(10/11/06) – For many of those who first developed a taste for cinephilia in the 1980s, it is probable that the cinema of Canada was part of the post-modern repertory that provided an entry point to the world of films and pop culture in general. Denys Arcand, with his reference to Montreal in the title of Jesus of Montreal (1989), reminded people there was something exciting taking place in that part of the world. David Cronenberg had made a name for himself with his body-centred ‘venereal’ horror and a few years later the world was introduced to the idiosyncratic cinema of Atom Egoyan when he released Exotica (1994).
This is only a small part of the story, of course, but it sums up what is commonly known about Canadian cinema, which has a much wider range and tradition of films than the sporadic title that reaches foreign audiences would have us believe. This is due to several cultural reasons, including the country’s bilinguality and its geographic position as the United States’ northern, ‘less famous’ neighbour.
Wallflower’s The Cinema of Canada, published earlier this year, is a welcome addition to the literary corpus of Canadian film writing. Breezy and accessible in tone, it includes a preface by Atom Egoyan and contributions from several academics and film writers. Since it’s part of the publisher’s 24 Frames series, exactly that number of films were looked at.
The book is divided into three sections: French, English and aboriginal cinema and provides plenty of cultural and historical information to give the reader a precise understanding of context. Noticeably, Cronenberg and Guy Maddin were excluded while Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, which starred Canadian aboriginal actor and activist Gary Farmer, got in. The inevitable shortcoming of books based on textual analysis of films is that it’s tempting to skip the chapters dedicated to films you haven’t seen, and quite a few of the films analysed here are bound to be obscure to most people. But the detailed description made of each film provides enough information for the reader to follow the films’ storylines and grasp their cultural and political relevance. The Cinema of Canada is, first and foremost, a reference book configured as an intersection point for the various strands of Canadian cinema with a consistency of quality throughout its 24 case studies.
The Cinema of Canada is out now on Wallflower Press. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and help support Kamera by doing so.