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Book Review: Don Owen: Notes on a Filmmaker and His Culture

Finding a new home for older material — This book review originally appeared on Canuxploitation in 2006. Full disclosure: I have known Steve personally since about 2004.

Don Owen: Notes on a Filmmaker and His Culture
Steve Gravestock, Wilfrid Laurier University Press (2006)

Don Owen’s debut feature, 1964′s Nobody Waved Good-bye, is often credited as the first modern English-Canadian film. Although readers of this site know that a handful of films made before this landmark effort, there is no denying that the off-the-cuff juvenile delinquency tale of Nobody Waved Good-bye is in many ways a culmination of those previous low-budget movies, and one of the most important Canadian films ever made.

In his new book, a monograph of Don Owen, TIFF programmer Steve Gravestock traces the CanFilm pioneer’s lengthy career, from his early NFB shorts to his final 1987 feature, Turnabout. Focusing on the director’s iconoclastic stance towards the Canadian film industry and his exploration of the role of the artist in society, the book offers an in depth analysis of Owen’s entire oeuvre, right down to industrial shorts and TV episodes he shot for the CBC. It’s an exhaustively thorough read, but it’s also quite compelling, with special attention paid to his early masterpiece Nobody Waved Good-bye and Partners, an elusive film often considered to be his best work.

Because Owen made Canadian films for more than twenty years, his history mirrors the birth of the industry itself, and Gravestock is careful to connect Owen’s films to the overall state of the industry, providing fascinating details about the NFB’s infamous Unit B, the behind-the-scenes power plays that shaped Canadian film throughout the 1960s and the financial realities of making films in the tax shelter days. With six features and numerous shorts under his belt, Owen is one of the directors to survive the constant booms and busts of the industry to emerge as an unsung hero. As the first book-length critical assessment of Owen, Don Owen: Notes on a Filmmaker and His Culture is a well-written, long-overdue tome that finally gives the man and his films the respect they deserve. Recommended for all those interested in the birth of the current Canadian film scene.

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Book Review: They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema

Finding a new home for older material — This book review originally appeared on Canuxploitation in 2004. Full disclosure: I have known Caelum since about 2002, his book references Canuxploitation.com and Caelum has contributed to the site.

They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema
Caelum Vatnsdal, Arbeiter Ring Press (2004)

Out of all the sleazy genres that Canadian filmmakers have tackled over the last 50 years, none has been as tenacious as Canadian horror. Always controversial and rarely receiving critical approval, Canadian horror films have managed to survive the industry booms and busts to remain our b-movie genre of choice, far outnumbering the action, science fiction and comedy films clogging dusty video racks across the Great White North.

Strange then, that never before has anyone synthesized a complete history of our national nightmares caught on celluloid. It’s a conspicuous gap in our film criticism, especially given the popularity and abundance of Canadian horror films. Thankfully, Caelum Vatnsdal’s well-researched and often humorous new book, They Came From Within, finally sets the record straight on hoser horror—a revelation for Canadian film buffs and a wealth of information for horror fans. … Continue Reading