Monday, November 23, 2020

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: Matthew Rankin's skewed-up romp of Canadian history arrives

There really was a Mackenzie King (actually named William Lyon Mackenzie King), and once I'd seen the truly bizarre new "spoof," THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, a Canadian film written and directed by Matthew Rankin, my fingers raced across the keyboard and onto Wikipedia to find out more. That "more" bears little resemblance to anything I saw in Rankin's movie -- except perhaps the most important lesson the world seems to have to relearn with every new administration elected to office: Politicians are mostly sleazebag pieces of shit. 

Mr. Rankin, shown at left, has been compared to another Canadian filmmaker, Guy Maddin, and that comparison seems to TrustMovies both apt and inapt. 

Rankin and Maddin love to tell fanciful tales using all sorts of stylistic devices, but I'd call Maddin's work -- well, there is much more of it to explore; this is Rankin's first full-lengther, after a slew of shorts -- both deeper and wider ranging. I wish I knew more about Canada and Canadian history, in any case, because I am sure that would only increase the pleasure I found from watching the film.

A bizarre compilation of live action, animated sets, and wonderfully politically-incorrect  moments -- the movie begins with a scene taking place in a "Home for Defective Children" -- Rankin proceeds from tuberculosis and sudden love to an orgasmic cactus, beaucoup gay references, class, cross-dressing, onanism, and a heavy-duty foot fetish. Have I left something out? Very probably.

Rankin has assembled a fine cast (none of whom I immediately recognized) to bring to, well, "life" is not quite the right word, his oddball tale of how Mackenzie King rose to prominence and finally to Minister-ship, with a wonderfully devious and utter-twat-like performance by Dan Beirne (above, enjoying one of his character's greatest pleasures) in the leading role. You'll keep rooting for this guy to finally come through as simply a terribly flawed human being, but Mr. Beirne's performance manages to smartly elude even that. 

Supporting roles -- from Kee Chan (above) as a "yellow peril" doctor to Louis Negin as King's scenery-chewing mother -- are all handled with proper if oddball elan, and if Rankin's dialog is often rather flat, his visual and stylistic choices carry things along. (Yes, many of the female roles are played by men and the male ones by women. It's that kind of film)

In its way, the movie may be awfully anti-Canada (as Rankin perceives it, at least). Early on, one of the in-charge personages offers this prayer: "May disappointments keep us safe from unreasonable longings and foolish aspirations." Soon after we hear: "Do more than is your duty. Expect less than is your right." Hmmm... Words that more and more western countries seem to be living by, Canadian and otherwise. (Or, more probably, have always lived by.) 

In any case, The Twentieth Century manages to be foolish-but-pointed, thoughtful-while-ridiculous and always a lot of fun, especially for those of a sexual/gender-bending mind-set that revels in making fun of everything from heterosexual patriarchy to -- my, oh, my -- French-Canadian separatism.

From Oscilloscope Films and running just 90 minutes, the movie opened this past weekend and is currently playing across the country -- either virtually or via actual walk-in venues. Click here then scroll down to see all current playdates, cities and theaters.

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