Aug 16, 2008

Great Canadian Comic Books and Exploitation

This week at Trash Palace, fellow programmer Jonathan Culp presented another film in his ongoing exploration of Canadian tax shelter movies, in which Canucks had made indigenous commercially viable product with second-tier American stars, truly attempting a Hollywood north. Tonight's picture was the trucker epic, High Ballin', with Jerry Reed and Peter Fonda as truckers who go against some crooks who are ambushing drivers. From the look of the poster above, and even while watching the film at first, one feels this is going to be an enjoyable "good ole boy" romp (even though you can guess who the bad guy is fairly quickly). But this movie gets real mean, and turns into a dark, bleak revenge melodrama, aided I think in no small measure by the Canadian winters which substitute the sun-drenched southern highways that usually populate these films. Also on hand is Canadian actress Helen Shaver, who is really cute as a spunky, tomboyish pistol-packing truck-driving mama. (Try to imagine who would have played her role if this was made in the US: Bernadette Peters? Annie Potts?)

Jonathan prefaced the feature with the engaging short The Great Canadian Comic Books, a documentary about Canada's comic book industry during the second world war, filling the need for reading material when their American counterparts weren't being distributed north of the border during wartime, where heroes like Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights combated evil forces. And once American superheroes re-appeared on Canadian shelves, unsurprisingly the Canadian publishers closed up shop. This film was made around the time that a book of the same name was published- one I remember from my comic-book-obsessed childhood, as I had withdrawn it from the public school library innumerable times. The movie is a fun nostalgia trip, and decidedly Canadian in approach-- humble, unassuming. (Martin Lavut, the director of Remembering Arthur, is one of the voices in the film.)

This was a perfect pairing of films-- the short was about a Canadian industry that was influenced by American product, yet was distinctly Canadian in identity. High Ballin' is a film similarly influenced by American cinema, and tries to be American in approach, but our Canadian identity still pokes through. Both are interesting pieces of our cultural identity-- part of our secret history shown in this secret cinema.

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