Thursday, 19 July 2012

GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD - Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw - A personal history and appreciation of one the greatest films of all-time and the most important narrative feature film ever made in Canada. Playing to superb boxoffice and garnering rave reviews upon its first theatrical release in 1970, it is, without question, the film that inspired and allowed for a rich legacy of personal indigenous cinema in Canada. Donald Shebib's classic is now available on a restored, extras-packed special edition DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Combo that includes Shebib's 2011 sequel DOWN THE ROAD AGAIN

Goin' Down the Road (1970)
dir. Donald Shebib
Starring: Doug McGrath, Paul Bradley, Jayne Eastwood, Cayle Chernin, Nicole Morin, Pierre La Roche, Sheila White, Don Steinhouse, Ted Sugar, Ron Martin, Dennis Bishop


Review By Greg Klymkiw

"In Goin' Down the Road, Shebib does what the Cassavetes of Shadows knew how to do, and he does it better." - Roger Ebert

"There is scarcely a false touch . . . at times one forgets [Goin' Down the Road] is an acted film." - Pauline Kael
Greatness in any work of art is distinguished as something or someone achieving the highest, most outstanding levels of magnitude, significance and importance. Based on this, there is simply no question that Donald Shebib's Goin' Down the Road is a great movie. Its tremendous force, power and lasting value is one that is achieved by very few amongst so many. The picture, on so many levels, represents the quintessence of greatness, but must also be regarded as a work that expresses a wholly indigenous cultural representation of a country that has lived in the shadow of the cultural and economic dominance since its very inception.

When Shebib first made the movie in the late 1960s, my only exposure to the idea of a Canadian movie was through the medium of documentary - specifically those produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). While tons of NFB films were screened in public-school classrooms, I'd also see them on television - often at weird times like Sunday afternoons on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Ever so delightfully I'd see NFB shorts on big screens. Chains like Famous Players (via a theatrical distribution deal NFB had through Astral Films which, like ALL major distributors, had fully-staffed branch offices in Winnipeg, but were long-ago closed and centralized in Toronto) would book them into the theatres as shorts. In Winnipeg, the branch office of the Famous Players chain (at the time fully staffed, though now non-existent for any exhibition chain) would go so far as to get a local artist to generate an original poster for the shorts and mount them in their own case in front of the several picture palaces (all gone).

Can you imagine it? A time when a branch office of a major exhibition chain commissioning original posters from a local artist to advertise a National Film Board of Canada SHORT?

These days, one practically needs to put a gun to the head of Cineplex Entertainment (which eventually swallowed Famous into its maw to create a near-monopoly in motion picture exhibition in Canada) to put up a poster for ANY Canadian film in its lobby, play a trailer for ANY Canadian film on choice screens (if any at all) or, for that matter, to play a Canadian feature film (much less shorts) theatrically. (And so not to solely crap on Cineplex, though they deserve the lion's share of putrid faecal matter, Canadian distributors and producers need to step up their game and generate good trailers, posters, ad slicks and, uh. . . movies. Most of all, Canadian producers need to stop whining behind closed doors about the woeful state they're in and start vocally, aggressively and courageously confronting this head on instead of worrying about their product being black-balled and mishandled further.)

In those days, there actually WAS a bright future for Canadian cinema - the charge led, frankly, by Goin' Down the Road. However, the state of exhibition and distribution was also more adventurous and visionary.

During the 60s and 70s, commercial exhibitors played shorts and cartoons in addition to trailers - and NO commercials. Libraries too also had regular showings in their A/V auditoriums on 16mm. Most contemporary whippersnappers reading this probably have NO experience with 16mm and perchance, don't even know what it is - but it was the primary means of shooting documentaries and anything requiring a light, handheld camera. Additionally, 16mm film prints were also lighter, smaller and easier to ship and project for the huge non-theatrical institutional market. (And call me what you will, digital will NEVER be as gorgeous as film.)

Even cooler was watching NFB documentaries at home on 16mm.

