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John Dunning (1927-2011)

I received word last night that Cinépix co-founder John Dunning passed away earlier this week. John, 84, was in a bad bicycle accident in 2006 and unfortunately never fully recovered from his injuries.

Through Cinépix, John and his partner André Link were instrumental in changing the film landscape in Canada. Distributors, initially, they moved into production in 1968 with Valerie, the prototypical French-Canadian sexploitation effort. A smash success, it launched a cottage industry of what Variety dubbed “Maple Syrup Porn.”

In the 1970s John and André moved into English production and horror, bringing on board fledgling producers Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody. They mentored countless producers and directors and even helped launch the career of David Cronenberg when they took a chance and allowed him to direct a script he had written, SHIVERS. The 1980s saw them hitch their train to the slasher boom, creating some indisputable all-time classics of the genre—HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and MY BLOODY VALENTINE.

In all, John helped produce more than 60 Canadian films in the last four decades, almost all of which were firmly in the canuxploitation arena. Even in his late 70s he kept his own office at Lionsgate in Montreal, apparently shuffling around the halls in a pair of slippers and still coming up with new ideas. Even after his accident, John may was still as active as ever, even announcing plans for a VALENTINE sequel last April.

If there’s any small comfort, it’s that John was around to see the accolades that have recently poured in for his life’s work over the years. He picked up a 1993 Genie award for Outstanding Contributions to the Canadian Film Industry and was inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame in 2007.  This past June he received the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Clyde Gilmour Award and a Lifetime Acheivement at Fantasia that I was honoured to be a part of.

I never met John in person, but talked to him several times on the phone for a 2005 article I wrote. He was very forthcoming and a pleasure to talk to, even if at first he seemed a little wary of the purpose of my piece—I remember reassuring him several times that I was a fan of his work and wanted to celebrate Cinépix’s contributions. You can check out the entirety of my interview with John Dunning and his partner, Andre Link, “Sin and Sovereignty: The Curious Rise of Cinépix Inc.” online; it was originally published in (the now defunct) Take One Film and Television in Canada in March 2005.

Also see John’s obits in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

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CanFilm Five: Cinema Sewer’s Robin Bougie

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Vancouver, BC-based writer and artist Robin Bougie has been writing and drawing CINEMA SEWER magazine since 1997, a hilarious, incredible and unapologetically smutty film zine with
a gleeful handwritten focus on classic exploitation / porn / horror / weirdness. His brand new book, CINEMA SEWER VOL.3, is now available from FAB Press, and if you order this brand new 200-page collection directly from Robin before December 15, he will spend an entire hour drawing you a dirty original drawing on the inside front cover! Pure madness. Visit Robin’s (very NSFW) blog to see the personalized drawings he’s already done for others in their books.

For this edition of CanFilm Five, Robin selects CINEMA SEWER’S five favourite Canadian documentaries.

Robin: What with the NFB and the grand Canuck tradition of gritty independent cinema, Canadian documentary film making, especially that of the 1970s and ’80s (my most cherished moment in movie history) is absolutely in a class by itself. I find it to be something of a cryin’ shame that more people aren’t aware of how enthralling many of these movies are, and instead confuse Canadian documentaries from this era with those dull, washed out “Hinterland who’s who” shorts that played on CBC back in the day. I guess one can’t be too surprised, however, seeing as many of these gems are obscure, out of print, or have simply never been easily available on any home format.

Being as I publish CINEMA SEWER magazine, my list has a definite unashamed skew towards the more tawdry side of life. Prostitution, porn, nudism, crazy stuntmen and wacky comic books are present, accounted for, and ready to entertain your eyelids off.

… Continue Reading

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Psychotronic NFB: WILLIAM SHATNER SINGS O CANADA (2011)

The National Film Board of Canada may be the nation’s venerable award-winning public film producer and distributor, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t weird gems lurking on the fringes of its impressive back catalogue. “Psychotronic NFB,” attempts to filter through the earnest docs on social problems, overserious animation and World War II newsreels to uncover the NFB’s weirdest works.

