 times. Madeleine Is . . ., 90 times.” The youth collapsed.

“Barbaric,” said the newspapers.

“This kind of punishment never deterred anyone. It only makes them vicious.”

The Court of Appeals agreed: “Commendable as it may be to find some use for these films, their punitive use should be limited to crimes of the utmost severity. Forcing the defendant to view The Whiteoaks Of Jalna 400 times is excessive in view of his crime. The victim, we note from a recent medical report, has almost recovered the use of his legs, and considering the age of the defendant.. .” The court reduced the youth’s sentence to five showings of Another Smith For Paradise.

There’ll be those who may think that’s not sufficient punishment, but I assure them that it is. Another Smith For Paradise may well be the most painful Canadian movie ever made. Tom Shandel, who wrote and directed it, has the unencouraging ability to make two hours seem like four. The torture of his relentless banality is unrelieved by a single original thought or the saving grace of a good performance. The film’s opening line is: “Okay, Kane of the Ukraine, can we get out of here?” spoken by Frances Hyland in the most embarrassing role of her career. The public has already answered Miss Hyland. In Vancouver, where the film was shot, Smith had a “world premiere” and sudden death play-off in the same week.

Another Smith For Paradise was financed by Slocan Developments (a mining company), the Canadian Film Development Corporation and Astral Communications Limited. Here’s a sample of the kind of script that fetches $200,000 in Canada’s film industry these days.

Lily Smith (played by the director’s wife, Pia Shandel) arrives home from Berkeley, where she’s been studying four-letter words and electrical engineering (read “bomb making”). Her stepmother Marie (Frances Hyland) calls her “sewermouth.” Marie is implausibly embroiled in an affair with Lenny (Roger Dressier) who is supposed to be a famous artist. He sports a red jumpsuit, a modified Afro hairstyle, and goes around saying things like “far out” and “man, that’s outasight.” Marie is constantly followed by private detectives hired by her husband Smitty (Henry Ramer). He, in turn, is spied upon by the Department of Revenue.

In order to win the presidency of a local Ukrainian club, Smitty promises to build a two-million-dollar residence at. a Vancouver university. For some reason, he is obsessed with having his wife’s lover build a statue for the residence. “No way,” says the artist, who is lounging around his studio in the nude when Smitty visits him. Smitty buys the studio and doubles the rent; the artist gives in. He works for months.

Finally, the unveiling takes place. It is a pink plaster “fickle finger of fate.” The public, initially shocked, applauds and calls out “Bravo!” The daughter (remember the daughter?) has planted several sticks of dynamite in the statue —“to strike,” she mumbles, “a blow against capitalism.” But when she sees the statue she remarks: “What a beautiful put-on. The public will accept anything.” Meanwhile a security guard goes to use his two-way radio and the statue explodes. End of movie.

Another Smith For Paradise is full of noisy conflicts. It has the squabbling tone of an overcrowded tenement on a hot summer’s night, but it never adds up to drama. Its characters are paper people, thinly sketched without any sensitivity, and overacted within the confines of a pointless plot. Writer-director Shandel is young and cynical. The trouble is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The film is meant to be an attack on big business, tax evasion, university administrations, and God knows what else. It misses all of its targets. The film’s producers have hired a young pseudo-artist to build them a statue dedicated to incompetence. Well, so what? Two hundred thousand dollars is so what. Of our money.

Recommended: Frenzy is Alfred Hitchcock’s fifty-second. He’s 73, and the film is the greatest triumph of talent over senility since Luis Bunuel bloomed in Belle de Jour at the age of 66. The cast of little-known British actors - Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Anna Massey, Alec McGowen - is faultless. Harold Pinter’s wife, Vivien Merchant, Billie Whitelaw (most recently seen here in Gumshoe) and Michael Bates (who played the prison guard in A Clockwork Orange) appear in important supporting roles. The script is by Anthony Shaffer who wrote the popular drama, Sleuth. By using London, a city that has preserved a tradition of citizen safety and civilization, as the background, Hitchcock creates a sharp tension between the city and the rapist-strangler who is running loose. It is best not to reveal the details of the plot and take the edge off the surprises. It isn’t another Psycho. You won’t have white knuckles when it’s over. Frenzy has the funniest eating scenes since Tom Jones. A Scotland Yard inspector’s wife is taking a course in exotic cuisine. She serves him things like hummingbirds and pig’s feet while chattering away about the corpsestrewn case. It is Hitchcock at his most playful and puckish.

Portnoy’s Complaint has with a dint of mistaken effort become a movie. Ernest Lehman, who adapted Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? for Mike Nichols, here directs his own screenplay. The direction is confident, the screenplay is nervous. No scenes of - of course not. What we have on film is the story of Alexander Portnoy as it might have been told by his mother: a warm, affectionate Jewish comedy with a few uncomfortable references to sex. It reveals a great deal about the conventions of film, and especially about movies that raid famous books for their ideas and trade on their fame. What is film? An art based on evasive adaptation? What kind of art is that? If movies can’t cope with sex they should drop the subject. Portnoy s Complaint is funny. So is the Mary Tyler Moore show. And it’s on the level of TV situation comedy that Portnoy’s Complaint is a serviceable entertainment. It is no accomplishment that the film has been made with restraint and good taste. The Philip Roth novel was an attack on restraint and good taste. Poor Portnoy, he has more to complain about than ever. ■