Friday 2 May 2014

CONTROVERSIES & WILL THE REAL DAVE BARBER PLEASE STAND UP - Review By Greg Klymkiw - MUST-SEE FILMS@ HOT DOCS 2014 & DOXA 2014: Warren Gets Right Down To Business With The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal

C.J.O.B. ('OB 68) The Station of Choice
for Winnipeg's Prairie Post-Modernist Filmmakers
"Red, I've got a BIG BEEF this
morning for Mayor Bill Norrie!"
Controversies (2014) Dir. Ryan McKenna ****
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Preamble #1: CJOB and Prairie Post-Modern Cinema
From the 60s to the early 90s, Winnipeg's C.J.O.B. (CJOB) was the greatest radio station in the world. In the Great White North, only dirty commies listened to the publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). No other entity in Winnipeg, Manitoba (except perhaps for Bill Sciak, the legendary barber in the 'Peg's Chinatown) had as profound an influence upon the city's artists and, in particular, most of its filmmakers.

The driving force of this legendary radio station, founded by the inimitable J. O. Blick, were its on-air personalities. At the grand, old 'OB 68 they, and they alone, best reflected the style of programming and content which shaped an entire generation and its subsequent artistic output.

For this select group of young 'uns growing up in the 'Peg, CJOB most definitely WAS the station to listen to. Part of the reason for this is that our Moms and Dads, Aunts and Uncles, Grannies and Grandads and pretty much anyone, uh, like, OLD, would allow only one station to play at home and in the car radio:

CJOB, 68 on the dial.

Sports, Tunes, Home-making Tips
The personalities were larger than life: Red Alix in the mornings with his famous call-in segment "Beefs and Bouquets" was the dulcet-toned redhead who woke up Winnipeg. I'd often call Red using a very thick and convincing Ukrainian accent and offer up a Beef, usually to Winnipeg's Mayor, Bill Norrie and I'd temper the bile with a lovely Bouquet to Red Alix himself, occasionally requesting that Red play "Good Morning" from his hit album. Yes, Red Alix was not only a radio personality, but a major recording star,

Sports was a major draw on 'OB. The legendary scribe Jack Matheson's scathing commentaries occurred every morning when 'OB sponsor "Furnace Man" fired him up and the brilliant Kenny "The Friar" Nicholson did all the play-by-play action of the beloved Winnipeg Jets in their World Hockey Association (WHA) glory days. I even have personal memories of my old man, Julian, ex-hockey player, ex-cop and eventual Marketing honcho at Carling O'Keefe Breweries (or as Jack Matheson would say, "that great Oriental Brewery, Car Ling") when he'd ply the boys in the press box during Jets games with coolers full of Old Vienna beer and then do post-game analyses on-air with "The Friar".

And who in their right mind could ever forget the following:

- Hedi Lewis and her astounding homemaking tips in the afternoons. Hedi's brilliant concoctions for removing stains of any kind from any thing were the stuff of Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus.

J.O.Blick's LEGACY
-The "Homeward Hustle" of Allen Willoughby wherein he'd rattle off corny jokes and slightly modern tunes like the Percy Faith Singers doing "Up, Up in the Air, in my beautiful ballon".

- George McCloy with the CJOB "Shut-Ins" programs which spun the most depressing old time music for people who were, uh, dying. Recall, if you will, Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors. There's a scene which adequately typifies McCloy's immortal CJOB show wherein Seymour Krelborn comes to visit his Mom as she's swigging cheap booze in her bed whilst listening to a program on the radio called "Music For Old Invalids".

These on-air giants of the industry were but the tip of 'OB's iceberg. So magnificent were these personalities that one often forgets the array of tunes spun out to the citizens of Winnipeg. Ah, the music: O! The Music! One dialled in to CJOB to hear the likes of 101 Strings, Percy Faith, Bert Kaempfert, selections from the Phase IV canon, Lawrence Welk, Ken Griffin and pretty much any music stylist who generated tunes of the elevator music variety. And though these musicians were extremely moderne, CJOB would also spin tunes by older artists like Harry James, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, Edith Day, Al Bowlly, Richard Crooks and Winnipeg's Own Deanna Durbin.

