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Weird Sex & Snowshoes, and Other Canadian Film Phenomena. (Books).

Weird Sex & Snowshoes, and Other Canadian Film Phenomena by Katherine Monk, Raincoast Books, Vancouver, 357 pages, $26.95

There is a definite need for more serious, well-researched books on Canadian cinema. Katherine Monk's Weird Sex & Snowshoes, unfortunately, puts too much emphasis on being serious and not enough on basic academic research, and Canadian cinema suffers yet another blow at the hands of one of its well-meaning, high-minded supporters.

Weird Sex & Snowshoes is composed of 10 essays of considerable length organized by theme - survival, language, identity, multiculuralism, sexuality etc. - that are interspersed with profiles, of varying length, of contemporary directors. The package is complete with 100 mini reviews. This structure is awkward, see-sawing between serious, deeply considered thematic writing and upbeat, journalistic prose. Monk's sense of purpose is further undermined when she marks the mini reviews with cute little maple leafs, as a daily film critic - which she is for the Vancouver Sun - would do with stars. Strange that Monk would choose to include films that only deserve one maple leaf, which she gives to Claude Jutra's Surfacing (1981).

However, the inclusion of Surfacing is no accident, as Monk goes on at length about this dreadful film in her chapter on "Survivors & Surviving." It's a good place to look to find what is wrong with her approach. She uses Survival, Margaret Atwood's 30-year-old-plus dissertation on Canadians as "victims," as her launching pad to dissect Jutra's misguided adaptation of what is probably an unfilmable Atwood novel. Monk explores the victim motifs found in Surfacing and compares the film and its characters to John Boorman's enormously popular Deliverance, which is odd in itself, and concludes that we, as Canadians, "are allowed to have a more humble approach to life instead of constantly feeling the need to assert ourselves." She then follows this rather convoluted argument with an apology for subjecting the reader to a "drawn out discussion on Surfacing," which, she concludes, is a better book than a movie. The question seems to be why she bothered. Whatever the relative merits of her argument, she builds it aro und a stinker of a movie that is so bad nobody wanted to see it in the first place.

Monk's credibility is further damaged by her condescending voice - she uses the royal "we" a lot - and her sloppy fact-checking. Her most blatant error comes in the first (and weakest) chapter on realism in Canadian cinema, with this stunning paragraph: "In 1949, it was official. After the Massey Commission concluded...there was a...desire to get behind Grierson's vision, and the National Film Board was born." The NFB was created by an act of Parliament in 1939, the Massey Commission submitted its report in 1951, and the proper name for the NFB is the National Film Board of Canada. And the errors just keep coming, samples of which include: Louis B. Mayer was born in Russia, not Canada (p. 10); Grierson was labeled a "commie" because his secretary's name appeared in the Gouzenko spy papers not because of his "pronounced socialist values" (p. 12); Pour la suite du moude first aired on Radio-Canada in 1963, not 1964 (p. 17); Seul ou avec d'autres was not produced by Denys Arcand (p. 172), but by the student unio n at the University of Montreal and directed by Arcand, Denis Heroux and Stephane Venne; and Patricia Rozema was born in Kingston, Ontario, not Sarnia (p. 149).

However, factual errors, large or small, are not the main drawback to Weird Sex & Snowshoes. From the title to her 10 overly earnest essays, Monk somehow misses the boat. The title is particularly offensive since the issue of "weird sex" in Canadian film is a red herring at best, applicable to only a handful of films. Her reliance on out-of-date analysis and her constant references to Atwood, Carl Jung and Rene Descartes, suggest that she is an educated critic but not current with the latest thinking with regard to Canadian film. She ignores the up-and-coming Vancouver filmmakers - Bruce Sweeney, Mina Shum, Lynne Stopkewich - in her director profiles, odd since she comes from Vancouver, and makes no reference to the group of Toronto filmmakers who radically transformed English-Canadian cinema in 1980s. It's as if she has never read a copy of Take One.

Monk also ignores the overwhelming fact that our cinematic identity has been historically distorted by American distributors and exhibitors, who for many years actively discouraged the growth of a viable Canadian film industry. That's why we've got the NFB and not a commercial movie industry; that's why we became a nation restricted to producing art-house films - "condemned to originality," in the words of one of our greatest cineastes, Gilles Carle, who, by the way, didn't make it into Monk's book. With friends like Monk, Canadian cinema need never worry about its detractors.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Canadian Independent Film & Television Publishing Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Blakeman, Chris
Publication:Take One
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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