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CanFilm Five: Lost Dominion CanCult Programmer Paul Gordon

“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.

One of the founders of Ottawa’s Lost Dominion Screening Collective, Paul Gordon (who we interviewed last year) is dedicated to bringing forgotten,  rarely-shown Canadian classics back to the big screen. A former projectionist at the Mayfair Theatre, Paul has helped put together three seasons of the Canadian Cult Revue, an ongoing series dedicated to the very same films we focus on at Canuxploitation. So far, this season of  the Canadian Cult Revue has featured Budge Crawley’s AMANITA PESTILENS and EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL. Next up is the early Canadian melodrama BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY on December 11 with later screenings coming up of the classic kiddie matinee MYSTERY OF THE MILLION DOLLAR HOCKEY PUCK and BIG MEAT EATER.

For this edition of CanFilm Five, Paul looks at the five greatest Canadian films considered Missing In Action.

AMANITA PESTILENS, 1962
Directed by René Bonnière

This unusually compelling film is about one man’s obsession with creating “the perfect lawn.” Jacques Labrecque stars as champion lawn-grower Henri Martin, a man who struggles to balance the needs of his family with his own ambitions for horticultural achievement as he wages war against the insurgent mushrooms that threaten his immaculately manicured domain. The film manages the unusual feat of being both funny and suspenseful at the same time, treading a fine line of ominous hilarity perfectly conveyed by Labrecque. It feels somewhat as though Spanish surrealist master Luis Bunuel had wandered into the Montreal of the early 1960s and managed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of discontent and change bubbling just under the surface of polite society.

Shot on location in Montreal and close to Ottawa at Harrington Lake in 1962 by director René Bonnière, AMANITA PESTILENS was the first fictional feature film produced by legendary Ottawa filmmaker F.R. “Budge” Crawley. It was also the first Canadian feature film produced in colour, and stands as the cinematic debut of Canadian acting queen Genevieve Bujold, who, in her role as rebellious daughter Sophie Martin, displays enough raw cinematic charisma to suggest that she was born for the movie screen.

The production has the added bonus of having captured images of La Belle Province at a time of great physical and social transformation. It contains numerous visual delights, including early 1960s fashion, wonderful old Montreal streetscapes, and the sight of shockingly new-looking highway interchanges. Special mention should go to Ottawa-based composer Larry Crossley for writing an excellent score, incorporating jazz, folk, and orchestral music, helping the film take on the scope of a much larger production.

Unfortunately, AMANITA PESTILENS never received a wide release. Festival screenings and the occasional TV appearance served to spread the legend, but the film has essentially been vault-bound for 50 years. We are proud to bring it back to the big screen, before it returns to dormancy like a mushroom spore waiting to re-emerge – hopefully sooner than the year 2062! Our screening is Nov. 27th at the Bytowne cinema in Ottawa. Film elements exists at Library and Archives Canada, including Interneg and optical neg so someday maybe a proper DVD or Blu-ray will be produced, currently this film is M.I.A.

CARRY ON, SERGEANT!, PA-202246001

CARRY ON, SERGEANT!, 1928
Directed by Bruce Bairnsfather

CARRY ON, SERGEANT! was shot at Trenton Studios in Ontario and in the surrounding countryside by British Director Bruce Bairnsfather, with legendary Canadian filmmaker Gordon Sparling working as his assistant director. With a budget of $500,000, it was the biggest-budget film produced in Canada up to that time. Much of that budget went to recreating WWI-era France, with sprawling sets and battlefield scenes featuring hundreds of extras.

The story follows a group of workers from Hamilton who join the army to fight in WWI, and the travails and temptations that befall them during the war. The film has excellent production values and presents a drama that may feel surprisingly modern to today’s audiences. Bairnsfather’s insistence on portraying the soldiers as flawed human beings resulted in some criticism from those who expected a straightforward glorification of Canada’s war effort. The main character has an affair with a French bar maid and dies on the battlefield. The veterans of the Great War were not impressed; in fact the whole subplot of the affair was edited out of the later version of the film.

Produced as a silent film just as theatres were transitioning to sound, it had only a brief run at the box office before it was removed from circulation in January 1929. It fell into obscurity for many years before Gordon Sparling donated a print to Library and Archives Canada, resulting in a complete restoration of the film, but there has never been a DVD release for the general public. The Lost Dominion Screening Collective is currently working on a DVD release for early next year with a new musical score. Currently this film is M.I.A.

… Continue Reading

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Motion Picture Purgatory: The Pyx (1974)

We’re back again with another exclusive Motion Picture Purgatory review by legendary Montreal cartoonist Rick Trembles. Karen Black wears a sheer nightgown in the religious thriller THE PYX (AKA THE HOOKER CULT MURDERS), a film that played off both the Satanic film boom of the 1970s and Quebec’s Catholic backlash egged on by the Quiet Revolution. Shot in Montreal by one of the tax shelter era’s most prominent figures, Harvey Hart, this one just popped up on a nice widescreen DVD from Scorpion last year. Here’s Rick’s take on this mostly forgotten Canadian classic:

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“Echoes From the Sleep Room” Next Week at The Black Museum

By now, anyone keeping up with us on social media probably has heard of The Black Museum, a new Toronto-based lecture series that we launched this fall with Andrea Subissati at the Projection Booth – East. For our final lecture on November 22, I’m going to be delivering a modified version of a course I taught last year at the Miskatonic Institute in Montreal on how real-life medical atrocities in Canada have had a profound effect on the themes of Canadian horror films. November 22 will be the first time I will be presenting the course in Toronto.

Here’s a still-relevant trailer for last year’s event, created by Blue Sunshine:

Tickets will be available at the door for $15, but you can also grab them online now for  $12.

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Motion Picture Purgatory: Corpse Eaters

Another Halloween-themed sequential art review by legendary Montreal cartoonist Rick Trembles! This time Rick focuses on the Sudbury, Ontario-shot gut-muncher CORPSE EATERS, one of the films we here at Canuxploitation assisted in bringing out of the shadows over the last decade.

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Upcoming Screenings: November 2012

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 alongside other Canadian film fans. Here’s our monthly update featuring upcoming classic Canadian cinema screenings. Want your screening listed? Contact us.

MANBORG
All month long
Various theatres
Steve Kostanski’s throwback sci-fi actioner MANBORG  goes across the country this month and will hit the following theatres:

  • Nov. 2-8 Royal Theatre, Toronto
  • Nov. 3 Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa
  • Nov. 4 Rio Grand, Vancouver
  • Nov. 10 Carbon Arc, Halifax
  • Nov. 16 The Staircase Theatre, Hamilton
  • Nov. 23 The Metro, Edmonton

See more on the MANBORG site.

THE BROOD 35mm
November 3, 2012, 7pm
Winnipeg Cinematheque
Kier-La Janisse returns to Winnipeg to launch her new book House of Psychotic Women, an autobiographical exploration of female neurosis in horror and exploitation film, including a screening of THE BROOD. More info here.

CRISIS (1997) and RYAN’S BABE (200) Shot-in-Saskatchewan double feature 35mm/digital
November 23, 2012, 10pm
Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon

A unique look at Saskatoon’s homegrown genre scene pairs up action-fest CRISIS, the FIRST 35mm feature film shot in Saskatoon, and the bizarrely campy road trip odyssey RYAN’S BABE. More info here.

AMANITA PESTILENS 35mm
November 27, 2012
Bytowne Cinema, Ottawa

The Canadian Cult Revue is back with a screening of Budge Crawley’s quirky, almost forgotten comedy about lawn care. More info here.

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