Jan 15, 2008

Christopher's Movie Matinee (1968)

Today I received an e-mail from my friend Mike who was at the Jazz Conference here in town last week, and told me that among the guests was Darius Brubeck- yes, the son of pianist Dave Brubeck. Upon the mention of his name, I was reminded of his earlier "Canadian connection"-- he was one of the musicians who worked on the score for Mort Ransen's nearly forgotten counterculture epic, Christopher's Movie Matinee. The film became stuck in my mind all day, enough to be christened tonight's "film of the day".

My sole viewing of this curiosity piece was at a rare public screening at Cinematheque-- almost exactly ten years ago. The film was introduced by local musician Chris Whiteley, who also worked on the joyful soundtrack. This 1968 documentary is candid look at a handful of long-haired teenagers, following them through their daily existence. While this film is not as dated as other counterculture films of the period, it does however stand as a document of the naivete that in general is the essence of youth, but in specific, these spacey young hippies make observations about the real world that exists outside of their cocoons. One well-fed bespectacled youth, in a friendly argument with an old man on a bus, compares himself with the black population as to how the world looks down upon hippies!

The subjects of this movie in a sense are representative of Canadian cinema of the 60's to the early 1970's: youthful, naive, yet free. Films like Claude Jutra's A Tout Prendre, Don Owen's Nobody Waved Goodbye and Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road pointed their cameras into the streets to tell stories that were at once Canadian yet universal, and yet freely experimented with form. While not as radical as The French New Wave, Canadian films of this time were surely more playful, recalling some of the freewheeling style of the British Kitchen Sink movement. Not yet daunted by self-consciousness or deluded by tax credits to create ersatz Americanized movies, our films of this period were fresh and alive.

While this unscripted picture is interesting most for a look back at the counterculture period (especially those glimpses of the pre-yuppified Yorkville, where the streets are teeming with young people), and seeing how these kids react in whatever situations the camera finds them (I love the one guy going on about how he loves little kids' drawings because they're beautifully abstract), there is another interesting layer... which happened accidentally. This documentary becomes a movie within a movie, as the organic process of creating this film as it happens becomes a self-referential theme, and ends with the realization that the NFB has pulled the plug on the project, leaving the kids to ask the question of what is going to happen to the movie. This fatalistic ending is also emblematic of the flower power movement: something that ended much too quickly before really getting started.


the word of gord said...

thanks for this fascinating snippet of CanFilm history; really hadn't heard. Your knowledge of the obscure and arcane is unsurpassed. Having coffee with you is like sitting with a walking encyclopedia, animated and user friendly.

yours, the word of gord

Jas said...

Great writeup! Must seek out this film from the NFB. The scenes on the bus are reason alone to compel me to catch this film. Young CDN film making as seen from a pre-pre-pre-YouTube generation! Thanks for the post!