In 2002, Playback magazine did a poll to determine the best Canadian films of all time. It’s an eclectic, but genuinely Canadian list. With Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter at #1, the remainder of the list is a who’s who of classic Canadian film with entries from Don McKellar, Claude Jutra, Donald Shebib and Denys Arcand (Arcand and Egoyan received two spots each). It is not a mystery then, that Bruce McDonald is also on this list, but what might surprise is the film. It wasn’t Highway 61 or Roadkill. It wasn’t even Dance Me Outside. It was Hard Core Logo, coming in as the 4th best Canadian film of all time (as voted by Playback’s readership at the time). It is very interesting that in a sea of Canadian film, this mockumentary about four aging punk rockers who are grasping at fame’s last straw comes in as one of our best. This is, of course, why TIFF’s Canadian Open Vault series will be screening the film on Friday, April 6, 2012.
Many members of the Toronto New Wave have long been said to make films that add to a collective Canadian cannon that represents our collective identity, but there’s something special about the way Bruce McDonald does it. Maybe it’s because he has dedicated much of his career ““ on screen and off ““ to the creation of a Canadian mythology. Maybe it’s because he’s been instrumental in the formation of infrastructure for independent filmmakers in Canada. Maybe it’s because he continues to embrace the artist’s lifestyle and can still be found riding his bike on Queen Street or getting a coffee at Dark Horse. Maybe it’s because he has a habit of adapting some of our most visceral novels into brilliantly imagined films.
Of that list of Canadian novels he’s adapted, Hard Core Logo is a nearly perfect specimen. Based on the Canadian novel of the same name by Michael Turner, which was written in the format of a scrapbook, including photos, poems, writing and additional materials from band’s last tour, the film deftly weaves together a visual scrapbook-like mock documentary that has inspired many a real documentary in the years since its creation. The film is the now infamous story of the band Hard Core Logo, a group of four punk rockers ““ Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon), Billy Tallent* (Callum Keith Rennie), John Oxenberger (John Pyper-Ferguson) and Pipefitter (Bernie Coulson) ““ who have broken up for the usual reasons bands break up. Hearing that his mentor and inspiration, Bucky Haight (Julian Richings), has been shot and may lose his legs, Dick gets the band back together for a benefit in Bucky’s honour. After the success of the benefit performance, Dick convinces the band to get back together to do a last cross-Canada five-date tour. As the tour progresses, old demons begin to surface and it becomes clear that Dick may not have been completely up front about his motives.
When this film came out it was not a wild commercial success (at least not by today’s standards), but it certainly didn’t fall below the radar. Steve Gravestock, Associate Director, Canadian Programming, remembers seeing the trailer at the Uptown 1 before a major blockbuster. “I think I thought it was a Rolling Stones or U2 concert doc and it turned out to be Hard Core Logo, which was way cooler.” This vigorous promotion might have been why the film became such an underground success, with people across the country hearing of or seeking it out, either on the big screen or when the film was released for home viewing. As to why the film sticks with people so much, Gravestock says, “It’s a very hip movie. I think it was timed right in terms of kind of end of that punk rock sensibility. It was plugged into the zeitgeist.” For additional evidence, he references a passage in the monograph written by Paul McEwan (entitled Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo, co-published by TIFF and the University of Toronto Press) in which McEwan describes the impossibility of selling out in Canada, since there’s no one to sell out to, making it a very realistic Canadian band film, even if it’s fiction. “It takes their issues about integrity and what they’re actually trying to say in a quite serious way,” Gravestock says, “but it’s also really good at addressing the inherent humour in the situation. These guys are all wise-asses. And they’re still sort of scrabbling and to mouth and this tour is supposed to be a triumphant reunion and they’re playing the same crappy clubs with no ryders and whatever. They’re obviously doing it for love on some level, and not for the music. In some ways the film’s like a romance between two arrested adolescents.”
When a film becomes an icon, it’s sometimes difficult to see it for what it is ““ entertainment. Despite its intelligence and poignancy, it’s an entertaining story about a group of guys who never really moved past a moment in time. For the viewer, there is an extra layer of pleasure in watching Hard Core Logo. Films about the breakdown of a band are not scarce, but it’s difficult to watch them without the additional pain and sadness of watching talented people throw their lives away over petty differences, drugs, mental illness and women. What Hard Core Logo can offer its audience that those docs can’t is the added layer of security in knowing that these are realistic events, not actual ones. It’s in this way that the film allows us to really look at what’s going on, while never once having to say, “tsk, that’s so sad.” The performances are spectacular and brilliant, never missing a single moment of tension or lightness and perfectly mimicing the dynamics of a band. In a way, their arrested development reminds us all of what it was like to be carefree and young, while also reminding us just how far we’ve come.
When I asked Gravestock why people should see this movie, he said simply, “I think people should see it because it kicks ass!” And that is perectly true.
Hard Core Logo screens a newly struck print on Friday, April 6, 2012 at 9:30 pm, preceded by the short film Issues, also starring Hugh Dillon. Check the TIFF website for details and tickets.
*No, that is not spelled incorrectly. Yes, teen rockers Billy Talent are named for this character.
Latest posts by Trista DeVries (see all)
- From “sissy” to Brokeback Mountain: a brief history of queer cinema – May 13, 2013
- Review: Blackbird – May 10, 2013
- Review: I Declare War – May 10, 2013