April 2016 happens to be the 50th issue of Toronto Film Scene. Over the last few years we’ve focused as much as possible on the world of Canadian film and our writers have all had opportunities to watch some great Canadian movies in that time. To celebrate not only our 50th issue, but Canadian film in general, we’ve gathered our writers together to share their favourite moment in Canadian film.
Raj-Kabir Birk: Max Renn (James Woods) sits in an abandoned boat watching television. The television shows a video of himself raising a fleshy gun-shaped hand to his head and proclaiming “long live the flesh” before shooting himself. The television explodes and human intestines shoot out of the screen. Max, watching this unfold, raises his own hand to his head, also fleshy and gun-shaped. “Long live the flesh” he utters before shooting himself. Thus ends David Cronenberg’s masterful Videodrome. An engaging science-fiction imbued with prescient social commentary, Videodrome is ever more applicable in the contemporary moment of mediated content and mediated selves.
Nicole Frangos: Black Christmas (1974) is definitely my favourite Canadian film – it also happens to be my favourite horror movie, ever. Director Bob Clark establishes tension and creeps me out at the same time. My favourite scene happens around the climax of the film. [SPOILERS AHEAD! If you haven’t seen this movie yet though, honestly what are you waiting for?] After she realizes that the killer is indeed in the house, Jess (Olivia Hussey) basically freaks the eff out – the terror in her eyes and her screams are so real they put me on edge each time I watch this movie. A confrontation with the killer happens shortly after this and there’s one shot of the killer’s hand as it enters the frame and pulls on Jess’ hair. It’s the most of the killer we’ve seen up until this point – somehow, because he’s still anonymous, that pull of the hair is more terrifying to me than a full-on stabbing scene. It’s just great.
Aren Bergstrom: Most of the great moments in Canadian cinema have been provided by one man: David Cronenberg. Despite the greatness of Dead Ringers or Videodrome, the scene that always springs to mind is from 1996’s Crash. Crash follows James Spader’s film director, Ballard, as he explores the underworld of car crash fetishism, introduced to him by the mysterious Vaughan (Elias Koteas). Late in the film, Ballard and Vaughan come across a fatal accident on the highway, where Vaughan discovers his stuntman friend dressed as Jayne Mansfield dead beneath one of the vehicles. Vaughan had been planning on recreating Mansfield’s crash himself, so the sight of his friend stealing his glory sends him into a fit of jealous panic. Crash is Cronenberg exploring the sexual melding of man and machine, as Vaughan would say. The way he drapes the scene in smoke from the damaged vehicles (venting from the cars like sexual release) and focuses on Vaughan’s face as he spots the dog in the back seat of his friend’s car (another recreation from the actual Mansfield crash) shows us an orgasm without actually showing us an orgasm. It’s a moment so explicit, yet so subtle. It’s also dangerous in a way that most Canadian cinema isn’t, pushing the boundaries of taste and forcing us to contemplate the deviance of our own nature.
Katie O’Connor: I have always held Strange Brew as one of my most favourite childhood movies. One of the most memorable scenes from the film is watching Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis in the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane. Both Bob and Doug are held in a padded cell wearing straight jackets and start fighting over which side of the room is their’s. To this, Doug begins to steamroll Bob.
Nothing better than watching two Canadian greats steamrolling each other in PJ bottoms and straight jackets.
Ariel Fisher: One of my favourite moments in Canadian film is from The Changeling; a 1980’s classic, which also marks one of my earliest experiences with horror. The film is about bereaved composer and concert pianist John Russell (George C. Scott), haunted by the ghost of a little crippled boy by the name of Joseph Carmicheal, and attempting to unearth the truth about his tragic murder. One of my favourite moments takes place just following a séance held in an attempt to contact the disturbed spirit. On the recording, a young boy’s ethereal voice tearfully reveals the details of his own horrible death. Disturbed by the tape, John calls Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), a friend who’s helped him investigate the strange goings on in his rented home. After playing the recording for her, and speculating the nefarious truth behind the boy’s murder, Claire storms into the hall in tearful disbelief, only to stop suddenly, staring wide-eyed at the top of an ornate staircase. There, creaking towards the edge of the topmost step, sits Joseph Carmichael’s old, cobweb-covered wheelchair, having mysteriously made its way down from the fourth-floor attic where he was hidden all his short life, and murdered. It’s a moment that still stops my heart to this day, sending chills down my spine and frightening me in a lasting way few other films have managed.
Sean Kelly: I’m not sure if I can declare a single favourite moment in Canadian film, but a very notable one for sure comes from Claude Jutra’s 1971 drama Mon Oncle Antoine. This involves a scene where the boss from the local mine rides down the street throwing Christmas trinkets, only to be pelted by snowballs by the protagonist Benoit and his friend. This supports the popular interpretation that the events of the film are a prelude to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, with Benoit demonstrating throughout the film that he has a rebellious spirit, who is willing to speak out against the establishment.
Amanda Clarke: One of the sexiest scenes ever committed to film comes from Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. With her marriage in a rut, Michelle William’s Margot falls for Luke Kirby’s Daniel. When the two meet at a cafe after she has decided to stay with her husband, Margot asks Daniel what it would be like if they slept together. His description is straight out of some of the best erotic fiction, wonderfully vivid and visceral. There is no nudity and no physical contact between the two characters, but that’s what makes it so effective. It leaves the images to the imagination, and lets you feed your own experiences and fantasies into the fantasies of Margot and Daniel, which is so much better than anything Polley could have shown. It’s indecent in the best possible way because you almost feel like you are intimately involved in their sex lives as opposed to simply being an objective observer.
Mark Hanson: The head exploding scene from Scanners. David Cronenberg’s breakthrough film crossed over to American audiences by proving he could keep up with the likes of Carpenter, Craven and Hooper. Nowhere in the splatter-fest that is Scanners is that more apparent than in the legendary head-explosion scene. It still remains a benchmark in practical gore FX and its placement early on in the film lets the viewer know right away that there aren’t going to be any of the typical Canadian niceties here.
Will Brownridge: My favourite moment in Canadian film isn’t actually from within a movie, but it does involve the amazing film Pontypool. This was the first film that not only was I aware of how Canadian it was, but that was actually one of the reasons I went to the theatre to watch it. Personally, I’ve always felt the problem is that we don’t support Canadian films enough, so I gathered up a group of friends and we headed off to the theatre to watch Pontypool. I loved it, although my friends didn’t, but I was happy to put 5 tickets purchases towards a great Canadian film.
Andrew Parker: My favourite place to go to look down upon the city and contemplate it’s beauty, The Baldwin Steps at the intersection of Spadina and Davenport hold a special place in my heart, and although there’s some digital trickery involved (particularly with regard to how well lit everything is), Edgar Wright captured the iconic, winding, and formidable local landmark and what makes it so special throughout Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. After vanquishing evil ex-boyfriend, actor, and skateboarder Lucas Lee (Chris Evans, in his best non-Marvel role), Scott (Michael Cera) and his roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) look down upon the entire city. While the Baldwin Steps and surrounding area show up a few times in the film, watching Lucas insignificantly explode into a bunch of coins after failing to do “a grindy thingy” down the rickety railings lining the steps holds a moment of quaintness. It perfectly showcases how large the city is; larger than the personalities that populate it. Minus Scott being super bummed he can’t get the change he needs for TTC fare, it’s a uniquely contemplative shot in one of the few Hollywood productions that allowed the city to play itself.