| The rap against Canadian cinema is that our filmmakers are unaware as to how to make a film comedy. They explore despair and gloom with the best of them, yet when it comes to making audiences laugh, they miss the mark. As a point of honour I will not include Meatballs (1980) or Porky s (1982) because the humour within is so low brow it borders on being insulting.|
Hollywood North, an astute study of the Canadian film industry in the late seventies is a happy exception to that rule. This is a funny movie, damn funny, and deserves to be a greater success than it will likely be. As of Friday, January 30, the film will open in two theatres in the Toronto area, which when you consider the quality of the piece is sort of sad. When will our audiences start going to see homegrown cinema? It is no longer a question of the quality because Canada s cinema is recognized as among the finest in the world, but for some reason there is this odd stigma and rejection from our own audiences.
In Hollywood North we see many of the major problems in making a film in this country in the seventies. Though we had the great successes of Goin Down the Road (1970), Lies My Father Told Me (1975) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), getting funding for a film was in itself a battle worthy of a film. With so much red tape to cut through just to obtain funding, no wonder there were so few films made in the seventies.
It is 1979, which was a heyday for the Canadian tax shelter films. A young lawyer turned movie producer Bobby Meyers (Matthew Modine) has purchased the rights to a best selling Canadian novel entitled Lantern Moon. Seeking some sort of credibility for his project he hires a respected though washed-up elderly director Henry Neville (John Neville) to helm the project, but badly needs to attract an American star to complete the financing. He finds him in Michael Baytes (the late Alan Bates), a one time star that is now a nut case obsessed with weaponry. Quickly Lantern Moon becomes Flight to Bagota and begins to have no relation to the award winning novel upon which it is based. Bobby gives up creative control to Baytes in order to gain his services, and quickly when shooting starts the production spirals radically out of control. From a star who suffers from paranoid delusions, to an actress who loves sex, to a documenting who is quietly billing her processing to his production, Bobby sees his dream production sinking fast. When the esteemed author makes a visit to the set, the jig is up and she sees how he has bastardized her novel.
Beautifully written by Tony Johnston, Hollywood North pokes fun at the Canadian system while making a strong satirical commentary on the manner in which films were once made in this country. Are we so obsessed with the American star system that we actually believe an American star is necessary for a Canadian film to make it? Obviously in the late seventies we certainly were as Canadian films such as The Changeling (1979), Tribute (1980) and Middle Age Crazy (1980) featured George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon and Bruce Dern respectively.
How ironic is it that Hollywood North stars Matthew Modine??
That said Modine is terrific as a man who just firmly believes that Lantern Moon would make a terrific film and truly wants to see that accomplished. He can do little but stand by when things get out of control. It is a terrific comedic performance from one of the more under valued actors in the business.
Stealing the show are John Neville s gentle old director and the late, great Alan Bates wacky movie star. Without saying much Neville walks away with every scene he is in, his very presence suggesting some once great filmmaker who never got the break he needed because he never left the country. Bates is hysterically good as a movie star who is off his rocker, with too much money and too much time on his hands to allow his fantasies to become his reality. There is excellent supporting work from Deborah Kara Unger) as a serious minded filmmaker who sees in her documentary about the making of Flight to Bogota a chance to get her own film made and paid for&what she does not count on is falling hard for the producer. Jennifer Tilly is very fine as the buxom (and willing) star who sees every leading man as some sort of vain conquest, and Kim Coates is superb as an arrogant star who learns the value of stunt people.
It is my sincere hope for Hollywood North that there is an audience for it because it certainly deserves it. Funny, biting and scathing in its study of the Canadian movie making system, it is a film all should see in order to understand the very difficulty in getting a Canadian film just financed, let alone finished.
A wonderful movie.