Volume 12, Issue 2 / February 2008

Popular Cinemas Past and Present

In this issue Offscreen looks at the state of (some) popular cinema, past (1970s) and present. The first three pieces deal with Canadian popular cinema, a term which for some people, is a bit of a forced oxymoron (how can a film be Canadian and popular!). Of course we know better. The first essay sets up the immediate and background context for the two interviews with Canadian directors Doug Harris, a filmmaker who had first hand experience of the Canadian Capital Cost Allowance era, and Phillippe Spurrell, director of the recent supernatural horror film, The Descendant (2007). The interviews with Harris and Spurrell form a double tribute, one (Harris) an with an eye to the past, and one with an eye to the future (Spurrell). The Harris interview is a sardonic, funny, and at times bitter, ‘remembrance’ of an important part of Canadian film history, one that may have been buried, but not forgotten. This interview with Harris is a tribute to all those tax-shelter films that were started and never completed, or made and forgotten by all but a select few. While Harris dropped out of the feature film mill after his experience with his debut film Remembering Mel: Portrait of a Loser (1986), Spurrell has shown a yeoman’s sense of perseverance by making his first feature at roughly the age Harris is today. Spurrell should be lauded for his commitment to a style which goes against the grain of much current popular cinema in terms of its measured pace, minimal on screen violence, and visual restraint. The result is a style which does not overwhelm the film’s social subtext. The final two essays are not only linked by their subject —recent contemporary horror cinema— but more directly by a recent trend in horror toward re-appropriating certain qualities of Reality TV, not the least being the sense of immediacy and familiarity that comes with the small screen experience. The recent box-office success Cloverfield will no doubt spawn even more of such Reality TV based horror. One such film that has been causing a major buzz among horror newsgroups and horror fan sites is Paranormal Activity (2007, Oren Peli), which played at Slamdance and had impressed so much that Dreamworks immediately purchased the remake rights, with the caveat that the original film have no further screenings. (See here for more info). The director of the original, Peli, has been slated to direct the remake. Simon Laperrière’s essay, “Cross-breed and Contamination: Reflections on the Contemporary Horror Film,” broadens this context and identifies this heightened intimacy between horror film and spectator as one of this venerable genre’s most distinctive features. (ed. Donato Totaro)

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