George Melnyk, ed. The Young, the Restless, and the Dead: Interviews with Canadian Filmmakers. Volume 1. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008. Illustrations. 150 pp. $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55458-036-1.
Reviewed by Claudia Kotte (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-Canada (April, 2009)
Commissioned by Stephanie Bangarth
In Their Own Words: Ephemeral Thoughts on Canadian Cinema
Over the last ten years, academic scholarship on Canadian films, directors, and genres has flourished. Christopher Gittings, Jim Leach, George Melnyk, Gene Walz, and Jerry White have all examined documentary and feature film traditions, regional specificities, filmmakers and nation-building efforts, and political and industrial developments. Melnyk, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, must be credited with having written the first Canadian film history textbook. His One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema (2004) chronicles the first century of Canadian filmmaking, and it is one of the few books incorporating the specific Quebec perspective.
With The Young, the Restless, and the Dead, Melnyk launches a new series featuring upcoming, already established, and dead Canadian filmmakers. For each volume, eight to ten filmmakers are interviewed by academics and film specialists with a background in the interviewee’s work. Visually striking, the first volume presents itself with an eye-catching cover and in square format. Resembling a scrapbook, it includes storyboards, photos, and film stills in addition to the eight interviews. The layout is pleasant, with bold quotations in the margins highlighting important statements.
The book introduces one newcomer to the field (Michael Dowse), six established filmmakers (Anagram Pictures, i.e., Blake Corbet, Andrew Currie, and Brent Carlson; Guy Maddin; Lynne Stopkewich; Anne Wheeler; Gary Burns; and Mina Shum) and one late director (Jean-Claude Lauzon). While the selection is relatively representative of the Canadian film scene in terms of age and gender, it is profoundly imbalanced when it comes to Anglophone and Quebec cinema and categories, such as animation and documentary films. All interviewees make feature films; seven are Anglophone; and the only Francophone filmmaker is the deceased Lauzon. Given Melnyk’s position in One Hundred Years that a study of Canadian cinema cannot be examined solely through an English Canadian/French Canadian dichotomy, it is surprising to see the virtual absence of Quebec cinema in The Young, the Restless, and the Dead.
In his introduction, the editor alerts readers to the shortcomings of the interview form--its possible evasiveness, rambling incoherence, and spontaneous, ephemeral quality. It is a wise word of caution, for while the interviews occasionally throw new glances on a filmmaker’s working mode, they mostly remain casual, chatty pieces with a journalistic character. The tone is personal and nonacademic, and interviewers tend to be cautious rather than provocative or interrogative. Many interviews simply summarize the chronology of a filmmaker’s work--when they made which movie and under what constraints, whether the equipment was borrowed, and how much of a film was scripted. They are most illuminating when questions of aesthetic sensibility are broached--Maddin’s passion for shorts, for instance, or Lauzon’s fervent attempts to break out of the Quebec mould. In sum, the interviews yield few original insights and rarely make unexpected connections. There is very little looking across the border, let alone beyond the North American continent, and international readers will be surprised at the lack of references to world cinema. According to Melnyk, the interviews are meant for the record, as a stock for future research, yet one wonders just how much of the information provided really is useful for archival use.
Nevertheless, any effort by a Canadian publisher and author to further the study of Canadian cinema must be applauded. Though flawed, The Young, the Restless, and the Dead will contribute to putting Canadian filmmakers, upcoming and established, on the national and international map.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Claudia Kotte. Review of Melnyk, George, ed., The Young, the Restless, and the Dead: Interviews with Canadian Filmmakers.
H-Canada, H-Net Reviews.
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