Thursday, September 09, 2010


OR: An Analysis of the Canadian Cultural Dilemma

To mark the opening of the 35th Toronto International Film Festival, I am deferring to guest blogger Nick Mancuso.

Nick and I have been friends since we both had to learn Kazak dancing for the original stage production of Carol Bolt's "Red Emma". We worked together several times on stage before he broke into films, won a Best Actor Genie Award in "Ticket To Heaven" and became a Canadian star in Hollywood.

In the intervening decades, we've crossed paths repeatedly, working in films or series I've written or produced, living in each other's homes and shepherding one another in and out of various marriages. I also have the great honor of being Godfather to his son Sasha, named after the character he played in "Red Emma".

Nick has always been a passionate advocate for the rights of Canadian performers and creative artists, often making his case in personal one-on-one meetings with everybody from industry players to Prime Ministers. This is a guy who has never shrugged off the mantle success granted him or forgotten either where he came from or where he was heading.

Like Nick, I have concerns about what the Toronto International Film Festival has become and how it has warped the path and perception of Canadian films in my country. But he makes the case much more eloquently than I ever will.

The following was written pretty much stream of consciousness a couple of years ago as he and his friend Ed observed the Festival from a cafe patio overlooking the scene…

In the I Ching the Chinese Book of Changes, a book that traces its origins into the mists of time, the Oracle talks about the theatre and therefore by extension the cinema in the following manner:

“Music and pantomime (the theatre) exists to create a bridge to the world of the unseen…. He who could wholly comprehend this could rule the world as though it were spinning in his hand.... True fellowship with men must be based upon a concern that is universal.”

A concern that is universal, and ruling the world as though it were spinning in his hands. A strong brew indeed...

In these two ideas, the massing together of people to view and experience the theatre and cinema, there is the recognition that what we call the Culture of a nation at one time was regarded as supremely important human activity. The collection of people within a community to experience something together was not only an opportunity for the community to experience itself but in this enthusiastic gathering of individuals a group understanding was revealed and re-enacted and thus the; “most sacred of human feelings-reverence for the ancestors” and “religious feelings for the Creator" were united.

Reverence for the Ancestors...? Religious feelings? A far cry from chomping popcorn on a Saturday night at the movies. And yet the operating principles, the gist of undercurrent of these ideas remain the same.

The theatre and movies, cinema and performance bring people together under the roof of a common humanity, and by doing so serve an important purpose. They provide purpose and direction.

You don’t know where you are going until you know where you come from and to know something is to have memory. And a society without memory, like a person, is insane.

The movies remind us of who are and who and what we should be. Art, un-interfered with is one of the great goods of a nation. Interfered with it is a disaster.

tiff 2

Aristotle points out that the Theatre, and specifically Tragedy (what we today call Drama or Action-Adventure) is the imitation of an action but it is one in which the imitation elicits in the viewer the purgation of terror (fear) and the creation of pity (compassion for others) and as such Art serves a moral purpose.

There is an ethical undercurrent in operation in all Art and, defining Ethics as Reason, it is always an attempt to restore balance to disharmony. It provides hope for the future. It does not fragment, it unites.

The movies tell us that the universe we live in is all right in the end. And when they’re done right they make us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in.

These ideas vaguely percolate under my Actor's skull as next to me a couple of autograph hounds, backs to me and my pal Ed, eagerly exchange information about which American star was where and who had been sighted. There is a high pitched thrill in their voices, like people undergoing a powerful transformative experience, an excitement that is almost repellent. It irritates me.

“Robert Altman’s in that limo. Look he’s coming out now!

“Look its Pam Drexel and I can see Kim Cattrall!”

A big to-do in the side entrance of the hotel as various American movie stars are hustled through. I can vaguely see protective bodyguards talking into their collars. It’s like an entrance of the President of these here United States.

There is something nauseating about the experience. And I start to feel internally irritated, then angry and finally –- hateful.

“I hate the fucking Toronto International Film Festival!” I blurt out to Ed who is slurping his tall decaf regular. Ed seems surprised, almost as if I had committed a sacrilege of some kind. “It’s not just the sea of backs and traffic jams and crazy pointless flurry of activity. I find it insulting. Personally so! What’s it about?”

“You're just upset cause you weren’t invited.”

