Bruce McDonald’s “Hard Core Logo”
November 4, 2013
Review By Mark Harris
Although it’s one of the three major production sites In Canada, surprisingly few memorable movies have actually been made in Vancouver. Even lonely Winnipeg has fared better in this regard, with cinematic mythologizer Guy Maddin alternately mocking and celebrating his hometown in film after film. As for Toronto, it has served as the backdrop, acknowledged or unacknowledged, for most of Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg’s most feted productions, while the fabric of Montreal is more or less inseparable from the oeuvre of Gilles Carle, Pierre Falardeau, Alain Forcier, Denys Arcand and dozens of other cinéastes. Occasionally, a Canadian cult hit (The Grey Fox; My American Cousin) will be associated with British Columbia, but the action will almost always unfold in the hinterland, not in the province’s largest city. Indeed, Robert Altman’s American entry That Cold Day in the Park (1969) might still be the best-known Vancouver-centred motion picture ever lensed (and it’s not all that good, either).
The above summation would seem to suggest that the lower mainland is even more a hewer of wood and a drawer of water than either Toronto or Montreal, but that’s not necessarily the case. In all three cities catering to U.S. producers—especially U.S. TV producers—is what keeps the local artisans and technicians gainfully employed. What’s more, as each edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival amply demonstrates, independent features are made here ever year, but very few of these films will commercially travel as far as Granville, never mind Yonge or Ste-Catherine (obviously I’m talking metaphorically here, as big city main drags are no longer the primary locus of film viewing anywhere in Canada). Essentially, these home-grown products are confined to the film festival circuit, where they attract rather less attention than, say, Iranian neorealist dramas.
All of which brings us, via a circuitous route, to the cultural significance of Hard Core Logo. Technically, a road movie about a defunct punk band’s doomed attempt to resurrect itself in the mid-1990s, the action theoretically sprawls between the West Coast and Winnipeg although, in reality, just about everything was shot in Vancouver and environs. The source novelist (Michael Turner) might be a native British Columbian, but the director (Bruce McDonald) was born in Ontario. By these narrow auteurist standards, Hard Core Logo should be considered as, at best, a pan-Canadian production. Ironically, even with this provincial chauvinism in mind, Hard Core Logo might still qualify as the quintessential Vancouver fiction feature (this distinction is vital since, in the more esoteric fields of animation, documentary and experimental cinema, the lower mainland has been far more successful).
Vancouver has a habit of dealing with its pivotal moments long after the fact…if at all. Thus, those seeking cinematic representations of the city’s famous flirtation with the Summer of Love, are pretty much stuck with the early works of Larry Kent and Sandy Wilson’s My American Boyfriend (1989). To appropriate an early title by Milan Kundera, onscreen life seems to be elsewhere in this neck of the woods.
As for Paul McEwan, the author of the monograph under discussion, the only data I have on him is that he teaches at Muhlenberg College (presumably the one located in Allentown, Pennsylvania). In other words, I don’t know whether he’s a Vancouverite, a British Columbian, or even a Canadian (which could be a blessing; this review is regional enough as it is).
What I can say is this: he takes his responsibilities seriously. Too often books of this kind turn into vanity projects for authors who are famous for other things—Barry Gifford’s Brando Rides Alone comes to mind, in this regard—but McEwan analyzes McDonald’s film in a manner that expertly mingles rigor, order, comprehensiveness and accessibility.
Typical of this approach, is the author’s appropriation of the concept of “star text.” In Hard Core Logo, Bruce McDonald plays a documentary filmmaker named Bruce McDonald, whose past work is identical to that of the man whose name rides above the tile even though he’s actually a fictional character. McEwan elaborates on this metafictional conceit in a manner that permits him to reflect on the trajectory of the director’s career, while simultaneously reconfirming the film’s inscription in the sub-genre of mockumentary and providing an opportunity to remember the big names in Vancouver’s punk past with spare elegance. That he used jargon in this instance is not coincidental, since this is something that McEwan rarely does, employing it only when it leads to greater clarity, not less.
If only all scholarly film writers thought this way. Without in any way being vulgar or excessively populist, Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo is also informative and entertaining. This Westernmost addition to the University of Toronto’s admirable Canadian Cinema Series might well be the most readable yet (and I mean this in the best possible way).
Bruce McDonald’s “Hard Core Logo”
by Paul McEwan
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 144 pp.