Films

A tale of two festivals

JOAN FOX October 3 1977
Films

A tale of two festivals

JOAN FOX October 3 1977

A tale of two festivals

Films

A sudden passion for film festivals has revived that silliest of sports among eastern Canadians, rivalry between Montreal and Toronto. At least that is how most of the Toronto press has greeted the attempt of each city to establish important worldclass festivals of film this summer and fall.

The given titles, Toronto’s Festival Of Festivals, and Montreal’s World Film Festival Of Canada, reveal what the two cities now seem to have in common. Pure megalomania. Mix liberally with competitiveness and this bubbling brew, if we’re lucky, could mean festivals that evoke the same pride as their hometown hockey teams.

Toronto staged its first Festival Of Festivals last year, led by Bill Marshall, now famous as the producer of the notorious Outrageous. After a stint in the Sixties as a producer (the garishly nonsensical Flick/Frankenstein On Campus) and a period during the Seventies in charge of Toronto Mayor David Crombie’s electioneering ballyhoo, this son of Glasgow looked about him and dreamed of crowning Toronto’s new boom-town status with a genuinely glitzy film festival. His logic was impeccable and his timing was right. Toronto’s box-office returns had become legendary in the offices of film financiers and new tax concessions had brought producers and movie stars running to the city. Last year, despite Jack Nicholson’s failure

to appear, Jeanne Moreau and Dino De Laurentiis did and the festival was a qualified success.

Meanwhile in Montreal, Serge Losique, transAtlantic man-about-film, had been creating his own film empire at Concordia University where he ran mini-festivals and once stood a silver-painted, nude male student in the main lobby as a publicity stunt. Losique is said to pride himself on his resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte which hangs on his office wall and, like his alter ego, he also dreamed a great dream: to create a film festival that would equal the past glories of the Montreal International Film Festival which ended in an unequaled blaze of achievement and squabbling after Expo year, 1967. He succeeded and in late August amid cries of “foul play” from Toronto, a surprised rain-soaked Montreal greeted delegations of press and influential critics from France, Italy, London, New York and Berlin. Genuine walking-around monuments arrived to grace the scene. Ingrid Bergman opened the festival, her deportment worthy of the Swedish royal family; Howard Hawks was there, a sternlooking figure of Yankee rectitude, who became righteously indignant at the mention of that “dirty, obscene film,” Slap

Shot. (“I’ve known many hockey players and they don’t talk like that!”) The obligatory sex titillation was provided by the Japanese film In The Realm Of The Senses, a story about a geisha girl of 1,000 multiple orgasms who desires to please a man with the curse of a permanent erection. She finally breaks the ties that bind by strangling him during intercourse and then removing the offending organ with one swift cut with a food chopper. Gotcha! The debate surrounding it was not “Should it be censored?” but rather “Is it Art, Pornography, or a big Joke?”

The Canadian entries clearly demonstrated the idiosyncratic new kinds of bad as well as good movies that Canada has developed. Bad: Deadly Harvest. Set in the near future after a western grain harvest has failed. Canadians are starving. The actors must have been starving too as they constantly fell to their knees, smote their breasts and rolled their eyes to heaven imploring one another for aid. Lillian Gish is still alive and well in Canada. Good: Skip Tracer. A first feature by a talented Vancouver newcomer, Zale Dalen. A dis-v passionately unsentimental yet humane story of a bad debt collector for a finance company.

On September 9, Toronto’s Festival of Festivals began in something like secrecy, so far as public awareness went. But opening night made up for the lack of pre-festival publicity with the premiere of a very

major Canadian film from Quebec, J. A. Martin, photographe, fresh from prizes at Cannes and immediate long-run box-office success in Quebec. This Academy Award prospect is an impeccably photographed lyrical hymn of praise to what director Jean Beaudin calls, “the grandmothers and wives who made Quebec.” It produced that rarest of occasions: a spontaneous ovation by a Toronto audience.

Bill Marshall’s group has to be granted a degree of unusual cunning, knowing the obdurately unsympathetic quality of the Toronto press. The first invited guests turned out to be not-yet movie stars: Wilt Chamberlain, the seven-foot oneinch tall basketball star (in town looking for a custom-made fur at Creeds), and Henry Winkler (da Fonz of television fame). Marshall’s purpose was to obtain the sort of space usually given to out-oftown celebrities who visit Toronto for no stated purpose. It worked. Winkler’s royal passage around Toronto was as lavishly covered by Toronto papers and TV as the rest of the festival was not.

Later in the festival, however, film celebrities became so common that a tight grip had to be kept on champagne glasses to avoid spilling them on the likes of Christopher Plummer, Elliot Gould, Peter O’Toole, turtle-eyed Donald Sutherland or Celine Lomez, extravagantly sexy in thigh-high cavalier boots.

Agnes Varda brought a brilliant group

of films from France; Skip Tracer was rushed in from Montreal to repeat its surprise success and enthusiastic fans discovered Gilles Carle’s La vrai nature de Bernadette. Other fare included the rarefied brilliance of Tony Richardson’s Joseph Andrews, a robust, earthy romp through the country life of choleric, beef-eating Englishmen in the 18th century. Ann-Margret, as Lady Booby, holds her own among some of the most humorously stylish of British actors in this outrageous parody of arcane period style and manners. Less successful was the ominously hypocritical Russian film Ascent, a crushingly sincere and totally unintentional parody of all Russian films about the tragic Second World War. This final tribute to the Soviet personality cult of the Unknown Soldier literally deifies him as a latter-day Jesus Christ with shining halo, blond hair and genuine glycerine tears. Big Brother seems to be alive and haunting the studios of Mosfilm.

Montreal and Toronto can both congratulate themselves on the success of their festivals. Any organizational problems have been strictly nominal. It is nonsense to suggest that two major film festivals in Canada means one too many. Duplication is our historical habit and geographical necessity. In this case, a mutually expressed passion for that most provincial and universal of art forms, film, can only help create common cause. JOAN FOX