Academic journal article CineAction

Blood in the Maple Syrup: Canon, Popular Genre and the Canuxploitation of Julian Roffman

Academic journal article CineAction

Blood in the Maple Syrup: Canon, Popular Genre and the Canuxploitation of Julian Roffman

Article excerpt

In his entire career, Julian Roffman (also alternatively known as Hoffman) has directed only two feature length films. Despite the modest international success of his second feature, The Mask (1961), which also represented the only Canadian feature-length fiction film to be distributed outside the country in its year of release, Roffman has not received recognition from any Canadian critics for his work, and his small corpus of films has faded into near-obscurity. Prior to 2001, no mention of his work could be found in any books on Canadian cinema, not even in such timelines as Self Portraits "A Chronology of Canadian and Quebec Cinema: 1896-1976." Here, one would expect at least a passing reference, but in 1959, the year of The Bloody Brood's release, Pierre Veronneau only mentions "the private production of [unspecified] feature films," while in 1961, Seul ou avec d'autres (Claude Jutra) is the only film cited as being produced that year. (1) Thanks to the respective efforts of Peter Harry Rist, Wyndham Rise, and the diligent co-editors of Guide to the Cinema(s) of Canada and Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film in providing comprehensive and encyclopaedic viewers' guides to Canadian cinema, both The Bloody Brood and The Mask are referenced. For better or for worse, Julian Roffman has been accorded a place within Canada's cinematic heritage, if only by exhaustive default.

Prior to 2001, the oversights of Veronneau and Peter Morris in their efforts at compilation seem more than accidental. Roffman's thrillers at least deserved an acknowledgement of their status as precursors to the big-grossing exploitation films produced by "Hollywood North" in the late 1970's and early 1980's. In 1977, for example, out of the 8.9 million dollars earned from the top 10 English films in Canada, 5.7 million were "earned by schlock items," and over half that gross was produced by David Cronenberg's Shivers. (2) Suggesting that Roffman's own work made Cronenberg's success possible sixteen years later is contestable, however, it is not untenable to regard Roffman as somewhat of a Canadian pioneer within the genres of horror and suspense. Before The Bloody Brood and The Mask, both genres were left virtually unexplored by Canadian filmmakers. Since then, Canadian filmmakers have made several noteworthy contributions to the critically disreputable but popularly adored slasher genre, including Cannibal Girls (Ivan Reitman, 1973), Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974), and Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980)--all of which are regarded as "classics" in their own right. (3)

Not are Roffman's films (and those of his lineage) dismissed as unworthy of serious consideration by Canadian film scholars, but the critical minimization of his work is indicative of a larger tendency to discount various kinds of films that do not fit into the corpus of what constitutes a "Canadian cinema." With the exception (that proves the rule) of Cronenberg's work, Canadian suspense and horror films, both exploitative and "legitimate" are not co-opted into the framework of our national cinema. And by "our" national cinema, I am referring to the various conceptions of Canadian cinema circulated by academic film scholars. Canadian cinema as conceived by academics and Canadian cinema as conceived by the average moviegoer are two different things entirely, as any fan of Porky's (Bob Clark, 1982), Les Boys (Louis Saic 1997), or Flesh Gordon 2 (Howard Ziehm 1974) could tell you. At any rate, these films do not adhere to the criteria of an Elderian "Cinema We Need," nor Peter Harcourt's idealized realist tradition, nor the Eurocentric aesthetic values of a Northern "art cinema." Furthermore, the critical neglect of The Bloody Brood and The Mask are compounded by their production before 1964: the year popularly (and quite erroneously) regarded as the legitimate "birth" of Canadian cinema. In short, Roffman's films are anathema to the exclusionary specifications of canon builders because of their perceived lack of "quality" and "complexity," their generic status, and their untimely release. …

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