CJOB Loyal Lady Listeners
Rock n' Roll was verboten on CJOB - so much so, that I remember when Winnipeggers hung their heads low when 'OB's transmitters blared out the heavy metal styling of The Beatles and the thrashing sounds of their hit song "Yesterday". Now, the absolute truth of the matter is that MOST kids in Winnipeg HATED this radio station. It was the epitome of UN-COOL. However, I can vouch for myself, Guy Maddin, John Paizs and most anyone associated with the Prairie Post-Modernist film movement in Winnipeg when I declare: We embraced CJOB with the fervour of a weeping cripple collapsing before Jimmy Swaggart during a laying-of-the-hands-in-the-name-of-Jesus-Christ revival meeting. Exceptions to 'OB devotion in this group of eventual filmmakers of the internationally acclaimed variety were a few of the aforementioned progeny of card-carrying members of the Communist party. They know who they are. I'm not going to rat them out. I'm no Edward Dmytryk, for Christ's sake.

"It's time to make the beds, M'am."
Preamble #2: Peter Warren - Investigative Reporter
The man who ruled the 'OB roost, the man who towered above ALL, was none other than investigative reporter Peter Warren and his insanely compulsive call-in program, "The Action Line". Peter began every morning with the words, "Let's get right down to business" and then he'd begin to spit his Holy Bile whilst launching into whatever the "controversy" of the day was. Warren ALWAYS pronounced "controversy" with one major accent which he placed upon the "rov" portion of the word.

Satisfied Peter Warren Listeners
Go ahead. Try it yourself. "Cont-ROV-ersy". It sounds good, doesn't it? It should, it's Peter Warren-approved. When the loyal 'OB listeners called in to speak their mind on whatever controversy Peter wanted to discuss, he had an extra-special phrase for women who went on too long and whom he disagreed with: "Time to make the beds, M'am," he'd bark, then hang up. There were regular callers as well. The best was Winnipeg's crazy cat lady, Bertha Rand. She'd shriek into the phone and seldom made any sense at all. And, of course, there were all the thick-accented immigrants. One of them, who went by the name of Joe, was an old Ukrainian who always had intelligent comments for Peter. One controversy involved a company in Winnipeg called Western Glove Works and Warren was quite upset that they were getting subsidies from the government to provide jobs for recent landed immigrants who weren't even citizens of Canada yet. Joe called up, with the thickest, stupidest Ukrainian accent imaginable and announced: "I agree'it veeth you, Peetor Voron. Ease nawt wary goote debt gorman gee'wit tex-payor mawney to eema-grunt, Peetor Voron." Translation: "I agree it with you, Peter Warren. Is not very good that government give it money to immigrants, Peter Warren." Another controversy I remember with considerable fondness was when Winnipeg's cutting edge alternative Plug-In Gallery, featured a performance artist who stood naked in the middle of the space with 100 toy soldiers attached by string to his penis. Warren, got right on this and complained how government money was used to subsidize this public display of pornography. Warren went on to say he had more respect for strippers because they, at least, did not survive on government handouts. Joe the Ukrainian, had a few words to say on this matter. He called in and opined: "Peetor Voron, I need'it complain bout gorman gee'wit mawney to theese peegs. Streeper ease vooman, yes? Vooman wase normal, yes? Man veeth penis, nawt normal." Translation: "Peter Warren, I need to complain about the government giving money to these pigs. A stripper is a woman. A woman is normal. A man with a penis is not normal." Joe, of course, was me.

Immortalized in the play by
Maureen Hunter
I would spend many mornings at the Winnipeg Film Group offices, hanging with other filmmakers as we all listened to Peter Warren. When the right "cont-ROV-ersy" reared it's head, I dialled the telephone number still emblazoned upon my memory, 780-6868, launched into my "Joe" impersonation and let rip. Occasionally, Warren would try to engage "Joe" in a conversation, though more often than not, he politely barked, "Thank you so much for your comment, sir." This, I have to admit, was a bit more polite than, "Time to go make the beds."

