Saturday, 25 January 2014

NEGATIVIPEG - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Forgotten Winnipeg Film Series presented by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival, SPUR and the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque presents a powerful portrait of racism, media backlash and forgiveness.

Negativipeg (2010) *****
dir. Matthew Rankin
Starring: Rory Lepine, Burton Cummings

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is, without a doubt, one of the greatest short films I have ever seen. Given that I've seen a lot of them (thousands upon thousands), I'm happy to proclaim that this is one of the greatest short films ever made - in the world, ever! As directed by Matthew Rankin, it's a mere 15 minutes in length, but its impact upon those who see it will last a lifetime, if not several lifetimes.

On the surface, the film is a short documentary look at the events of one fateful night in the north end of Winnipeg in 1985 when a young man, one Rory Lepine, wandered into the now-gone Salter Street 7-11 to buy a Pizza Pop and was confronted by a racist employee who mistook him for someone else (all North End Native people look alike, you see) and demanded he leave as he'd been banned from the store.

An argument ensued.

As sparks flew, a tall, hulking gentleman with long locks of messy hair, a bushy cop moustache and a black leather jacket, strode into the store. Assuming the worst, he attacked Mr. Lepine. Mr. Lepine did what any north end Winnipeg lad (including me) might do in such a situation. He pulled a full bottle of Labatt's Blue beer and chucked it at the biker-like do-gooder. The bottle connected with the man's head, smashed and sent him to the ground, blood gushing from his dome. Mr. Lepine, fearing the worst would follow, began to mercilessly hoof the man repeatedly.

For his attempts to defend his honour against a racist knob and to defend himself physically against a tough, old biker, Lepine was arrested, tried and as a kid barely out of his teens, incarcerated in the notorious Headingly Jail wherein he suffered beatings and shiv attacks for several months.

His victim, you see, was no biker. It was songwriter-singer Burton Cummings, the front man for The Guess Who - the Winnipeg rock band that soared to the worldwide music charts with the likes of "American Woman", "Clap For The Wolfman", "No Sugar Tonight" and . . . the list goes on and on. Cummings went on to enjoy a stellar solo career and even flirted with motion picture immortality as the romantic lead of the 20th Century Fox feature film Melanie.

Cummings's reaction to this attack included a barrage of insults against the city of Winnipeg. Though he was the injured party and was viciously, physically assaulted, the media backlash against his anti-'Peg tirades was even MORE vicious.

As for poor, young Mr. Lepine, we heard very little. This was Winnipeg, after all. He was just another North End "Injun'" thrown into stir.

Rankin's film brilliantly and deftly allows Lepine to finally have a voice in the whole affair. Intercut with archival footage of Burton Cummings slowly coming to terms with the fact that Winnipeg was indeed his home, interviews with the local - ahem - journalists who trashed Cummings and haunting montages of derelict homes in the core area and north end of Winnipeg, Negativipeg is an important document of the disenfranchised in a neighbourhood where violence is a way of life - especially in response to racism of the most insidious kind.

It is also a film of redemption and healing. Twenty five years later, Cummings continues to remain silent on this event. At the time, Rory Lepine, didn't, for even a second, recognize Cummings. All he saw was a burly, leather-jacketed WHITE thug trying to take him down. That said, in one of the most devastatingly heartbreaking moments in this film (and, in fact, film history), Lepine admits that if he ever saw Cummings again, he'd ask him to sing a song.

For my money, I'd hope Cummings would sing a rhapsody from his classic solo album "Dream of a Child":

For I.... Will play a rhapsody
Cleverly disguise it, so it's not been heard before
And I.... Will sing a lullaby
Let you know I'm near you through the night to keep you warm.

I.... Will play a rhapsody

"Negativipeg" plays with the classic "Death By Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets" (***½) and an alternate take on the aforementioned tale of Cummings/Lepine, "Farenheit 7-11" (***) during the Forgotten Winnipeg Film Series presented by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival, SPUR and the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque on January 30, 2014. For info and tickets, visit the Film Group website

A similar scene to the one experienced by Jim Jarmusch and others in New York during the 70s and 80s and captured in the documentary BLANK CITY as well as many other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" series was happening in Winnipeg wherein a very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with was spawned. This period, coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.

A great selection of early Guy Maddin, many of which that I produced and were written by George Toles, can be secured directly through the following links:

Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.

Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE

Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE

Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE. Here's a copy available on Amazon:

BLANK CITY and other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" Series can be accessed here: