It used to be said that when Canadian films are good enough the people would turn out to see them.
Which wasn’t an accurate description of the problem. It’s making films bad enough that people will want to see them that is tricky. Films that are bad in a fashionably contagious way.
Gerald Potterton’s The Rainbow Boys (fine performances, weak script) wasn’t one bit better or worse than many U.S. and British imports that have done well in Canada. But the public generally didn’t nibble at the film. They didn’t dislike it. They didn’t even try it out. As a result based on the disappointing returns in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, the film has disappeared. The Rainbow Boys becomes another Canadian loser.
Each time a decent-minded film fails, it creates increased pressure among filmmakers to lower their sights still further in the pursuit of public success. Clément Perron’s Taureau and Ivan Reitman’s Cannibal Girls are two attempts to make popular Canadian movies, or, if you prefer, to find the common denominator among Canadian filmgoers. Female breasts exposed frequently at the slightest provocation are all that either film has to offer (for the record Taureau has the bigger breasts, while Cannibal Girls has the edge in quantity), offering little that a critic can sink his teeth into. Taureau is ostensibly a slice-of-life, Québécois melodrama, Cannibal Girls is a bumptious horror film. Despite these differences they share a god-awful lack of taste.
I sympathize with these films but do not like them; they are too desperate for success and it shows. Instead of trying something original and difficult and possibly risking failure, they play it easy, ploddingly following a formula that is supposed to pay off, but which being so imitative and derivative has none of the excitement a paying audience should rightfully expect from movies.
Clément Perron who wrote the screenplay for Mon Oncle Antoine has written and directed Taureau in a confused mixture of styles. He shows all that he has learned from Claude Jutra, and Jean-Claude Labrecque in Les Smattes, but the film lacks a clear sensibility and signature. The story is pointless and meandering, the film has no reason to exist. Unlike Cannibal Girls, which can be said to be a passable evening’s entertainment and which has the good sense not to take itself seriously, Taureau is a pretentious foray into the Quebec Gothic imagination that is better handled by novelists Marie-Claire Blais and Anne Hébert.
Taureau is set in backwoods Quebec, as was Mon Oncle Antoine, but here the mood is black and bitter and the por-
traits of people are naggingly satirical, or, one suspects, unfair caricatures. Taureau is the village idiot in his late twenties, whose mother and sister (portrayed well by Monique Lepage and Louise Portal) are prostitutes, reviled by the townfolk who pride themselves on conventions and appearances. At one point, knowing that her son is watching her in a state of pent-up passion, Taureau’s mother does a long, languorous striptease, and lays down on a bed below his bedroom peephole, fondling her breasts and thighs. It’s that sort of Reflections In A Golden Eye steamy imagination that conceived this film, an erotic ambience that has yet to make a good movie. Pushing things further, Taureau (we are told, it certainly wouldn’t occur to anyone watching the film) is a sexual legend in this uptight community, and when it is learned that the local schoolteacher (Michele Magny) is regularly receiving Taureau’s stud services in a barn, the town’s entire population turns out, including a provincial police officer who threatens the couple with a gun, and a priest who
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John Hofsess is a Canadian film director and critic
threatens them with excommunication, bringing the film to a predictable dramatic climax. The girl leaves the barn, Taureau hangs himself, and life goes on. Offhand I can’t recall a single insight which Taureau possesses.
Cannibal Girls is set in the fictional town of Farnhamville, Ontario, where three lovelies lure men to their death, chop up their bodies and serve them for dinner. It borrows heavily from the lowbudget horror classic Night Of The Living Dead and comes with a buzzer on the soundtrack to warn patrons with weak stomachs to close their eyes during scenes of “especially erotic or gruesome nature.” Reaching for the highest superlative which is the film’s due, it is, er, competent. The film features one new actress, Andrea Martin, who is a real discovery, and who alone gives the film some class. The film is being distributed in the U.S. by American International Pictures, famous for the steady stream of beach blanket musicals, motorcycle and horror flicks of a few years back. An AIP executive was once quoted as saying, as a description of his company’s policy, “first you get a title, then you design a trailer and advertising campaign, and then, if it looks good, you go and make the picture.” Well, Cannibal Girls’ trailer is better than the film as a whole, so it ought to wow them on the drive-in circuit where the film shown is only one third of the reason for going. One can’t really blame Canadian filmmakers for trying such gimmicks; it’s the public that has made them desperate. A film industry survives as best it can, any way it can, and right now films like Taureau, Cannibal Girls and Pleasure Palace (a prurient and pointless peep at massage parlors and strip joints in Toronto, showing all that the Board of Censors allows which isn’t worth talking about) are what one segment of the Canadian film industry is banking on to ensure survival. All of these films would outrage a feminist; they’re just Playboy centrefolds in animation with a few lame excuses for plot. If the bad drives out the good in Canadian films it will be filmgoers themselves who chose the path to follow.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Given the age of most people attending movies this silly, youthcult corruption of the story of Francis of Assisi, with songs by Donovan, may prove to be as likable with the young as Lost Horizon is with the geriatric set. Not even the cameo appearance of Sir Alec Guinness, however, will redeem it in the eyes of anyone the least bit discerning about films. Franco Zeffirelli’s last production, Romeo And Juliet may prove to be the high point of his career. Here, where he writes the dialogue himself, he suggests that Kahlil Gibran is his favorite poet. The entire film is an aberration of taste. ■
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