Ryan McKenna has crafted an exquisite 17-minute short film which captures the halcyon days of Peter Warren's reign as the true heart and soul of Winnipeg's immortal radio station CJOB. Bookended by Warren's signature sign-on and sign off, McKenna edits together a series of haunting archival audio clips of actual Winnipeggers calling into Warren's "Action Line" with their comments. McKenna illustrates this poetic evocation of the strangest city in North America with a series of monochromatic images of not-very-happy Winnipeggers sitting like vegetables as they listen to the longest running talk show in the city. These are punctuated every so often with shots of Winnipeg's unique, stylishly bleak architecture and terrain. The film is a window into the soul of a city in a state of slow death and decay. It works perfectly on its own, but if you watch it within the context of any films made in Winnipeg from the same period by Guy Maddin, John Paizs, Greg Hanec, Lorne Bailey, Barry Gibson, Allen Schinkel, John Kozak and so many others, you'll see how a city is captured by an iconic radio station and how this, in turn, has influenced an important generation of filmmakers whose work has embedded itself into the psyches of cinema lovers all over the world. Now, a new generation of filmmakers like McKenna are picking up that torch and facing the ghoulish nightmare that is Winnipeg straight in the eye. They are, as it were, getting right down to business.

Will The Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up (2014) Dir. Dave Barber ***1/2
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Dave Barber is the one, only and longest-serving Senior Programmer of Film at the Winnipeg Film Group cooperative of independent cinema. Since 1982, Barber has shaped and moulded and influenced the minds of Winnipeg filmmakers and movie-goers with some of the most daring, alternative works from all periods of film history and countries all over the world including a firm commitment to the public screening of Canadian movies. He is a legend in the city of Winnipeg. Thankfully these days, as the Senior Programmer, he no longer has to do everything he's always done, PLUS manage the cinema, clean the popcorn machine and deal with the organization's increasingly useless bureaucracy. With Jaimz Asmundson, the trusty Programming Director at his side, Barber does what he does best and the city and its film culture are all the better off for it.

In 2013, Barber was awarded with a prestigious prize at the Manitoba Legislature for his longtime and ongoing service - the coveted Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal.

With Will The Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up, Barber can now add the word "filmmaker" to his list of accomplishments. He has crafted this delightful 4-minute gem of a film that stands as a clever, inspiring, hilarious and self-deprecating documentary about his Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal. What's especially cool about it, is that he's fashioned it in homage to the Prairie Post-Modernist Tradition of all those brilliant filmmakers he has nurtured and nourished with over 30 years of presenting cinema to inspire all of them. Using the tell-tale touches of deadpan delivery, fixed camera, voice-over narration and droll humour, it's a film that uses homage as a springboard and serves up a work that moves into its own delectably subversive realm of insanity.

Controversies and Will The Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up can be seen at the Hot Docs 2014 and the 2014 DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver. For Hot Docs info, click HERE. For DOXA info, click HERE.

These two films will be part of an exciting DOXA program called "Weird Old Winnipeg" which will feature a selection of the latest and brightest and newest filmmakers to carry the Maddin-Paizs, etc. torch of Prairie Post-Modernist Cinema into the New Millennium. Here is the full program:

Jaimz Asmundson and Karen Asmundson
with: Citizens Against Basswood

Dave Barber
with: Will The Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up

Walter Forsberg
with: Fahrenheit 7-Eleven

Ryan McKenna
with: Controversies

Matthew Rankin
with: I Dream of Driftwood

Leslie Supnet
with: Animated Heavy Metal Parking Lot and Spectroscopy

Rhayne Vermette
with: J. Werier

Aaron Zeghers and Nigel Webber
with: 11 Parking Lots and One Gradual Sunset