In honour of our recent CanFilm Five exploring the lesser known works of Canadian thespian, singer and incorrigible space captain Mr. William Shatner, this edition of Psychotronic NFB breaks with recent tradition and looks at a more modern treat from the National Film Board archives. When William Shatner was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from Canada’s Governor General this past March, he also participated in this strange and patriotic short video, playing off his iconic image.

While probably the first to admit he is not much of a singer, Shatner released his debut album, “The Transformed Man” in 1968. Even by the forgiving  standards of celebrity-sung albums of the time, his renditions of  ”Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” were odd–Shat’s talk/singing may not be very “musical”  in the strictest sense of that word, but at least his interpretations were unique. As a result, the album became something of a cult item in the 1980s, spurned by champions like Dr. Demento and Rhino Record’s groundbreaking “Golden Throats” compilations.

Since then, Shatner has embraced the modest, outsider art approach of his music,  releasing the 2004 album “Has Been” in which he played up the camp value of his talk/singing style in performing modern pop songs. He even has a new space-themed singing album called “Seeking Major Tom” due out in just a few weeks.

It’s this offbeat legacy that Shatner taps into for this short film, having fun with both his popularity and the notoriety of “The Transformed Man.” It’s obviously quite staged and scripted, but Shatner gives a likable and good off-the-cuff performance as he offers a politically correct rendition of our national anthem. Oddly enough, this intimate little piece is one of the NFB’s few flirtations with popular culture of any kind, and to make something so tied to Shatner’s, uh, unorthodox singing talents definitely qualifies this more recent addition to the NFB’s catalogue as “Psychotronic.”

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time that Shatner worked for the NFB–as Marty McKee pointed out in his guest blog post, he often did voice work throughout his career,  and had previously narrated “City Out of Time“, a  Venice travelogue directed by Colin Low in 1959.    

Bizarrest moment: “O Canada” becomes “Hey, C-Rock!”

Lesson learned: In an age where any non-musical celebrity can make an album that still sounds vaguely musical thanks to an army of  producers and software, it’s admirable that Shatner sticks to his phasers and continues to play off his public persona by “singing” in the same way he always has. That’s how you become a legend in this business.

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CanFilm Five: Film Reviewer and Blogger Marty McKee

CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Marty McKee is an Illinois-based freelance copywriter who somehow finds the time to moderate Mobius Home Video Forum, review films for Marty’s Marquee, and maintain his blog–a Canuxploitation favourite–Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot, devoted to trashy paperbacks, movies and TV. His copywriting portfolio is online at Coroflot.

You’ve thrilled to his finely tailored trenchcoats in KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT and got caught up in his love of yogurt in VISITING HOURS, but even though William Shatner didn’t appear in too many Canadian productions, he’s still a true Hollywood North acting legend with a career that spans six decades and almost 200 roles. An acknowledged Shat-ologist who has followed the Rocket Man’s colourful professional career from court rooms to outer space and back again, Marty presents his top five picks of Shatner’s must-see non-STAR TREK performances.

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This Week in Screenings

While many of us discovered canuxploitation films through late night TV screenings and VHS rentals, there’s still something special about catching a locally produced B-movie classic in the theatre alongisde other Canadian film fans. Here’s just a selection of worthwhile screenings happening this week.

ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE SS  – 35mm
Friday September 16, Midnight
Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon
Bad Monster Films is proud to present one of the most controversial films ever to be produced with Canadian money! It’s SHOCKING! It’s DEPRAVED! It’s VIOLENT! It’s SADISTIC! It’s ILSA! More info here.

DEADLY EYES — 16mm
Saturday September 17, 10pm
Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa
The Lost Dominion Screening Collective kicks off its second Canadian Cult Revue season as Toronto is overrun by giant killer rats in DEADLY EYES. Introduced by Trash Palace programmer/Canuxploitation contributor Jonathan Culp! More info here.

PROM NIGHT — 35mm
Thursday September 22, 9pm
Revue Cinema, Toronto
Fango editor-in-chief Chris Alexander brings this Canadian bloody “dead teenager” slasher classic as part of his ongoing Film School Confidential series.  Actress Mary Beth Rubens is slated to appear and will particpate in a Q&A. No disco dancing in the aisles, please. More info here.

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