CanFilm Five: THE CORRIDOR Screenwriter Josh MacDonald

“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.

Josh MacDonald is the writer of THE CORRIDOR, which will be released by IFC Midnight (U.S.) and D Films (Canada) March 30th, In Theatres and On Demand. For this CanFilm Five, Josh presents his top five “Surprise-Stirrings of Patriotism While Watching Movies.”  Take it away, Josh:

Growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1980s, I was a movie-struck kid who—like most Canadians, I figure—predominantly consumed American pop culture. Out here on the East Coast, I felt pretty far away from where movies actually got made, and pretty far away from seeing my own nation, province, city, or self reflected on the big screen. (I also spent a lot of time finding movies like MON ONCLE ANTOINE or JESUS OF MONTREAL in the Foreign Film section of my local video store: now what kind of cultural schizophrenia was that, I ask you?)

Discovering unexpected Canadiana (or better yet, “Maritime-ishness”—a word I’m now coining) in my movies has always given me a happy jolt, and it’s an experience which usually time-stamps itself onto my movie-going grey matter.Recently, I had this out-of-left-field, knee-jerk “hey, it’s us!” moment while watching WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Tilda Swinton’s character has a wanderlust wish to escape her maternal bonds because, well, her baby son is an asshole. Just before Tilda’s Bad Seed can deface her study-room, we see it decorated in a wallpaper collage of world maps, the most prominent of which is a close-up of the Province of Nova Scotia (its shape sorta resembling a lobster-in-profile). My heart high-fived itself.

I’m hoping that GAME, a short horror movie I’ve recently finished writing and directing, also might trigger some memories in Canadians who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. As GAME is only seven minutes long, I do want to hold back some surprises about it, but let me say it tries to invoke a generation’s televisual understanding of our hinterland outdoors… I’ve got my fingers crossed for GAME to make it into some festivals later this year, and I’ve also got my fingers crossed that—should you check it out—it’ll startle unexpected patriotism out of you, too, for our True North, Strong and Free.

Top 5 Surprise-Stirrings of Patriotism While Watching Movies

The first time I experienced this joy-buzz recognition was while watching a sold-out screening of GHOSTBUSTERS during its first-run at Halifax’s Oxford Theatre. I was too young to know that Ivan Reitman or Rick Moranis were Canadians, but when Moranis’ Louis Tully held his apartment party and told his guests, “This is real smoked salmon from Nova Scotia, Canada: $24.95 a pound! Only cost me $14.12 after tax, though,” the entire Oxford Theatre blew up in cheers and laughter. I can say with confidence this line didn’t provoke a reaction anywhere near as strong anywhere else on the planet, but in Halifax we couldn’t hear the movie again until Moranis wondered, “Okay… who brought the dog?”

GHOSTBUSTERS is made out of Awesome, and is non-stop memorable, but it was that one local moment forefront in my mind as I left the Oxford that night, feeling like– in some small way—we’d all had a chance to guest-star. The Oxford Theatre is now Halifax’s last-standing single-screen venue, with a marquee hanging over Quinpool Road which still spells out the week’s newest title. I can honestly say, after GHOSTBUSTERS, I began day-dreaming about making movies, and about one day having something, anything, play at the Oxford. When our movie THE CORRIDOR finally appeared on that marquee (One Night Only!), I felt a real small-town sense of accomplishment: instead of ‘golden topping’ that night, though, I covered my popcorn in smoked salmon. For Louis Tully.

As a child of the 80s, I had a deep, meaningful relationship with my top-loading VCR. My favourite rental place was “Video Picture Showman” because they let me borrow whatever I wanted– rating be damned– and because they also let me keep their discarded posters (INVASION USA from Cannon Films: check! MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE from De Laurentiis Entertainment Group: check!). The first section of Video Picture Showman I was able to 100% deplete was their horror movie section. I loved the box cover for CURTAINS, but had no idea the cassette inside was born of the Great White North’s tax-shelter golden era. I quickly began to figure out CURTAINS’ nationality, though, when I was presented with one of the Canuckiest scenes in cinematic history: a pretty young figure-skater in toque and leg-warmers, practicing on pond ice, and twirling circles while a ghettoblaster plays Burton Cummings’ “You Saved My Soul” (a song near-unknown below the 49th parallel). When this pretty young figure-skater is then hacked to death by a scythe-wielding maniac in a terrifying hag mask (also wearing skates), I wanted to stand up and sing our national anthem.