A long time ago, in a Dominion of Canada far, far away, my Dad was the Sales Promotions dude at Carling O'Keefe Breweries during a time when ALL traditional advertising outlets for ANY alcoholic beverage were prohibited on a variety of regional and national levels. In order to market and sell beer, my Dad and his huge sales team had to make in-person visits to every conceivable watering hole to buy rounds, get to know individual staff and patrons, install lights, signs and mirrors bearing the brand names of the beers, hand out logo-emblazoned swag like gym bags, shirts, bottle openers and my personal favourite, the OV lif-de-loc a handy-dandy wooden paint stick with an opening on its end to allow you to comfortably reach over and open car door locks in the days when electronic door openers did not exist. (They not only made for great lock openers, but could be used as actual paint sticks or, as my mother does to this day, use as support posts for stuff growing in her garden.)

My Dad's favourite activity involved sponsoring every manner of urban and rural sporting activities with beer banners everywhere, 'natch, and for outdoor events, he commandeered the Carling O'Keefe Caravan, a huge house trailer with brand names of beer emblazoned on it. Equipped with a humungous sound system for announcements, introductions and even play-by-play (replete, of course, with plugs for Carling-O'Keefe beer product) this phallic, missile-shaped monstrosity was fully climate controlled, stocked with chilled stubbies of OV and adorned with a hospitality suite for - ahem - VIPs.

The celebrities, so to speak, were usually rural civic officials, small town media, long-retired local sports personalities, grain or mustard seed barons, officers from the local R.C.M.P. detachment, hotel-keepers, watering-hole owners and, on occasion, very pretty young ladies who were corralled into the caravan by some gap-toothed prominent local businessman with a cyst or two on his forehead. These ladies (very young, as I remember it) perched themselves on the knees of all the happy fellows who, in turn, force-fed them hard liquor with beer chasers. Once in awhile these young ladies, on the arms of these prominent gentlemen, giggled and stumbled into the back-room bedrooms. I'm still not sure why, but perhaps they needed naps.

Amazingly, the various government agencies that banned booze advertising, but allowed booze promotions, were too stupid to realize that this hands-on approach to marketing had far more potential to "corrupt" youth since most of the events sponsored were decidedly family-friendly. This is above and beyond the behind-the-scenes "corruption".

The one promotion that, for me, was the TOTAL "cat's ass", involved my Dad buying shitloads of short films from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) on the company dime, editing Carling-O'Keefe beer commercials into the prints (yes, on a Moviola in my Dad's office - which he showed me how to use), then going from watering hole to watering hole with a few 16mm NFB prints, a Bell and Howell projector and a portable screen to present free movies to the beer-quaffing patrons.

Dad would always cover the first round.

But then, just guess how many beers with the Carling O'Keefe brand were purchased and consumed by patrons during the screenings? When the "boys" started to get especially misty-eyed over the slam-dunk "feature" presentation (the NFB's Canada at War series, which always followed a few NFB docs and cartoons), the stubbies littered the old wooden tavern tables like so many discharged shells on the beach during D-Day. Some of those "boys" fought in the World Wars and others had Grandfathers, Dads, Uncles, brothers, friends etc. who died in them. In fact, one of Dad's favourite gimmicks was to tour small town Royal Canadian Legion Halls and show nothing but "Canada At War" and other related docs. His product flowed down the gullets of malcontent veterans with the force and volume of Niagara Falls itself.

As a kid, my Dad took me on innumerable promotional runs with him all over the Canadian prairies and northwestern Ontario. When I waltzed into taverns with Dad, nobody batted an eye that I was a minor. In fact I usually wasn't the only minor in the dens of "depravity". In addition to kids sitting and watching their Dads quaff back double shooters with beer chasers, I often saw other kids wandering in and dragging their supremely inebriated fathers home for dinner.

Ah, the joys of post-war prosperity. Then again, there was the myth of post-war prosperity - often mirrored/exposed through docs and dramatic feature films from the late 40s and up into the early 70s. Goin' Down the Road, in its own way, is a "first" on so many fronts, and I'd certainly cite it as a Canadian "first" within this near-sub-genre of cinema.

