Thursday, March 20, 2014

Christopher's Movie Matinee

The National Film Board, to my surprise, has a YouTube channel, and they've started posting a number of their movies and animations. One of the movies I've come across was one shot in the mid-60s called Christopher's Movie Matinee.

It's kind of a romp; a lot of college-age kids given a NFB film crew to command in the Summer of Love. It's a bit like a review I heard of Magical Mystery Tour: "they went on the road to film whatever happened. Nothing did." But I don't mean that in the negative way it's meant about MMT. This movie is edited to be self-referential. Some of it records decisions, directions, and arguments about the shots and why the kids want to make them, what they want to say, and why they want to say it, while they're being opposed by slightly older professionals who are embarrassed about having to do shots they consider unprofessional and even potentially damaging to their reputations as pros. It's almost as though they were recording the metadata to cover their own asses. In any case, they provide a revealing contrast in the attitudes across the gulf of a mere half generation, as well as that between unbridled, if unrealistic, creativity on the one hand, and experienced, if staid, practicality on the other.

There are the things you would expect, even demand, of such a film from that era... the political debates; the naive idealism; the firm belief that they can change the world. Let's give them some credit; to some extent, they did. We at least live in a world now where people are still prepared to voice their opposition instead of merely accommodating orders from above. For a person of my age, and born when I was, it's interesting to listen to the middle-aged patriotic businessman with an Australian accent on the bus berate the youngsters as unrealistic, and tell them if he had them in his old regiment for five minutes he'd completely turn them around; and to listen to the kids ask him why they ought to be expected to fight in wars and have the man practically sputter things along the line of "that's just the way it is" (at one point, he actually advises them to "conform"). He may not reach the same conclusions as them, but it's clear he's suddenly facing a question he probably hadn't genuinely considered before. But he also scores a solid point of his own when he marvels that middle class Canadian white kids could dare to compare themselves and their issues to those of American blacks in the south. Earlier there are shots of a confrontation in New City Hall between the kids and former Toronto mayor Allan Lamport, who notoriously hated Yorkville's hippies; a confrontation that frames an interesting moment in the city's history.

For me the most interesting thing is probably the least-intended. The movie serves as a long moving snapshot of various locations in Toronto in 1967. For example, one of the more notorious locations in Toronto was the Bayview Ghost. It was started with permission and the Borough of East York refused to follow through on servicing, so for nearly 30 years, this unfinished, increasing derelict, and rather dangerous low-rise (no railings on the balconies or barriers to the elevator shafts, I'm told) stood like a giant tombstone on a bluff overlooking the Bayview Extension. By the time I got to the sight in the late 90s it had been torn down and consigned to history for 15 years, an open field; now the site is covered by a small, expensive pocket subdivision. But in the film, several shots were taken in and around it. In fact, based on the view, the second, fourth and sixth shots in the movie are clearly taken from one of the apartments inside the Bayview Ghost. The Don Valley Parkway is visible in the distance, while construction goes on immediately below them on Bayview Avenue. Later one comes an extended sequence of young people dashing around the wasteland at the foot of the building, and appearing in its windows and on its balconies. It has a charm to it, and one that absolutely couldn't be reproduced today... both because the building itself is long gone, and so is the zeitgeist. There are also shots of things that are charming because they haven't changed that much, like the ones taken of the Old Mill Road bridge over the Humber River... still pretty much identical today in situ. There are other shots, mainly taken downtown, that would probably be of interest to people more attuned to the changes that have happened there over time than I am.

In any case, it's an interesting little movie with a lot to recommend it. Poignant, frank, at times unintentionally funny, it's worth a look.


Bridgewater said...

Looks as thought you're feeling more sanguine about your life than when you wrote in early March (5th/6th). Good to see you back in form.
What I know of you comes only from your blog, but it seems to me that a guy like you--smart, informed, and articulate, both interested in the world and introspective, and able to form intense relationships, is going to want not 500 bffs, but a few deep, long-term friendships. So it's understandable that you would feel adrift after losing three soulmates in recent years. Regardless of the kind and amount of friendship we enjoy, though, and whether or not we share our lives for decades with another person, we can feel lonely; we are all essentially alone in this world, alone in our own heads, in existential angst. The reference to a lonely old age is a little disturbing here--first of all, a man in his 40s has another forty to go before he's old in years, and secondly, there's still plenty of time to make more long-term friends for mutual pleasure, comfort, and support. Jodi, Bonnie, and Max certainly made your life richer, and you did the same for them, so you can remember them with nostalgia while moving forward without guilt. It can be that good again, and of course you know yourself and what you need to do to make it happen for you. Photog Jim says it well: your life is now.

barefoot hiker said...

Thanks, Bridgewater. Ugh, I've been neglecting responding to Jim's comments. They're always appreciated.

It's been sad, you know, losing three cats since buying this place... none of the "kids" I moved in here with is still with me. I hope I didn't give the impression it's all about me, though. Watching my best friend's wife's (a good friend in her own right) health deteriorate over more than a decade and see her finally die wasn't really about me, it was about them. As stark as I feel sometimes about losing my cats, I can only imagine what it's like to lose a spouse of 30 years. When I see how P-Doug bears up, I can hardly complain too loudly myself.

Mostly my silence in recent months has been about this seemingly interminable job search. When I got laid off, I wasn't happy, but I thought it would be two or three months. With the exception of a nightmare job of 5 weeks last winter, it's been 8, 9 months if you include the month lead-up time where I started looking while I was still working. I've been on so many interviews and been close so many times (or so it seemed), but it just never seems to come together. Debt's piling up, employment insurance is running out, and retirement savings will be on the block very soon. I suppose this should be a blog entry rather than a reply...