Friday, February 20, 2015

The Imaginary Documentaries of Montreal Filmmakers Frank Vitale, Allan Moyle, and Stephen Lack

The Bitter Ash

A rather precious thing happened in Montreal in the mid 1970s. Canadian cinema had been dominated by the National Film Board since its formation in 1940, and the generally-perceived character of Canadian film was all educational documentary, and not a lot of fun. Directors such as Claude Jutra, Don Owen, and Gilles Groulx struck off on their own to make the first Canadian new wave fiction films (A tout prendre [1963], Nobody Waved Goodbye, and Le chat dans le sac [both 1964] respectively), on the back of independents like Sydney J. Furie’s groundbreaking A Dangerous Age (1959) and Larry Kent’s student feature The Bitter Ash (1963), but for all their youthful, semi-bohemian trappings, these were still quite po-faced affairs. Then came the “genial loser” films of the 70s, led by Owen’s Goin’ Down The Road (1970), and others such as The Rowdyman (Peter Carter, 1972) and Paperback Hero (Peter Pearson, 1973), for the first time really reflecting blue-collar life back to Canadians through fiction. Yet still there wasn’t much joy to be found, even in the much-lauded The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Ted Kotcheff, 1974). For the first time, however, there did seem to be a viable future for Canadian fiction feature making, so the government, in its wisdom, upped the Capital Cost Allowance tax break for film investment to 100%. This basically created a tax shelter whereby anyone with some cash could write it off against production of a film, which didn’t even need to be finished, let alone exhibited or make back its money. So a free-for-all ensued, sleaze and genre holding the day and, amongst other things, launching the career of one D. Cronenberg – his Montreal-set Shivers (1975) earned a magazine article entitled “You Should Know How Bad This Movie Is. After All, You Paid For It” (Saturday Night 83, September 1975). more at
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