Friday, May 7, 2010

Goin' Down The Road

(Don Shebib, 1970)
Among other things, this glorious film is this country's unmatched wellspring of cinematic cliche. Consolidating the 60s NFB aesthetic of social realist character drama, it turned the style into a dubious yardstick of patriotism for years to come, yet in this rendition it's moving and hilarious all at once. We've long since tired of the indie trick of actors staring off into space, but here the device actually conveys the weight of the class/culture dilemmas these unschooled characters yearn so hopelessly to transcend. Perhaps most impressive, Bruce Cockburn's quite literal musical commentary adds immeasurably to the film's emotional power where most such scoring reeks of lazy redundancy. After all, none of these things would have become cliches if Don Shebib's rendition hadn't unleashed their archetypal power: up against Paul Bradley's amiably helpless go-with-the-flow and Jayne Eastwood's reluctant dependency, Doug McGrath's disruptive, self-centered restlessness takes on heroic force even if he is doomed to fail. While his impossible dream may be defined by the specifics of Canada's unknowable sprawl, the impact of every vivid, squalid episode is as universal as it is unique, and more powerful for its dogged irresolution.

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