Similarly, and more profoundly, the first movie I ever knew to be made on Nova Scotian soil was MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Though its story is set in Valentines’ Bluff, USA, MY BLOODY VALENTINE was shot in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton: a stone’s throw from where my grandparents lived. To this day, I adore MBV for its well-utilized, claustrophobic mine setting and for its honest-to-god sense of place: the characters here are better delineated than in the usual slasher-flick; these guys are working-class Capers, like the boys from GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD had they only “not gone”. MBV was a horror movie starring my neighbours: I loved seeing the Moosehead stubbies and the Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Inspection stickers that the Art Department had forgotten to “greek” out.

I came to cherish MY BLOODY VALENTINE even more when, some decades later, its director George Mihalka went on to direct my own first feature screenplay, FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE. George spent much of the 80s and 90s being sheepish about MBV and its genre trappings, but during our time together I watched him begin to comprehend just how much his movie meant to a younger generation of horror-hound hosers.

I eventually went to Concordia University in Montreal, where, among other things, I had access to a waaaay more diverse video selection than I had at Video Picture Showman. I remember bringing an American art-house indie back to the apartment called CLEAN, SHAVEN. It starred a terrific Peter Greene (probably best known to this day for ass-raping Ving Rhames, as “Zed” in PULP FICTION) playing a schizophrenic on a quest to win back his daughter from her far-flung foster family. I was very into this movie, and became even more so when Greene’s road-trip seemed to be taking him down some very familiar Maritime backroads. I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing homesickness or a reality-break akin to Greene’s as I paused my VCR (a front-loader now) and peered through the raggedy tracking snow, trying to conclusively identify New Brunswick’s provincial flags (!) on the screen. Peter Greene’s character had followed his daughter to the end of the earth… and the end of the earth was my neck of the woods.

CLEAN, SHAVEN is an amazing portrayal of mental illness, by the way, with some startling moments of body-horror and pre-PI sonic assault. Actually, as I’m typing this, I’m also realizing CLEAN, SHAVEN found its way into THE CORRIDOR’s DNA, too: both try to empathize with their main characters’ afflictions, making them damaged heroes instead of villains, and both bombard those heroes with upsetting electromagnetic signals they can’t untangle as being “from within” or “from beyond.” Oh dude, I ripped off CLEAN, SHAVEN. Well that’s what you get, American indie, for arbitrarily setting your third act in New Brunswick.

In the twinned cities of Halifax and Dartmouth (the Etobicoke of the Maritimes), 2011 was the Year of the Hobo. Jason Eisener’s exploitation epic was in some ways the inverse of GHOSTBUSTERS: a piece of Maritime-ishness we now got to export to the rest of the world! I can’t say I found it knee-jerk unexpected to see my hometown in this movie—I’m friends with the Yer Dead crew and knew what was coming—but it was still a punk pleasure to see Halifax’s office towers reduced to smoking rubble in the opening of HOBO, and then the rest of the running-time remap our backyards as a cartoon Calcutta. The guys did still cattle-prod that jolt of surprised patriotism from me, though, with their selection of an end-credits cue: the theme song from CBC’s animated THE RACCOONS, sung by mall-pop-princess Lisa Lougheed (from Etobicoke!). Among the many sure-handed directorial decisions Jason made, it was this “secret-Canadian handshake” of an ending tune that solidified Hobo’s status as one of the most askew patriotic flicks ever made in this country: I dare you to Cyril Sneer otherwise.

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