And ever-so delightfully, the brewery had more than one projector and hundreds of prints in their library. Our family home - long before the advent of home entertainment - was the most popular place in the neighbourhood. I also had lots of pocket money from basement and/or backyard screenings. I charged a dime for every admission. So sue me, I was only seven years old when I began the film exhibition portion of my career.

In retrospect, one of the neatest things is that a favourite title in "my" collection of NFB shorts was directed by Don Shebib, 1965's Satan's Choice which detailed the early beginnings of what became Toronto's notorious East-End biker gangs. Even as a kid, and especially within the working-class north-end of Winnipeg, biker culture reigned supreme. Hell, I eventually went to school with guys who ended up in Winnipeg's Los Bravos and even peripherally knew one guy whose entire family was murdered when he turn-coated on the gang. (Interestingly, they meant to kill him, but he hightailed it through his bathroom window. They slaughtered his pregnant wife and two children instead. Revenge for the gang was even sweeter that he had to live with the reality of how both his betrayal and cowardice led to the savage deaths of those he held dearest.)

Memories, it seems, die hard. As do my memories of the context with which I viewed the hundreds upon hundreds of films I watched as a kid.

Being a geek of the highest order, even at that tender age, I kept detailed files on every movie I saw - theatrical, shorts, documentaries, cartoons and much later, when cable TV came to Winnipeg, select MOWs on TV (a la the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Spielberg's Duel, the Dan Curtis horror classic adaptations, etc.). As a movie nut since age 4, I saw plenty of movies on TV, but I'm especially precious about having seen some of the coolest movies in movie theatres during my pre-teen and teen years.

Amazingly, this included such counter-culture Canadian pictures by Don Shebib as Rip-Off, Between Friends and yes, his legendary Goin' Down The Road, a movie that practically invented English Canadian cinema with its neorealist portrait of two losers from the Maritimes making their way in the big, cold and mean city of Toronto. For me, as a crazed lover of movies, Shebib continued to deliver the goods. I went ape over Heartaches and Fish Hawk and yes, even Running Brave (a Disney production starring Robby Benson in which Shebib chose a nom-de-plume for his directing credit).

But it all started with one picture.

My first helping of Goin' Down the Road occurred in a huge first-run theatre in downtown Winnipeg on a Saturday afternoon during its opening weekend. As far as I was concerned, it was just a "normal" Hollywood movie. There were mega-ads for the picture in the newspapers and though I went to see everything, there was something, even then, that attracted me to the ad slicks. I should clarify that I saw every movie I was allowed to see on my own and that my parents took me to all those requiring an adult to accompany me. God bless them! Of course, those who know me and/or my regular readers are aware of the fact that in my early teens I forged fake I.D. - driving licences and birth certificates were my specialty. I generously forged these items for both myself and friends - the latter for a price, 'natch.

So there I was, every inch the burgeoning movie geek, sitting alone in an aisle seat. When my Mother started letting me go to movies by myself, I promised her I would sit in aisle seats as they afforded an easier escape route in case I was approached by a child molester. It's a habit I've kept up for well over forty years. It appears to have worked (save for the time when, as an adult, I went to a porn theatre on west Bloor Street in Toronto and realized that the nice fellow who sat next to me was, in fact, looking for a blow job.)

As per usual, I digress.

So there I was, sitting alone in an aisle seat near the front. With anticipation I listened to the pleasant Muzak which always played during the pre-show and gazed at the beautifully-lit majestic curtains draped over the humungous screen. Once all the shorts and previews of coming attractions unspooled, Goin' Down the Road finally began.

The first thing I noticed was Shebib's name, which I recalled from the NFB biker documentary I loved. I even remember thinking, how nice it was that a Canadian director was making a Hollywood movie - just like Norman Jewison (who, even by this time I was well acquainted with).

In no time at all, it became very clear to me that Goin' Down the Road was not a movie from Hollywood. It had characters, a good story and yet, I was reminded of all those NFB documentaries I'd seen, all those "Hey Mabel! Black Label" beer commercials my Dad cut into the doc film reels. People said, "Eh!" I'd never heard that in Hollywood movies. Most of all, during scenes inside a bottling plant and numerous taverns, I was confronted by settings, language and people I knew.

