The Railrodder (sic)

In 1964, director Gerald Potterton (of Heavy Metal fame) contacted Buster Keaton to star in a short movie where he would have to cross Canada on a single person railway “speeder”.  Keaton had been a silent film star since the early 1900s and was a huge box-office draw for short and feature films; acting, directing and doing his own stunts.  In the 50s his career was resurrected with a variety of television appearances and the airing of his short films. [1]

In the movie Keaton, an American, plays the role of an Englishman who reads an ad in the newspaper urging him to “See Canada!”  The way he imagines Canada is very stereotypical – trees, Mounties, wilderness, natives and wild animals.  The entire film is filled with stereotypes – the opening scene set in England to the sound of Big Ben chiming and other scenes of London, England.

One question I asked myself is whether it’s Potterton, an English director, who makes fun of his nation for the way they envision Canada, or is it American Keaton poking fun at the British for their views on the colony? Obviously, in 1964, England and America must have had a somewhat more realistic idea of Canada than that.  Possibly, after all, there are truths in these stereotypes, even if they don’t tell the whole story of Canada.  Possibly it’s just an idea of someone who loves Canada to show some of the amazing things the country has to offer; the film was imagined as a travelogue to be shown in theatres worldwide.[2]

When the movie came out, the reviews were mixed: With some critics arguing that there was too much scenery and not enough Keaton.[3]  I totally disagree. I think what makes this movie funny is the interaction-or lack of interaction- between Keaton and the landscape. Indeed, with a camera working in a lot of different angles, we watch Keaton too busy repairing his railway speeder to notice that the bridge his vehicle is on is swinging over the Lachine canal to let a boat go by.  Also, and this is the part that made me smile the most, our English tourist is having a very precious moment at teatime with Bison staring at him.  They cannot, however, disturb the serenity that a cup of tea is bringing – another example of the use of stereotypes for comedic effect.

In the end, Keaton reaches the Pacific Ocean and finally descends from the vehicle to take in the coast, only to have someone walk out of the water – dressed identically to our hero – and take the railway car back east, where Keaton’s adventure began.

I enjoyed this movie and I had fun to identify some of the stereotypes that I was familiar with, having come from outside of Canada.  I also enjoyed trying to pick out the places that I have seen, such as those shots of Montreal and Quebec City that were identifiable to me.   Overall, this short “travelogue” was fun and interesting and totally worth the 25 minutes to watch.

[1] Albert Ohayon, ‘’Buster Keaton rides the rail in Canada’’, NFB/Blog, December 11, 2009, http://blog.nfb.ca/blog/2009/12/11/buster-keaton-rides-the-rails-in-canada/ 2014/10/08/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Special Delivery

Special Delivery is an animated movie created by Eunice Macaulay; English animator and producer, and John Weldon, Canadian actor, composer, animator and movie director. In 1979, the film won the Oscar for best animated short.[1] Special Delivery has been considered the funniest short of its time[2]. I think it is a high quality movie but to simply say it’s ‘’funny’’ is insufficient. Adultery, crime, money concerns, justice, egocentrism are subjects treated in this 7 minute movie. I think it’s more a comment on humanity’s weakness and fearfulness. The funny part of the movie, in my mind, is that as the movies continues more and more bad situations, failures, mistakes and poor judgements keep arising.  As a viewer, I could not believe the accumulation of mistakes Ralph and his wife managed to make in just seven minutes.

Another quality of the movie is the simplicity of the drawing, allowing the spectator focus on the plot and not on the décor. Notwithstanding the simplicity of the animation the body’s movements are well studied and represented. Emotions are easily recognizable in the animated figures: The position of the body is often characteristic of the feeling it portrays.

The movie also comments on the justice system and the health system. Both the police and the doctor make mistakes. It makes some social observations as well: such as when the police wonder how a postal worker could own such a big house?  As well, the “fear” that many characters have of the power of the postal workers union.

In conclusion, this is a movie well put together in only 7 minutes.  It makes some big general observations, and the narrator’s steady and unwavering tone – with all of the craziness going on – almost makes the plot and the interactions seem normal or matter-of-fact.

[1] Wise, Wyndham, Eunice Makaulay, February 28, 2012, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/eunice-macaulay/ (accessed October 1, 2014).

[2]Wise, Wyndham, Eunice Makaulay, February 28, 2012, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/eunice-macaulay/ (accessed October 1, 2014).

PINA

PINA is a movie dedicated to Philippine (Pina) Bausch directed by Wim Wenders. Pina, born in 1940 in Solingen, Germany, was a dancer and a choregrapher and was best known for her “Tanztheater” located close to Wuppertal, Germany. Wenders and Pina were longtime friends and had been contemplating a collaborative project about Pina’s work: The project was intended to highlight Pina’s beautiful choregraphy. However, it wasn’t until the idea of using 3-D struck Wenders that the project began to take shape as a semi-biographical. Production began in 2009. Yet, six months later Pina died. After a period of mourning, Pina’s dancers and Wim Wenders decided to do the movie without her as a tribute. After all, her presence and work was still embodied in her dancers.

Never before, a movie made me realise what dance can say that words cannot.  It completely expresses what dance is, based almost entirely on visual communication.  Words fail to describe the deep emotions that this movie, and the individual performances, convey.  I caught myself smiling during the performance, and having my eyes full of tears during another one. It’s a magnificent expression of  feelings – fear, joy, calmness of soul, confidence, excitment and so on.  I believe that this movie was so powerful because of Wender`s ability to position you, as a spectator, not only from a distance, watching, but right in the middle of the group at times. Also, Wenders allows us to watch Pina interacting with her company people. It is magnificent to see a dancer create a motion based on the talk Pina and her/him just had.Wenders, by doing this, enables the spectator  to see the link between Pina and her dancers. We become witnesses of their intimacy.

Furthermore, in my opinon, the viewer is transported as if within a moving painting because of the magical aesthetic of the images and their locations. Indeed, Wenders takes Pina dancers outdoor. Dance movements and colors are combined and contrasted  with urban motion and either the greyness of the town or purity of the colors of nature.

PINA is a movie that will raise  the spirits of it’s spectators.  Dancers, lovers of dance, or even people who didn’t think they could appreciate a movie about such an amazing choregrapher. It’s a movie not only to see, but to watch over and over!