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Bad Monsters in Black Lace

Here at Canuxploitation we usually focus on feature-length films, but of course there’s a whole lot of  bloody and brilliant shorts being made, especially right now with so many genre festivals cropping up across North America and around the world.  Saskatoon-based Bad Monster Films programmer Tyler Baptist of (who previously contributed a CanFilm Five) gave us a sneak peek at his new effort, MANTIS IN BLACK LACE, which should meet the approval of Canuxploitation buffs– cool slab of sinema that’s perhaps even more twisted than its nameske 1968 feature. Check it out:

 

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Psychotronic NFB: GENTLEMAN JEKYLL AND DRIVER HYDE (1950)

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.

What was Canada’s first monster movie–the 1967 British co-production THE VULTURE? 1971’s DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS? True, those may have been the first feature-length creature features to debut in the Great White North, but Canada’s history with horror goes back even a little further–in fact, it’s tangled up in our roots in documentary filmmaking. Even before movie monster mania swept North America in the 1950s, spurned on by the repackaging of classic horror films for TV broadcast and the introduction of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine, the NFB produced this bizarre eight-minute short that plays off one of the biggest horror hits of the previous decade, even directly referring to Spencer Tracy’s 1941 turn as the mad scientist and his uncouth alter ego.

GENTLEMAN JEKYLL AND DRIVER HYDE, released in 1950, has long been one of my favourite NFB films, adding horror touches to an otherwise fairly typical mental hygiene film about common courtesy on the road, all narrated by some wisecracking truck drivers.

Have you ever had road rage? Like, really, really bad? Even by today’s standards this is unconscionably terrible and inconsiderate driving–cutting people off, not stopping for kids playing in the street, insulting pedestrians, screaming at other drivers, racing through lights and weaving into the oncoming traffic. The portrayal of bad driving habits is so deliriously over-the-top that this film almost becomes a comedy of extreme road safety errors.

Once the trucker finishes condemning poor Jekyll, he then reveals the source of his bitterness–he and his fellow professional drivers are blamed by the public for accidents, even though it’s the everyday amateurs that often cause them. Apparently, all those terrible fatal crashes are just business as usual–just leave him out of it, brother! At this point even the other driver gets tired of his employer’s holier-than-thou attitude, but gets slapped Three Stooges-style for talking back. Perhaps a follow-up film on bad boss behaviour is needed–SAFETY-MINDED JEKYLL AND ABUSIVE SUPERVISOR HYDE?

Conceptually, this NFB short is still a lot of fun, even if the monster itself is an obvious low-budget creation–whereas nine years earlier Tracy boldly played Hyde without make-up, simply contorting his face into new shapes, some rudimentary effects work was clearly required here. The quality make-up job? Well, as you can see it’s not exactly up to the Jack Pierce standard. Hyde looks more like a Neanderthal devil than anything–horns protruding from his head, a little spirit gum-stuck hair and plastic fangs. The transition from mild mannered family man to sociopathic wheelman isn’t terribly convincing either, done with a simple edit and screen wipe. But  it’s probably too much to ask for a little NFB short to put some effort and care into its monster making, especially since no Canadian craftsmen were dedicated to that particular niche art at the time. It’s not too surprising that their Hyde is not quite up to par. But at least he’s here, captured on celluloid forever–the earliest example of the horror genre’s influence on Canadian filmmaking.

Bizarrest moment: Apparently, the opposite of Driver Hyde is some sort of drag queen-like courtesy angel.

Lesson learned: Don’t turn into a dime store monster and drive.

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John Dunning Fêted at TFCA Awards Gala

It was a long time coming. During the Toronto Film Critics Association’s 15th annual gala awards earlier this week, Cinepix’s John Dunning was given the Clyde Gilmour Award, recognizing his lifetime achievement for contributions to Canadian film. The honour was actually announced last spring, and in the months since then, Dunning–ailing since a 2006 bicycle crash–unfortunately passed away. In his place, John’s son Greg accepted the posthumous award from his father’s friend and acolyte, David Cronenberg.

As part of the  presentation (and, I guess, a service to those TFCA members not fully unaware of Dunning’s legacy) the gala projected a five-minute compilation of Cinepix’s greatest moments, edited by Blue Sunshine co-founder David Bertrand. It’s recommended viewing for seasoned fans and newcomers alike, an exhilarating look at some of the highlights of Dunning’s five decade career in Canadian filmmaking. Unfortunately, since embedding that video is forbidden (boo!), here’s a clip that’s not quite as fun but still worth checking out–Cronenberg’s speech at the gala.

Update (1/14/12): Dave got us permission to embed the video here–thanks to him and the TFCA!

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Psychotronic NFB: THE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1958)

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 odd gems lurking on the fringes of its impressive back catalogue. “Psychotronic NFB,” filters through the earnest docs on social problems, overserious animation and World War II newsreels to uncover the NFB’s weirdest works.