This was Canadian!

And this made me feel great!

September 18, 1970 was, what they say in the parlance of old-style journalism, a pretty good news day.

The Jordanian army ordered a temporary cease fire to allow Arab Palestinian guerillas the opportunity to surrender while Uncle Sam ordered additional planes and ships into the Mediterranean to beef up their presence in case Americans needed to be evacuated.

In the Dominion of Canada, a doctor in Vancouver pled guilty to performing abortions and read a court statement about how he performed over 500 procedures to save women from back alley hatchet jobs.

The Feds announced their support for birth control and ordered further research into the eventual use of "The Pill", whilst provincially, the Manitoba government announced they were giving serious thought to the idea of a $1,000,000 lottery.

A different world on one hand, but on the other, one that's strangely familiar in a contemporary context. The names change, but everything old becomes new again. With the passing of each year, decade and generation we see the same patterns and realize how much mankind still has to learn.

In Winnipeg, mirth-seekers had their pick of numerous entertainments - swinging nightclubs and the famed World Adventure Tours. Music lovers in the 'Peg were headed to the ticket agencies to buy seats for upcoming concerts that featured - among many others - Ella Fitzgerald, Wilf Carter and Kitty Wells.

At the movies, Cineplex-Odeon was holding over every single picture - all of them hits; most notably Carry On Camping (which I'd already seen three times), the counter-culture styling of Elliot Gould in Move, an adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's The Virgin and the Gypsy with Franco Nero (both of which I wanted to see, but regrettably, unable to convince my folks to take me) and amazingly, entering its 6th week, Bud Yorkin's (still hilarious) Start the Revolution Without Me starring Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder (a movie I'd managed to indulge in four helpings of).

The Famous Players chain, however, gave me much food for thought as I perused the movie listings and planned my Saturday movie-going. There were a few openings I had my eye on. Luckily, my Dad had already agreed to take me to the Drive-in to see The Sicilian Clan (a super-cool French crime picture with Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura and Alain Delon). The bottom half of the double bill was the totally insane Bedazzled (with Stanley Donen directing Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Raquel Welch). With that out of the way, it was pretty easy picking my Saturday movies.

That Saturday morning I hopped on the bus, headed downtown and hung out in my favourite musty, wooden-floored North Portage Avenue sleaze emporium Dominion News. There, I'd read Variety (yeah, I was - pathetically - that smitten with movies even as a child - but hell, most young fellers my age hadn't yet even begun learning how to peruse the box-scores as would soon become their wont). I'd flip ravenously through some comics (Marvel, 'natch) and then, with the dexterity of "that deaf, dumb and blind boy", rack up as many matches, bonii and pointage replays with as few quarters as possible.

I sure played a mean pinball.

All this under one roof.

Then, with plenty of Saturday morning to spare, I took a nice stroll along Portage Avenue, popped into a few comic book stores, record stores, head shops, poster palaces and pinball parlours until I finally reached the Gaiety Cinema.

I laid down my 75 cents and watched Jackie Gleason in a pretty good comedy called Don't Drink The Water (based on a play by Woody Allen - someone who was just beginning to enter my radar of pop culture precocity).

I then hightailed it to the Northstar Cinema (the first huge twin theatre in Winnipeg) and went to see a movie that looked really good. The ad had pictures of two cool guys leaning against a cool old car. I wasn't totally sure what I was in for, but the guys were wearing leather jackets and the tagline in the ads suggested they'd be drinking beer.

The beer part was good enough for the son of a beer salesman.

As I shelled out for a ticket, little did I know that Goin' Down the Road was going to knock me on my ass, change my life forever and become a good friend for the next 40 years of my life.

I'm goin' down the road, boys
Seeking what I'm owed, boys
And I know it must get better
If far enough I go
Composed and sung by Bruce Cockburn, a delicate, haunting folk song bearing the same title as the film, plays gently, almost tentatively over a stunning aerial image of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton and Glace Bay. It's a God's-eye gander just to make sure the physical world is still as it had been in the Beginning when He looked down, and indeed "saw that it was good".

