Thursday, February 23, 2017

At NYC's AFA, GIMME SHELTER: HOLLYWOOD NORTH offers a few choice Canadian canapés

We don't expect to see movies that fit the term "blockbuster" coming out of Canada. The current and surprisingly popular/divisive Arrival might be the closest thing to a huge mainstream success to come from our northern neighbor in quite some time, yet it's the movie quiet intelligence and ability to draw us into its philosophical/spiritual dimension that proves its most effective weapon. Instead, Canada has long been noted for its smaller films, either art or genre items, many of which were subsidized from the 1960s through the 1980s first by the state-run Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) and later by the Capitol Cost Allowance (CCA) -- the former paid for via tax-payers, the latter by tax-sheltered investments.

The results were iffy, as is usually the case with any programs like these, and a dozen of the films out of the many produced over two decades can be seen in New York City in the current Anthology Film Archives series, GIMME SHELTER: HOLLYWOOD NORTH -- beginning tomorrow, February 24, and running through March 8. On view is everything from Louis Malle's generally-acclaimed-a-classic Atlantic City and Canadian genre king Bob Clark's (Porkys and Black Christmas, the latter of which is part of this round-up) to Claude Chabrol's under-seen (and rightly so) BLOOD RELATIVES, his first film in the English language and very probably his worst, as well.

Because TrustMovies will take Chabrol's work over that of many other filmmakers, this is the film he chose to watch, having seen most of the others already. In addition to Atlantic City, the series features what may be the very best of David Cronenberg's dark and bizarre oeuvre, The Brood, as well as some pretty good genre movies like the youth-quake Class of 1984, the sort-of mystery The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, and the early what-to-do-about-cults movie, Ticket to Heaven.

As for that Chabrol, Blood Relatives -- adapted from an Ed McBain novel by the filmmaker and Sydney Banks -- probably ought to have been made in French rather than English. Chabrol is said to have thought English worked better because McBain had written the original in that language, But the dialog is often stilted and always so prosaic that is is soon clear that Chabrol had little facility for working in English.

It is clear almost from the first scene what is going on and just who the murderer might be, so we spend the rest of the film catching up with what we already know/suspect. Along the way, we get some nice cameos from the likes of Donald Pleasance and David Hemmings, though that fine French actress Stéphane Audran (above, center right, and Mme Chabrol, for a time) is utterly wasted here.

The theme of the movie would appear to be the varied uses of sexuality and lust -- from pedophilia to near-incest to age-inappropriate couplings, but the filmmaker's usual interest in the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie seem somewhat misplaced here. as there is no real depth to anything or anyone. Both theme and character seem paper-thin. Though never what you would call a master of the visual, Chabrol's work here seems unusually drab.

The police-procedural plot has to do with the murder of a teenage girl, with the investigation probing her somewhat odd family life and her workplace. The first half of the movie couples event with investigation; the second half, once the murder victim's diary is discovered, is told mostly in flashbacks pushing us toward the big "event."

In the leading role of the investing policeman, Donald Sutherland (above and above) hovers and is one-note, while the remaining performers range from alert to hardly memorable. Though first released in 1978, Blood Relatives didn't make it to the USA -- and then only barely -- until 1981. You'll understand why when you see the film.

To view the entire schedule for AFA's Gimme Shelter: Hollywood North, click here and then scroll down to click on each individual film for details.

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