Psychotronic NFB: A ONE/TWO/MANY/WORLD (1970)

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.

Many filmmakers have the luxury of hiding away films they made as students while learning their craft, but what happens when the NFB funds the oblique, psychedelic musings of undergrads trying to come to grips with the pressures they will soon face as adults? Well, that rough, but well-meaning effort could end up streaming online just like A ONE/TWO/MANY/WORLD (1970), an undeniably odd student film that finally dares to ask: Why does society, like, have so many uptight hanggups when we could all just live in a desert where hippie girls in free-flowing dresses fly kites while we have totally mellow drum circles?

Most of this “surreal” short is pretty standard stuff–juxtaposing the kid’s toys with their real life counterparts, anxiety over authority figures and undisguised anti-Vietnam war sentiments. But what makes the film more interesting than your average too-earnest Canadian message movie is the way it keeps going back to erotic elements–the aforementioned kite-flying hippie, a nude girl covered in body paint, another posing on a fire escape and especially the scantily-clad dancer who gets run over by the car in Queen’s Park. This charges the otherwise straight-faced film with just a touch of underground movie sexploitation flair, even though these scenes doesn’t really seem to fit in with the images that surround them.

But rather than making any kind of definitive statement on “the bizarre world of imposed conditions and contradictions [a growing boy] evolves in”, the film seems more like some university students trying to figure out girls as well as the roles they will be expected to play in society on graduation. While these anxieties are universal, they crop up in Canadian dramatic films again and again throughout the 1960s and ’70s–in fact, it’s not hard to imagine the confused young protagonists of  Don Shebib’s RIP-OFF (1971) or Don Owen’s NOBODY WAVED GOODBYE (1964) heading off to the Scarborough Bluffs to make their own A ONE/TWO/MANY/WORLD.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the film’s backgrounds–there’s some fun classic toys on display in the kid’s room (love the Canadian Football board game!), plus some vintage  shots of King street in Toronto, including old school TTC streetcars.

Bizarrest moment: OK, the whole thing is pretty weird, but the kid dressed in army fatigues rolling down the hill while gunshots ring out tips the scale here. A nicely odd mix of earnest messaging, strange imagery and kid-as-adult pantomime.

Lesson learned: It’s not easy for men to pull of pink pants.