Dissolving from the Heavens to a more earthly point of view, we find no hint of Gnostic or Puritan/Protestant denial of the Earth's goodness. A series of bucolic tapestries of the physical beauty of the world, and in turn, even more images of how this good Earth had indeed been wrought and shaped by man (in, if you wish, His image). The farms, the country homes and the open, inviting roads continue a visual affirmation of the physical world and its greatness.

The first two lines of each verse of Cockburn's song root us in the simple, but vital accomplishments of both the land and the people:

In the isle of Cape Breton my father did stay
And his father's father before . . .
I remember the fishing boats returning so gay
Their nets with the silver cod blessed

Juxtaposing the natural beauty, is another reality - bleak cinematic etchings of poverty and squalor amidst a ramshackle cannery town.

Cockburn's lyrics in the final lines of each verse accompany a desolate world with little hope, shattered dreams and forgotten people:

Fishing the banks and digging for coal
From the mines that don't give no more ore . . .
They couldn't compete with the company fleets
Now it's welfare, relief, or go west . . .

Two young men - Joey (Douglas McGrath) and Pete (Paul Bradley) - are leaving behind this world behind.

Maybe forever.

And there is, to be sure, a certain melancholy when you say goodbye to the place of your youth, but when all that's left is stagnation and unemployment, perhaps goodbye, farewell or good riddance are the best sentiments after all.

And when you're facing a brave new world like Joey and Pete are doing from behind the steering wheel and dashboard of a 1960 Chevy Impala - blasting down an open road, chugging stubbies of beer, throwing their heads back, laughing and smiling whilst their eyes twinkle with that special gleam of hope that only an open highway can bring - their loins immediately gird themselves for whatever opportunities new horizons will bring.

My first viewing of Goin' Down the Road was not only a huge eye-opener for me, a precocious, movie-crazy little shaver, but eventually became a movie I saw more than 30 times in the 42 years since that virgin print unspooled.

I've grown with the picture all these years and I never tire of it and, in fact, it always seems to get better. Every passing year - with new experiences under my belt - Goin' Down the Road is a picture that never ceases to speak to me and get richer with every viewing.

The answer as to why it has such staying power is found, I think, in its seeming simplicity at both the narrative and stylistic level.

The story, like most great stories, is on its surface, very simple. Two young dreamers from a small town search for a better life in the big city and struggle with the challenges inherent in not being anchored in what's familiar. They make it over a few hurdles, but soon the weight, breadth and scope of big dreams that a concrete jungle squashes like a barbell dropped on a watermelon is too much and in desperation they're faced with doing whatever it takes to survive which, in turn, is what forces them to move on, ever-searching for that pot of survival that surely must be at the end of the road - if, in fact, the road even ends.

Stylistically, though the film is a drama, beautifully written by William Fruet from Shebib's original story idea, the overall documentary tradition of Cinéma vérité ("truthful cinema") springs immediately to mind while the pictures unspools. Though the look is grainy (due to varying light conditions and a 16mm to 35mm blowup) and often handheld, the late Richard Leiterman's photography magnificently renders an overwhelming sense that what we're watching is reality and not fiction. Leiterman's compositions are beautifully wrought and most importantly, balanced to provide maximum dramatic impact with care, subtlety and the highest level of artistry.

An interesting sidenote is that some shots during the "road" sequences in the first ten or so minutes were shot by Shebib's old pal from film school Carroll Ballard, who would go on to direct many terrific films including The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf. Surprisingly (though not really, given his visual aplomb), Ballard was also responsible for some of the cool painting on the car itself.

An especially salient style element is the film's rhythm. Edited by Shebib himself, he selects his shots with the eye of a documentarian. That said, the doc medium is a storytelling medium. In fact, I prefer to often consider documentary cinema a genre as opposed to a distinct medium and as such, Shebib cuts the footage with all the skill a master storyteller brings to bear within film as art.

The pace of Goin' Down the Road is achieved by deftly intermingling the natural highs and lows of the characters' journey and as such, the story unfolds with the kind of judicious cutting that allows key scenes to play out naturally. Happily and effectively, numerous sequences are infused with the sort of breathing space that not only serves the drama, but like all truly great films, imbues the work with the poetry that's inherent in the medium of cinema, but is so seldom employed and/or carried out with no pretence.

