There's a line in the movie "Battle Beyond the Stars" (a cross between "Star Wars" and "The Magnificent Seven") when a burned out warrior, played by Robert Vaughn, is asked by a kid about when he was little. Vaughn replies: "I was never little." It's a funny line. After all, of course he was little once. But today's topic got me thinking about that scene.
Here's a thought: what makes a filmmaker? Specifically, what makes a filmmaker decide to be a filmmaker?
This topic came up -- as it has from time to time -- during a recent conversation I had about the nature of the Canadian film industry. And, to be precise, about the lack of commerciality in the Canadian film industry. Referring to a movie as "commercial" is seen as derogatory by some in the Canadian film biz, as if making a movie that people actually want to see is somehow a betrayal of the artistic process.
One can't help but wonder if the reason so many Canadian filmmakers don't want to make movies for the public is because they were never part of that public to begin with. They were never the sort of person who ever sat in a theatre, scrunched in their seat with a bag of greasy popcorn, eagerly waiting for the lights to go down and the fun -- yes, fun -- to begin. They don't want to make "popular" movies themselves, because they never liked those sorts of movies. They don't understand them, they don't, well, "get" it.
They were never "little", as Robert Vaughn's character would say.
It's hard to picture, say, a young Atom Egoyan running home after watching "Star Wars", swinging an old stick like it was a light saber and shouting "May the Force be with you!" at passers by. Maybe he did. But it's curious how rare it is to read a profile of some currently en vogue Canadian filmmaker in which he (or she) speaks, with a nostalgic shimmer in their eyes, about the magic shadows that brightened their lives before they ever put on the director's hat.
It's pretty obvious that TV filmmaker Ken ("The Newsroom") Finkleman was profoundly affected by Frederico Fellini, specifically "8 1/2". A movie that, though some people have heard of...most have never seen nor would have any desire to see. OK -- STOP!!! I know I'm going to get angry e-mails for that one, but it's true. I'm sure all of Ken Finkleman's friends have seen "8 1/2" and I'm sure every critic he's met, and most of the people he deals with in the Canadian film biz have seen it. But I stand by my statement. Most people in this country have never seem "8 1/2", and have no desire to. That's why, as Finkleman's post-Newsroom series get farther and farther from the mainstream, and closer to imitations of European art films, their ratings have dropped.
Patricia Rozema, meanwhile, once claimed in an interview that she had never even seen a movie until she was an adult. There was another TV producer (whose name escapes me) who proudly claimed that she never watched TV.
So what's wrong with that, you ask?
Well, put another way, there's a real feeling most Canadian filmmakers don't make their movies for the audience; if anything, they regard the audience with hostility, even contempt.
Is it any wonder that Canadian movies don't make money, and the Canadian public doesn't go to see Canadian movies? Can a filmmaker who can't remember a time when they loved movies -- I don't mean respected them, or found them interesting, but loved them with an unassuming, wide eyed innocence -- ever be expected to create that experiennce for the next generation?
American filmmaker Sam Raimi happily, even proudly admits his love of Spider-Man comics. And his Spider-Man motion picture has broken box office records. Why? Because he remembers what it is to be the audience. I'm not sure most Canadian filmmakers can say the same. And until we have filmmakers who do, can we ever hope to have a successful industry?
So the next time a journalist is interviewing a Canadian filmmaker, he or she should ask the subject what is his or her favourite movie. And what was his or her favourite movie as a kid? Ask what movie(s) do they actually have copies of, to watch when they're feeling blue, or on a rainy day? I think it would be fascinating to read their choices -- if any.
P.S. So where are those Canadian filmmakers who were the kind of loose-limbed geeks, gee-whizzing to the latest cinematic treat? They have names like James Cameron and Graham Yost and they go off to Hollywood where they get paid millions to recreate that special thrill for somebody else's film industry.
That's all for now,
The Masked Movie Critic
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