Canadian Cinema Series

By VanderBurgh, Jennifer | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

Canadian Cinema Series


VanderBurgh, Jennifer, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


CANADIAN CINEMA SERIES Edited by Bart Beaty and Will Straw Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008-ongoing. David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. Bart Beaty. 2008, 138 pp Denys Arcand's Le Déclin de l'empire américain and Les Invasions barbares. André Loiselle. 2008, 190 pp Atom Egoyan's The Adjuster. Tom McSorley. 2009, 104 pp Joyce Wieland's The Far Shore. Johanne Sloan. 2010, 134 pp Allan King's A Married Couple. Zoë Druick. 2010, 106 pp Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. Darren Wershler. 2010, 145 pp Bruce McDonald's Hard Core Logo. Paul McEwan. 2011, 131 pp

Reviewed by Jennifer VanderBurgh

Since 2008, the Canadian Cinema series (CCS) has published seven volumes, each dedicated to the analysis of a feature-length Canadian film (the exception is André Loiselle's book on Le Déclin de l'empire américain [1986], which also deals with Les Invasions barbares [2003] and, briefly, Lage des tebebres [2007]). Between one hundred and two hundred pages, the books physically resemble slim BFI (British Film Institute) Classics, an expansive series of small-format studies of single films that the BFI's website describes as "landmark films of world cinema."

CCS distinguishes itself from the BFI series by working within an explicitly national frame. CCS's motley list of films also appears to deliberately resist attempts to erect a canon or cultivate "classics" representative of Canadian cinema. This curratorial approach grants contributors lattitude to explore lesser-known works by Canadian auteurs (e.g., Egoyan's The Adjuster [1991], and Cronenberg's A History of Violence [2005]) and to attend to films that until now have not been meaningfully addressed in scholarship (a volume on Meatballs [Ivan Reitman, 1979] is in the works).

As a metaproject on Canadian cinema, editors Straw and Beaty propose a conversation among a range of modes, genres, and aesthetic frameworks. In this iteration of Canadian cinema, and without didactic justifcation, the series proposes that indeed, Wieland's The Far Shore (1976) should share a bookshelf with McDonald's Hard Core Logo (1996). According to the blurb that appears on the first two books of the series, "[v]olumes... illuminate the breadth of the nation's film productions, including classic and popular films, documentaries, animation, and experimental films in the various languages spoken across the country." This particular mention of language, an understanding that is more expansive than the French/English binary (or the French, English, "Aboriginal" triumverate) , is a significant intervention for conceptualizing Canadian cinema that, with the inclusion of Arcand's Le Déclin de l'empire américain and Les Invasions barbares, presumably extends to a broader (and contestable) understanding of Canadian nationhood as well. In this series, the category of Canadian cinema is inherently presumed to be a multifaceted conflation of regions, cultures, politics and industries. On the back page of subsequent volumes, the series is simply quantified as a numbered list of titles. How to qualify the contribution of the series, it seems, is (appropriately) left up to readers.

Each volume's title uses the posessive pronoun of the director, (e.g., Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg), which presents films as individual expressions. On the one hand, films in this series are considered to be representative of their director's perspective on such topics as nationhood, genre, and cinema. At the same time, they are also, via the critic's voice which features prominently in these works, considered to be more broadly "of their time," in that they are symptomatic of the (largely transnational) industrial, social, and cultural perspectives that inevitably informed their creation. In this sense, the metaproject of CCS is to engage films as portals into the problematic and the pragmatic production context that is Canadian cinema. The series' take on Canadian film is in concert with a series of projects that have used metaphors of looking, reflection, and observation in their titles to suggest that the gesture of making a film is an assertion of an individual and located point of view. …

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