Though similar to that of John Cassavetes's early work (notably Shadows), the story itself and Shebib's vérité approach brings it more into the domain of Lionel Rogosin's landmark documentary On The Bowery. a harrowing examination of America's forgotten men who lived lives of misery and shattered dreams during the myth of post-war prosperity. Rogosin's film is comprised of numerous dramatic recreations and improvisations with the actual subjects. In comparison, I'd suggest Cassavetes's work (though often compelling in its own right), suffers from a self-conscious and mannered approach. Though Shebib (and, of course, Rogosin) consciously directed/manipulated their respective films, the work was delivered up with such raw honesty and integrity that while watching them you never feel that you are being manipulated. (In my opinion, "Manipulation" is NOT a dirty word in storytelling - especially in cinema. It's only objectionable when you can see it - that's when an artist is NOT doing their job.)

On every level, Goin' Down the Road does its job and then some. Fruet's screenplay provides every hurdle our characters would realistically face. Not once are any of these dramatic beats contrived and Shebib's direction adds to either the urgency or relief by "documenting" the actions as if he were a documentary filmmaker.

Following Pete and Joey as they try to connect with friends and relatives is their first major setback. Upon entering the city, they're stoked. Alas, Pete's Aunt doesn't even recognize him and refuses to answer her door and an old pal from their hometown takes Pete's phone call, but basically blows him off. On their first night in Toronto these two parties respectively quash the boys' hopes for a place to stay and steady employment.

After spending a night in a mission flophouse, it's Joey who resourcefully scours the want-ads and discovers there are a myriad of job openings. Though Pete often seems more rooted and levelheaded, he is too much of a dreamer to accept his station in life. Joey gets a job in a soda pop bottling plant while Pete spruces himself up in his finest cheap dress duds and waltzes into an ad agency for an interview as an account executive. Needless to say, the interview goes so poorly that Pete bites the bullet and joins Joey at the bottling plant.

Capturing the mindless, dirty, back-breaking physical labour the men endure is not only dramatically important to both narrative and character, but Shebib's documentary sensibilities, coupled with Leiterman's raw take-no-prisoners lensing takes us into this world by capturing the physical griminess and dank claustrophobia these men spend hours in - sweat pouring from every pore, their muscles bulging as they lift one heavy crate after another and finally, as both actors are clearly doing the actual physical labour, what we see is the greatest acting of all. What the actors feel as they actually perform these tasks seems etched into every inch of their bodies and their expressions of pain and exhaustion are real. However, they must also never break the "illusion" of who they are as characters and during these sequences, the script offers up any number of realistic moments Pete and Joey must react to and/or engage with as they experience real strenuous activity and endure the what is clearly the gruelling agony of the menial labour.

The upsides are a roof over their heads, money in their pockets and plenty of downtime to hit the wild pavement of the bawdy, glittering carnival of Yonge Street. It's here where Shebib takes us to sublime heights when the boys from the plant wander into A&A Records, the sprawling, multi-level vinyl emporium. Awash in the blasted out fluorescent glow, Pete breaks off from the raucous antics of Joey and the fellas from work when he spots a mind-boggling beauty walk into the store and follows her into the bowels of the classical music department. Music, image, dialogue and a poignant, romantic tenderness converge and the film delivers one of the most poetic, heart-achingly beautiful sequences ever committed to film.

The movie is full of moments like this, though they're contrasted with moments of despair and desperation. The film is a whirlwind of emotion and we're constantly bearing witness to a truth that only cinema can come closest to revealing.