Let’s take a slight break from the stranger nooks and crannies of the NFB vault for a more seasonably appropriate treat. Released as part of the NFB’s renowned “Candid Eye” series, 1958’s THE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS is a fun, nostalgic piece by veteran NFB collaborators Wolf Koenig, Terence Macartney-Filgate and Stanley Jackson that gives Christmastime in Canada the direct cinema treatment.

Like most of the “Candid Eye” films, THE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS has no real storyline, but just takes to the streets of Montreal to soak up some holiday cheer. From one end of Montreal to the next, the gently paced, 30-minute short explores a wide range of pre-holiday activities–choir practice, a mall Santa’s interactions with kids, butchers preparing Christmas turkeys for sale, snowy street corners and twirling mechanical store window displays (in a scene that strongly recalls Bob Clark’s A CHRISTMAS STORY!).

As with other “direct cinema”–a movement largely pioneered at the NFB that attempted to achieve a cinematic realism thanks to newly developed lightweight cameras and equipment–THE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS’ most important value is that it remains a real snapshot of its era. We get an authentic peek at department stores and markets of the 1950s–no less busy than today, only really differentiated by the fashions and degree of hands-on interaction allowed with the toys. The scene in the rock club is also notable, as a hardworking (and sweaty!) soul band turns it out on stage while the young Christmas revelers nervously stir their drinks.

Also interesting is the obvious influence of Catholicism in pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec depicted in the film. The church choir practice looms large over the film, the religious overtones of the school play (that certainly wouldn’t fly today) and the sounds of the midnight mass that conclude the film as parties across the city wind down for the evening. There’s no escaping the religious overtones here! But even those that may bristle at such allusions will still be able to sit back and enjoy this vintage panorama of winter in Canada!

Bizarrest moment: Nice to see Santa’s brusque manner with some kids hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years.

Lesson learned: Always ask your Montreal cabbie where the best bootleggers are.

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Psychotronic NFB: YOU’RE NO GOOD (1965)

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.

Juvenile delinquency—scourge of our modern era! The sight of teens in black leather jackets may not exactly send us clutching for our pearls anymore but, during the 1950s and 60s, even a hint of such non-conformity or rebellion was enough to cause parental consternation. Educational filmstrip producers like McGraw Hill, Coronet and Sid Davis Productions got much mileage out of depicting the society-threatening vandalism of moody teens and, more importantly, just what could be done about it. Even Ottawa’s Crawley Films got in on the act, producing notable works like AGE OF TURMOIL and EMOTIONAL MATURITY. Not to be left behind, the NFB also managed a handful of similar shorts, including George Kaczender’s 1965 film YOU’RE NO GOOD, where an impulsive motorcycle joyride ends in anger and pain.

YOU’RE NO GOOD—a lurid title sounds more like a exploitation film than a educational work—still manages an unorthodox approach, eschewing the McGraw-Hill school of overbearing narrators directly comparing reenactments of bad behaviour with good. Instead, the film turns on some notable dramatic moments—Eddie confronted by a youth worker in the pool hall, his juvenile fantasies of admiration and destruction, the iconic shot of him running down the middle of Yonge street before unleashing his pent-up anger in an abandoned office building. It’s far more similar to another NFB production from the previous year, Don Owen’s NOBODY WAVED GOOD-BYE, in its portrayal of disaffected youth unable to find an acceptable social outlet.

Still, YOU’RE NO GOOD remains a juvenile delinquency film at heart, even though Eddie is often seen in a sympathetic light. Of course by today’s standards,  Eddie’s ride on the stolen bike isn’t unconscionable behaviour, it’s just confused–he seems unable to separate his fantasies from his real responsibilities. Though it’s hard to believe that the Toronto police would expend this much time and energy tracking down the perpetrator of a largely victimless crime, it’s also no surprise that Eddie’s impulsive act finally catches up with him and he pays the price for his actions. The focus may be different, but the ultimate message here is not that far removed from AGE OF TURMOIL and countless other instructional film shorts—behave!

Like many Canadian directors of the era, Kaczender’s early work for the NFB taught him the tools he needed to become a successful director of feature films. The promise he shows in this film bears out in his later theatrical works, including 1973’s “angry young man” movie U-TURN and the right-wing conspiracy thriller AGENCY (1981).

Finally, we must give a special mention to the film’s theme song—an awesome garage-flavoured track by Ontario band The Mercey Brothers before they turned to full-on country crooning in the 1970s. It’s a wild and even aggressive rock track that really drives home the mixed-up emotions that Eddie goes through over the course of the film—a far cry, for example, from the limp folk hootenany of NOBODY WAVED GOOD-BYE.

Bizarrest moment: Eddie’s random rock star daydream, complete with bikini-clad go-go dancer.

Lesson learned: Don’t wait until the cops are on your trail to ditch your stolen motorcycle. They may not be the Mounties, but it appears they always get their man.