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Films by Michael Ondaatje

james hörner

mongrel Media has done us a great service with the release of Films of Michael Ondaatje. Ever since I first encountered bpNichol and found out that Michael Ondaatje had done a film on him I longed to see it. Until now I wasn't entirely sure how one could go about finding it. This release of does more than satiate this desire, however. I was immediately knocked over with The Clinton Special, which I had also never seen.

Films by Michael Ondaatje

The Clinton Special: A Film About The Farm Show (1971, 71 mins.)

Paul Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille led a group of actors out to an Ontario farming community to invent a new sort of theatre, one that embraced the and reflected the social reality of those around them.

This documentary is captivating, capturing the intensity of the actual stage presentation of The Farm Show as it was performed for the community, as well as revealing the real characters behind the play. The transformation of the actors is astounding, and a testament to the life changing experience that this was for each of them.

In one scene director Paul Thompson sums up the simple profundity of what they were doing quite nicely:

Theatre in Canada didn't have anything to do with the people who lived around the area, and I guess the biggest fun of doing the farm theatre was that these people came and they weren't watching kings and queens for a change.

Not to gush at length, but this is a wonderful film and absolutely essential viewing. It is a record of both the skill and study of acting, but also a strong portrayal of everyday people and the relationships that the actors developed with them through the course of the film. In other words, its a feel-good documentary without being sappy or sentimental.

Sons of Captain Poetry (1970, 29 mins.)

I've always found bpNichol so terribly loveable. His writing hums with excitement over language and living. No other poet has given me such pleasure from their playfullness with the written and spoken word. bpNichol poems and recordings can make me giggle at his silliness, and come to tears from the sincerity of his wonder at the world.

Sons of Captain Poetry is short portrait of the artist as a young man. bp, who died far too early at age 44, was only 26 when this film was made on him. His sense of certainty and purpose fills the frame in the course of interviews, and his daring showmanship is exhibited by his songs and poems.

This film gives us a small introduction to the man, and it is certainly not surprising to see that he went on to have such an intense career. What I walked away with most from this documentary was the desire to write a biography on him so that I could get the chance to know him better.

DVD Special Features

The obligatory additional features section of the dvd was rewarding. There is a badly edited interview with Michael Ondaatje that is witty and reflective. In it Ondaatje looks back on his youthful days as a filmmaker, comments on the filmmaking vs writing process, and reminisces a bit about the old Coach House Press days.

As well, there is a series of lengthy interviews with the crew from The Farm Show that is especially insightful and well worth a viewing. Each actor talks about the experience and how it affectd their lives.

Films by Michael Ondaatje is one of those rare items that I cannot recommend highly enough and without hesitation.

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james hörner edits canadian content

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