When Pete and Joey begin double-dating two cute, perky "regular gals" Betty (Jayne Eastwood) and Celina (Cayle Chernin), it's the devil-may-care Joey who ends up falling head over heels with the dry-witted pragmatic Betty. Celina, a warm, friendly and goofily introspective young lady feels like a perfect match for Pete, but alas, Pete's sights in all matters - especially love - are set far too high. He's a romantic, to be sure, be he's blinded by his dreams of perfection. There's a lot of warmth and humour in these scenes involving this oddly-apt-for-each-other foursome. Joey and Betty eventually rush into marriage. She's pregnant, but they both believe (or at least want to believe badly enough) that it's love that has brought them together and that will keep them in this state of bliss forever.
I came to the city with the sun in my eyes
My mouth full of laughter and dreams
But all that I found was concrete and dust
And hard times sold in vending machines
So I'm goin' down the road, boys
Seeking what I'm owed, boys
And I know it must get better
If far enough I go
During the wedding reception, Shebib's stunning observational eye captures an event that at first seems warm and full of fun, but as it progresses, Joey's inebriation-levels rise very rapidly. Many of the shots at the head table, though medium or wide, favour Betty in the compositions. There are looks on her face - looks ranging from extremely subtle mock-happiness to embarrassment and even desperation. These moments play themselves out naturalistically and not only do we get a hint of things to come, but we're blessed with blocking, camera work and acting so intensely real that one forgets, as one often does in this extraordinary work, that we're watching a drama.

Betty, it seems, has dreams too. We see how much she wants Joey to be the one to help her get there, but in another sequence later on in the film, Betty is again favoured in the compositions and there are looks on her face (brilliantly rendered by Jayne Eastwood) that reflect her horror over what she's about to plunge into.

The sadness, the squalor, the shattering of dreams is in the cards for everyone and in the final minutes of the film, under the harsh glare of a supermarket's lights and in the dark of a Canadian winter's eve - the grey and slushy pavement of the grocery store's parking lot, illuminated by the glow from within the store and the dim lights towering atop the rigid electrical poles - comes an act of desperation so unexpected and so shocking that the very truth of the film is what keeps us from expecting it.

As the snow falls gently from the Heavens, a single action of such seeming finality occurs that we're cringing with the sort of, "Oh God, please don't" emotions that fill us in melodrama and genre work.

But it's different here.

What we feel, we also believe and even when the worst occurs, we're so invested in the REALITY of these people that they almost cease to be characters, but genuine subjects of a documentary camera's probing, provocative eye.

Most of all, we hope against hope. We beg for salvation or at least redemption.

We, not unlike the characters, look to the road.

What else can we do?

We are, after all, Canadian.
A restored deluxe edition of "Goin' Down the Road" and its excellent sequel "Down the Road Again" are packaged with Bluray, DVD, Digital Copy and tons of extra features including the brilliant SCTV parody of the movie. In Canada, this special edition is available via Alliance Films. It's a first rate piece of sell-through home entertainment and well worth buying instead of renting.

Of special note is Don Shebib's commentary track over "Goin' Down the Road". It's not only full of the sort of details one would want from such a track - the sort most directors are incapable of properly delivering on when they do (save for a select few). In fact, much of what Shebib has to say about the making of the film is - in and of itself - a kind of basic how-to blended with an inspirational you've-got-to-do-what-you've=got-to-do-to-make-your-movie.

I especially urge young filmmakers to watch the film repeatedly, study it, listen to Shebib's commentary - more than once - and wipe the repulsive grimace of entitlement I see on so many of your faces when you think you can only make your magnum opus with every filmmaking toy known to man and a crew size unbecoming of any real independent filmmaker.

Most all, let this groundbreaking work of Canadian Cinema, inspire you NOT to create some impersonal calling card that ONLY delivers the message, "Look Ma, I can use a dolly. I have nothing to say, but at least I'm employable."

Think about telling a story that's actually ABOUT something, a story that exposes you and your voice as honestly as possible and most of all, to place everything in rendering a work rooted in humanity - work that reflects our condition, our place in the universe, our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments.


Feel free to order directly from the Amazon links below and assist with the maintenance of this site. In addition to the new Alliance version, there are used copies of the slightly older Seville DVD release which I still own. If you own it, DON'T GET RID OF IT. It's an excellent version and includes a magnificent commentary track by Canada's finest film critic Geoff Pevere. It makes little sense to me why this track was not ported over or re-recorded for this new restoration.