Tuesday, 15 September 2015

BRING ME THE HEAD OF TIM HORTON - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2015 ***** 5-Stars

Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton: The Making of Hyena Road (2015)
Dir. Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson
Starring: Guy Maddin, Michael Kennedy, Paul Gross

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You probably needn't bother seeing Paul Gross's mound of mediocrity that is Hyena Road, unless, of course you're into bargain basement Canadian war-porn which propagandistically extols the virtues of the Canuck military during the horrendous, needless war in Afghanistan. That said, WHATEVER you do, do NOT hesitate to purchase Gross's movie when it becomes available on Blu-Ray and DVD since it will include a special feature worth owning and cherishing - the brilliant 30-minute "Making-of" film by Guy Maddin, a genuine Canadian national treasure and made in collaboration with his brilliant young charges, the Brothers Johnson (Evan is co-director of Maddin's brilliant The Hidden Room and Galen was the picture's production designer and composer).

For a "making-of" documentary to be lightyears better than the film it's supposed to prop up and promote is virtually unheard of, but Maddin and the Johnsons have managed to do it. In fact, they've followed in the footsteps of the great 1975 film Vampir-Cuadecuc by Pere Portabella. That film mixes high-contrast degraded monochrome behind-the-scenes images of Jesus Franco's Count Dracula starring the two greats of Hammer Horror, Christopher Lee and Herbert Lom. No such greats appear in Hyena Road, unless you consider Gross a "great" for starring in the insufferably long-running TV series "Due South", wherein he plays a straight-laced pole-up-the-butt Canuck Mountie doing his thing on the mean streets of Chicago. And though Jesus Franco ground out enough horror and soft-porn to fill several racks of video rentals, he was imbued with the kind of style and utter insanity which often resulted in genuine masterworks like the astonishing Vampyros Lesbos. No such luck with Gross as a director as his output adds up to the unfunny comedy about curling, Men With Brooms, one of the worst films of all time, the risible WWI anti-war howler Passchendaele and now Hyena Road.

One of the brilliant aspects of Portabella's film is how it presented a sardonic portrait of both the movie-making process, but most importantly, how it used Jesus Franco's film to examine the notion of myth making via the powerful images of both motion pictures and political propaganda. Let's not forget that Spain had a far more dangerous, insidious "Franco" who ruled with an iron Totalitarian fist and also manipulated his "image" to justify his acts of brutality and persecution.

Maddin and the Johnsons are in similar territory here, crapping on the populist waste of Gross's war-porn whilst condemning Canada's involvement in the Middle Eastern Wars which had nothing to do with fighting for liberty and freedom, but instead were used to instill racist images in the minds of those on the home front as our boys actually fought and died for the insidious needs of the "1%" to control Middle Eastern Oil.

At one point, Maddin actually describes how he's used as an unpaid extra (which, I assume, was A-Okay by Canada's acting union ACTRA): "I suppose it was someone's idea of a joke to cast me as a background extra during a glorious Canadian raping of an Afghanistan village," he says with more than a tiny bit of bile.

In fact, one of the most powerful elements of Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, alluding to the long-dead Canadian hockey star who built an empire of Canadian donut shops and, of course, Sam Peckinpah's greatest film, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which dealt with the rape of poverty-stricken Mexicans at the hands of American gangsters in cahoots with Mexico's 1%, is how Maddin and the Johnsons take aim at the corruption inherent in Canada's cultural industries and the country's acquiescence to both America and the very rich.

At one point, we see Maddin lying in the hot sun of Jordan as his voice-over informs us of what brought him to this lowly point. He needs money to desperately finish his masterpiece The Forbidden Room. Not including himself, the film had 15 credited producers (!!!) to what was a complex, but still more-than-do-able avant-garde picture. Facing a veritable swamp with an army of fingers in his creative pie, how is it that one of Canada's greatest artists is so destitute he needs to take this weird job in order to finish his own modest film? Surrounded by an army of indulgence and millions of dollars, this brilliant "making of" morphs into one of the most personal and powerful works of art to ever be made in Canada.

"Man. Oh man, Oh Man," laments Maddin. "Whatever! Here I am, lying in the dirt. Broke. Flat broke. Down. Out. A lowly unpaid deepest background extra playing a slain Taliban soldier, surely the pinkest of all Taliban soldiers in Paul Gross's big budget Afghanistan war epic Hyena Road. I'm lying in the dirt in the middle of a Jordanian desert, a 100-hour camel, car and plane ride away from home, hiding my pink hands in my pants so they won't be seen by the camera a few football fields away. Jordan is gorgeous, yet everything about my visit here is GROSS, hideous."

Maddin adds: "Dead. Inert. Impotent. I might as well be garbage flapping in the wind."

The garbage, as it turns out, is Hyena Road. Maddin uses this opportunity to dream about the kind of movie he'd make if blessed with millions of dollars. Astoundingly and not surprisingly, the movie Maddin would make is recreated brilliantly - veering twixt high contrast monochrome (which makes this horrific war look a glorious studio propaganda film from the 40s, but blended with the documentary look of the immortal Frank Capra - John Ford - Samuel Fuller - George Stevens "Why We Fight" series). Then Maddin and the Johnsons dive into over-saturated faux technicolor, blending a crazed David O. Selznick/William Cameron Menzies epic with a cheesy 80s video game. Finally, we get the greatest fever dream of them all - an Afghani War Film with the magnificent adornments of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. (During this section, the filmmakers captured some footage of Paul Gross exiting from within a closed door onto the set, his face plastered with a strange smile that makes him look like he's had some good times in an on-set glory hole and then, ignoring the "spaghetti western" action, he engages in a cel phone call with a smug, distracted smile.)

One of the more oddball bits in the movie (as if there haven't been quite enough) is a perverse montage of Michael Kennedy, the Executive Vice-President of the Canadian exhibition chain (and virtual monopoly) as he provides a kind of Greek Chorus as an oath of fealty to the corporate manufacture and exhibition of machine-tooled motion picture product. As a huge explosion rocks behind Kennedy, he happily chirps, "Stay tuned. We're going to go beyond the scenes."

The most positive aspect to this amazing short work of cinematic art is that it genuinely represents the poetry of movies with references to the play books of great scribes in addition to hockey legends like Guy Lafleur.

There's clearly little in the way of art displayed in Hyena Road, but the film might be the most important work Gross has ever done. It assisted Maddin to finish The Forbidden Room and yielded Maddin and the Johnsons an opportunity to create a work that will long be remembered, long after the mediocrity of Hyena Road is but a fleeting memory in Paul Gross's mind.


Bring Me The Head Of Time Horton: The Making of Hyena Road is a Vanguard presentation during TIFF 2015. For further info, visit the TIFF website HERE.