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|Written by Frederick Hidell|
|Wednesday, 15 April 2009 19:00|
What does it mean to be Canadian? How do we define ourselves as a people? Other than Tim Horton's, poutine, and hockey, what can we latch onto as unequivocally ours? (And can we really hang that much cultural weight on hooks so flimsy as a French fry dish and a cup of coffee?) These aren't easy questions to answer, which is perhaps why "what is Canadian cinema?" is an even more difficult question to tackle.
Even when large numbers of Canadians craftspeople are intimately involved in the creative process, movies still aren't necessarily considered Canadian. Meanwhile, numerous American films, with largely Canadian crews, are being shot everyday in Canadian cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Just where one should draw the line between Canadian and American cinematic output can be rather vague. Canadian companies like Alliance Atlantis and Lionsgate largely distribute American films, and many Hollywood films are, in fact, Canadian/American co-productions.
The strange relationship between Canadian and American cinema is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that one of the highest grossing American films of all time, Titanic, was written and directed by a Canadian (James Cameron), while the highest grossing Canadian film of all time, Porky's, was written and directed by an American (Bob Clark). Just think about that little nugget of info while you chow down on your Beaver Tail.
Porky's, a 1982 teen sex comedy in the vein of American Pie, about a group of teens who seek revenge on the owner of the eponymous named strip club and brothel after he ejects the teens from the club, was set and filmed in Miami, Florida. The film goes out of its way to establish its American roots. A Southern Cross flag leans in the corner of the cowboy filled strip club, the stars and stripes hang on the wall in the principal's office at the high school, and the entire film has a distinctive southern American white trash flair. What, then, makes this film Canadian?
Well, it stars several Canadian actors (including British/Canadian actress Kim Cattrall), but the presence of Canadian performers hardly makes a film Canadian by definition. No one would dare call Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith a Canadian movie simply because it stars Hayden Christensen or the Austin Powers films Canadian because they star Mike Meyers.
Porky's actually gets the "Canadian" designation because it was produced by a Canadian production company with Canadian dollars. In the Canadian government's "tax shelter" era of filmmaking in the 1970s, dollars were everything. The film is therefore "Canadian" primarily because it took advantage of a Canadian tax break.
Throughout the 20th century, the Canadian government played a strong role in the promotion of Canadian cinematic production and in the determination of just what is considered Canadian film. The creation of the National Film Board in 1939 was a major event, followed a decade later by an accompanying 1950 National Film Act that gave the NFB the mandate to "interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations." The NFB went on to win more animation and documentary Academy Awards than any other institution in the world. In 1968 the Canadian Film Development Corporation (now Telefilm Canada) was established to provide financial support to the private sector to create distinctively Canadian productions that appeal to domestic and international audiences.
By the 1970s, Canadian cinema had entered "the tax shelter" era. Intended to promote Canadian productions by offering significant tax credit incentives, the federal policy resulted in films with no distinctly Canadian content seeking the "Canadian" designation because it was financially advantageous to do so.
Which brings us back to Bob Clark's Porky's...
What is the legacy Porky's leaves us with as Canadians? Is the film as bad or as sleazy as its reputation would have us believe? Hardly. But it's not that great a movie either. Much like the teen sex comedies that followed in its wake over the last 25 years, Porky's is at its best when it is at its most outrageous. The famous shower room voyeur scene, from which the movie's poster was derived, lives up to its promise with full frontal female nudity and a penis tug-of-war that really is funny. But when the film strives to integrate stories of tolerance ("hey, that Jewish kid really ain't half bad") and family conflict ("my dad is an ex-con alcoholic who beats me") the narrative just feels trite and the performances forced. The film wants to have a heart, but it ultimately plays just as crass and cacophonous as the marching band in its final scene.
In a day and age where Sex Drive and its utterly brilliant unrated DVD release offers all the full frontal nudity a pubescent teen could ever wish for (by haphazardly digitally inserting seven or eight additional nude men and women into the theatrical cut of the film -- to hilarious effect) one wonders if there is any room left for a movie like Porky's. It seems to serve as little more than an embarrassing blemish on the history of Canadian cinema. Which is perhaps why people were so eager to see Bon Cop, Bad Cop surpass its box office gross (it didn't if inflation is taken into account). While the success of Porky's says much about the Canadian film industry in the late 70s and early 80s, it unfortunately has virtually nothing to say about who we are as a people.
We intend to make (Cult)ure's Canadian Cinema Canon an on-going feature, so, if nothing else, starting with Porky's means it can only get better from here, right?
Bring on Meatballs!
An Easy Definition for "Canadian" Movies
is that it is about Canadians in Canada.
A movie about Canadians in Canada--Wolverine would qualify then--it was about Canadian mutant brothers.