Thursday, October 21, 2010

Canada's Sweetheart: The Saga of Hal C. Banks

(Donald Brittain, 1985)
Deft, ironic, and scathing, this excellent film achieves the mythical synthesis of drama and documentary. One reason is that Brittain actually understands drama, and the many re-enactments and speculative dramatizations are achieved with a precision and wit that the wonderful cast could not have achieved without his steady hand. Further, where archival inserts and retrospective interviews can usually be counted on to drag such projects to a screeching halt, here the mixing of media actually adds energy to a narrative that would otherwise be rather heavy on the union meetings. One reason you notice the film's wondrous balance is that, regrettably, it eventually loses it - while the courtroom drama of the third act is better than most it remains courtroom drama, and for its duration the multiplicity of inputs is boiled down to a less than satisfying transcript. But even Brittain's occasionally pushy narration can't stop Maury Chaykin in his riveting performance as the common thug turned Commie-busting union boss - the film presents so much factual evidence of the guy's rampaging malevolence that Chaykin is free to concentrate on the endearing eccentricities that the absolutely powerful are free to indulge in. While Brittain's larger social critique unfolds in measured tones, you can't miss the parallel between Banks' goldfish and Jack Pickersgill's sausage dog.

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