Canadian Rambler – 20/3/06


Colin Moore goes in search of David Cronenberg

With Colin Moore

Finding David

The phone rang and someone picked it up. Always a good start.
“Hi. I was wondering if you had one of two movies.”
“Sure.” The voice on the other end punched some buttons, the familiar rhythm of sharp snapping key strokes that sounds much more impressive over the phone.
“What are they?”
“Jesus of Montreal… the first one.”
Whatever they repeated back to me sounded nothing like Jesus. Nothing hell-worthy mind you; it was just wrong, that’s all.
“Jesus….Jesus of Montreal…..the guy from the bible.”
I wasn’t mocking. I put a little phone laugh in at the end to hide any condescension. After more key stokes the answer came back.
“How about Dead Ringers?…….(David) Cronenberg film.”
“No. Don’t have that either.”
And there you go.

It’s hard to imagine anyone looking back on 2006 as being simpler times, but it will happen. Twenty years from now, some nouveau (Canadian content. Canada: Nation of two official languages. From Sea to Shining Sea. Merci.) dad will be suspended 18 feet in the air on chrome embroidered bungee chords above a virtual Grand Canyon, latte injection in hand, and his mind will glaze over, conjuring melancholy thoughts of a time before cell phone implants, Google toilet paper, and heavy fines/prison time for possession of KFC 2-piece snack pacs. He will remember. And then he will cry.

I’ve been feeling this way lately, about video stores. Back in the day, there were no expectations. Generally there were no movies either. Remember? Remember the days when video stores outnumbered gas stations, and even new releases maxed out at three? You’d be lucky to be anywhere near it during the first seven or eight weeks, unless you camped out by the return box, caught it as it slid down the wooden plank at 3 am. But you liked it all the same. No expectations. No complications. There are plenty of options today in a city like Toronto. Like yourselves, perhaps the neighborhood is dominated by one or two majors, chain outlets that straddle your entertainment dollar with a “gimmie” and a smile, taking a certain macho pride in their endowments. I’m not knocking them. Close to a thousand dollars in tuition fees have set me straight on the economic fundamentals supply and demand, which state….supply equals demand, so I’ll leave it there. Market responds to marketplace. What the people want the people get. Period. On a recent visit to one particular international video megaplex though, I was looking for one of two movies, the ones mentioned above.

David Cronenberg, a Toronto native, has been challenging the gastric limits of film audiences for almost 30 years. Earlier works “The Brood”, “Scanners”, and “Videodrome” cemented his unique brand of bio/tech/gross-out urban drama within Canada, but there was never any doubt of horror’s supporting role to larger themes of personal need and the future’s capacity to destroy. Since, he has grown from Canadian cult auteur to auteur of international breadth with heavier fare such as “Dead Ringers”, “Naked Lunch”, and the very unOscared “Crash” (still the better). Most recently, he’s cracked top ten lists everywhere with “A History of Violence”. A pretty important filmmaker, in Canada or anywhere. But could I find a copy of “Dead Ringers” at the city’s largest video distributor. Not one. Worse, they didn’t even carry it.

One clerk informed me they had a single copy at one time, but because it wasn’t plucked up off the shelf often enough, they plucked it themselves. Economically, it’s understandable. It’s just too bad. “Dead Ringers” cleaned house during the 1989 Genie awards (the Canadian Oscars), rewarding both Cronenberg and leading actor Jeremy Irons who did double duty playing twin gynecologists with separation anxiety. It also won Cronenberg directing honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Likewise with the Jesus film. Acclaimed Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand directed J of M to a host of critical reception, including the Best Picture Genie, a Cannes Jury Prize, and Best Foreign noms at both the Oscars and Golden Globes. Beyond the quest for golf trophies though is the product itself, works of significant national… know, like the Popsicle stick Mother’s Day card you made in grade 4. A personal achievement, and a family achievement. If Mom had slapped the neighbor’s kid’s card on the fridge, you’d be upset. On a point of interest, an internet search on another of our nation-wide video chains revealed no….ZERO! copies of Jesus of Montreal….in Montreal. Or Quebec for that matter. Perhaps they’re holding out for the subtitled version. I doubt it.

Regardless of a video chain’s interest in making a buck however, it would be nice to see more indigenous support. Enter the independent video retailer. There are still plenty in town, and what they do they do well: offer a dizzying collection of studios, classics, docs, Bs, rarities, and what the hell’s that span time and culture. The first two outlets I rang up had both “Dead Ringers” and “Jesus of Montreal”. No problem. Seems the 149 copies of “Wedding Crashers” that weren’t ordered freed up a certain amount of shelf space. Support your brethren….a little, that’s all I’m saying. Culture is as culture does, assuming you’re not just as satisfied renting someone else’s.