“Maybe. But there’s something more that really bothers me." Ed rolls his eyes upwards in a 'here we go again' kind of look. He is used to my rants.


“It’s all this Britney Spears generational thing. This constant blare of activity and screaming over the void. What’s this got to do with Canada? All of it funded by your and my tax dollars. This is the Canadian agenda?” Ed’s eyes glaze over.

“The what? I like Britney Spears. And Paris Hilton…what a babe! Those lips…”

A dreamy far away look overcomes Ed as the ice cream slowly melts on his chin.

“You’ve got chocolate sauce on your face.” I state flatly ,wondering if I will ever get through to this idiot.

“You ever think about what the Festival means, what it originally meant and what it originally represented?"

“Sure.” Ed says, “They show a lot of movies and a lot of movie stars show up and there’s a lot of parties. Good for business.It's made us a world-class city”

I feel a jolt in my stomach.

tiff 3

“What about the Canadian movies? Since the Canadian taxpayer is paying for these cultural events, 15 cents on the dollar. Where are the Canadian movie stars, writers, directors? How come there’s no hoopla for them, unless they’re coming in from Hollywood like a Keanu Reeves or a Jim Carrey? Why is the Canadian taxpayer paying to advertise Hollywood product? Make sense to you?”

“Oh grow up!” Ed licks his cone.

In the early 80’s, Ed had been a gold patron of the festival but quit in disgust as he watched the hustlers and the sleazy operators take over.

“Let me ask you something, Ed. What would Plato have asked 2400 years ago about its nature?"

“Plato would have lined up for popcorn just like every other teenie bopper.” He stares longingly as a couple of Britney Spears type’s stroll by eating gelatos. “Wish I could eat those gelatos “ He mutters.

“The 60’s are long gone, Ed. So are the dreams of a nation that has sold its birthright. We had a Prime Minister taking cash in suitcases in a hotel room, like an episode of "The Sopranos". Canada was sold to the lowest bidder. It's a dead issue!”

The girls rush by excited and squealing. They have spotted a Brad Pitt look-a-like and pandemonium breaks out. I stare flatly into the hot night, getting a headache and wondering what flavor of gelato I would have to eat to wake up.

In his Poetics, Aristotle, (the very first Syd Field) points out very accurately that there were two approaches to the idea of the theatre and by extension the cinema. He understood that the theatre existed to elicit pleasure but that it could also act as instruction for the mature mind. And that it was through this union of the terrible and the pitiable that pleasure was created and information transmitted.

Hence action movies and love stories, in our age.

But the theatre also served the purpose of purgation, cleansing the community of its invisible demons and eliciting the angels.

Catharsis, in which the hidden and unconscious fears of a society are brought to the surface and thereby vanquished. Pity or Compassion was the end product of this process. Humanization. Music that hath the power to sooth the savage breast. "No buziness like show buziness" etc.

“Like nooooo buzinazzzz ahhhh knowwww, everything about it is aaapeealllling....”

It is for this reason the ancient Athenians had a theatre tax for those who did not attend plays. It was a duty, a civic act of responsibility. Perhaps those Greeks knew a thing of two. Canada, in that sense, is very ancient Athenian. It is taxing people for not going to see Canadian film.


tiff 4

If the Canadian government was authentically serious about so-called Canadian Culture it might consider such genuine an option. And take that money and feed its own artists.

But it should not be funding Miami CSI (Alliance Atlantis) or the Toronto International Film Festival. Or accepting the Superbowl as Canadian Content because of “Canadian interest”. Fact.

If the Canadian taxpayer is forced on paying his tax dollars into a cultural agenda, amounting to almost 15 percent, the average Canadian deserves to have that money used for Canadian cultural workers. And no restrictions of any kind should be held over those artists as a kind of bureaucratic sword of Damocles. No mandates, no demand for “commercial product.”

Or cut it all off.

In the current situation, Canadian performers receive about 2 cents on the film dollar, with writers receiving about 3. Crews working on film sets in what was at one time a 4 billion dollar industry get 4 times what the Canadian actor gets. In the end about 70 percent supports a bureaucracy and the erstwhile “management teams".

In effect, one man sweeps the floor and 9 men manage his sweeping and receive 10 to 1 what the sweeper gets. How in any way can a system this idiotic pretend that it supports the Arts?

If the Canadian Film industry were a painting on a wall, the size of the frame holding the canvas would be on a 7 to 3 ratio. Some painting.

But then what is to be expected of a nation that forces the Ross Rifle on its soldiers, ensuring their deaths in the trenches of WW1, then dishonors and forgets its heroes?

Canadian governments have never been representatives of the people and by the people. Their orders have always come from the outside. England. France. The USA. So why would Government support the arts, except in name only?

Why should the average Canadian foot the bill so that the children of the ruling class can play dress up for their relatives and friends?

And why should universites, colleges and schools pump out a stream of acting, film and TV graduates with no place to go? Except for Hollywood, which is no longer what it used to be.

Especially since every actor crossing the border is immediately an “illegal alien” if he has “intention to work”, a situation created by Canadian unions when they, under nationalist fervor, separated from their American brothers. SAG and American Equity immediately pushed regulations to prevent Canadian “acting” competition from entering the USA.

The end result,thanks to Mulrooney’s “Free Trade” agreement with Washington, in which no change can be made to the Canadian Cultural mandate without approval from Washington, was the creation of cultural apartheid.

“So you see, Ed, the Canadian artist is a 3rd class citizen and he is the “excuse” for the downloading of his parents and his own tax dollars to which he has little no access, thanks to to his own government."

Ed is distracted by the excitement as yet another 'Star sighting' takes place. 

"The artist in Canada is a scapegoat, a “patsy”used as a method by unscrupulous and ignorant producers and bureaucrats to leverage Canadian tax payer dollars. It does NOT support the artist; in fact, it oppresses him and he foots the bill for the jackboot pushing in his face."

The girls squeal. Flashbulbs flash. Ed's ice cream cone melts.

“The trouble with the movies is..that it is an art form disguised as a business and a business disguised as an art form”

Charlton Heston  - Spoken to me during the shooting of "MotherLode"

All comments to this post will be moderated by Nick Mancuso.


The Motorcycle Boy said...

This paradigm of labourers (artists) vs administrators (money makers) unfortunately exists in every human endeavor.

My old man used to complain about the same thing - and he was a gold miner.

But what I'm really interested in is some stories about STINGRAY!

Coke? Whores? Wild 80's Parties?

I've always meant to pick-up one of Mr. Cannell's novels. Maybe I'll do that now.

Right on Nick. Look forward to more.

John McFetridge said...

This may all be true about the movie business, but it isn't true about Canadian "culture" in other forms.

Just look atthe Canadian publishing industry that with far, far less investment from the government it's an industry that manages to tell Canadian stories both for Canadians and around the world - prize-winning literary stuff and genre bestsellers.

nm said...

writers write whether or not they get paid,film and tv performers cant they need a hundred people to help them do their work, take a look at the reality stats- the issue here is that the system does not support its artists but pretends to-it cant and it wont and then covers it up with the "gee look at all the hoopla"bullshit, its bernaise sauce on rotten moose meat-the endless festivals are all about covering up the true facts of the canadian system which at root is "iatrogenic",a disease caused by doctors and medecine,it kills what it supposedly cures, its as idiotic as the collector lanes and the st claire streetcar constructions which in the last 3 years has increased accidents, traffic, destroyed businesses and increased pollution by stalling traffic for hours,the powers that be "pretend" otherwise,after all only the public suffers -canadian artists can only succeed, in the real sense, if and only if they succeed "elsewhere", which by the way would be a good name for the nation,"elsewhere" at this point in history, kinda like "fredonia" in the marx bros movies-after succeeding "elsewhere" they are accepted here, providing they are given the stamp of approval by outside nations, read england, the u.s.a and france and never darken these shores again, you know a tree by the fruit it bares, not by what it says,as far as the success of canadian artists...their talent and ability is of course world class, not only in literature but in almost all the arts, the issue here is not their success in the world arena its non-support-by government funding agencies,who use the media and success of the exceptional to justify and substantiate the failure of everyone else,again facts and stats,... stingray stories?i'll drum some up and put them in my blog nickmancuso'sblog want to thank my old friend jimmy h, a real writer,for posting on his site, now means that people who can read write and think may read and write and think- nickm