Archive for September 2009
The best interview of Pierre Falardeau I ever saw was the only one I ever heard him give in English. In English Falardeau couldn’t pull the rancid foul-mouthed chain-smoking schtick that had made him such a polarizing and familiar face on TV. In English he was just a soft-spoken filmaker talking about his art.
To most people, however, the director of Elvis Gratton, Octobre, Le Party, Le Steak and 15 Février 1837 will always be the bitter and angry separatist ranting about the Molsons, Trudeau and Big Federalist Media, waving his cigarette menacingly. Pierre Falardeau died yesterday. Not from lung cancer, in case you were wondering.
Pierre Falardeau’s character served him well. It made him a celebrity. A media personality. It didn’t matter if people liked him of not, he could deliver the ratings. Once it even got him a seat on Bouillon de Culture, the French TV show about Haute Culture where a dozen parisian luminaries with broom handles up their asses talk about Alain Finkelkraut’s latest essay for four and a half hours. Falardeau slouched on his chair, smoked on the set and cranked the joual to blasphemous. The French loved him.
Falardeau constantly had to sell himself because he wouldn’t sell out. He refused to shoot commercials to make a living. Since it’s just about impossible to raise the money to make a movie anywhere outside Hollywood without governement financing Falardeau had to go on TV and put on a show every so often to remind his fans that he was waiting on a check from Telefilm Canada, the governement agency that funds canadian movies.
Without the public pressure from his fans the militant filmaker knew his scenarios would have been killed one after another until he would have broken down and agreed to make films about “the migration of Canadian geese and the existential angst of Outremont’s middle aged.”
He wasn’t faking. He really was angry. He had to fight for every foot of film he ever got. Guerrilla warfare. He had to set the original script of 15 Février 1837, his movie about the Patriot Rebellion, in Poland to get it past a first round of bureaucrats.
Ultimatly, though, it got old. Falardeau got stuck in his character: a drooling separatist bogey man consumed by anger. A defeated man who would never live his dream of an independent Québec.
That’s why it was so refreshing to discover the other Falardeau in that English interview. The anthropologist. The scholar of imperialism and colonisation. The man who’s ultimate struggle was not about some administratively independent state for Québec but giving the Québécois the opportunity to make and watch their own stories on the big screen before they came to believe, like Elvis Gratton, that American stories are the only stories in the world.
–But you keep bitting the hand that feeds you! said the reporter in the English interview. Why should canadian taxpayers give you any money at all?
-Because I’m the only filmmaker in Canada who’s movie have ever made a profit, quitely answered Falardeau. I don’t cost money, I make money.
Things have changed since that interview. This summer Québec movies made 18% of the box office revenue in the province. The top grossing film of the entire summer, beating Harry Potter, Tansformers and G.I. Joe, was De Père en Flic, a Québec movie. There are very few countries in the Western world where domestic movies have that big a share of the market. Canadian films count for less than 2% of tickets sold in English Canada.
But before they could start building a man had to come to claim the land. He had to cut down the trees and scorch the earth. He had to fight off the bears and squatters. He had to make sure the bankers money would be used to build a railroad. It was tough work. Not for your average film school grad.
The only reason there is a Québec film industry at all is because Pierre Falardeau proved that moviegoers would come out and pay to see a Québec movie at the multiplex. Slapstic comedies, documentaries and historical dramas.
Pierre Falardeau made Québec’s commercial film industry possible. And he did it without selling out. Respect.
It sounds like the setup to a bad joke: it’s 33° and I’m driving a bus full of sweaty Inuit teens in their bathing suits to a water park in a place called, of all things, Pointe-Calumet.
The day had not started well. I drove up to the address on my paperwork in the leafy West Island suburb of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue to find out that the street was closed. After some pretty awesome driving that nobody got to witness, I finally made my way to my pick up location where a dozen bored Inuits just stared at me.
–C’est vous la gang pour les glissades d’eau? I asked.
–English!, some obnoxious fat eskimo girl barked back.
-Français!, I answered.
I tell you kids these days. English please, maybe?
I was fuming. I was ready to fight the battle of Oka all over again. I was making plans to get on a plane to Kuujuuak right that day and just spend the day walking around yelling Français! every time someone addressed me in Inuktitut.
Driving down highway 40 all the way to the other side of Montreal to pick up the other half of my group at the Cégep Marie-Victorin it occurred to me that my chances of someone addressing a white boy like me in Inuktitut, even in the North, were probably quite slim. I was tired and cranky. Maybe my usually cheerful AngryFrenchDisposition had not come across well.
I blame the Jews. Two of them: Jon and Benji who had me out drinking until way passed my bedtime the night before.
So anyway, by the time we reach the East End, I’m considerably less pumped. Another dozen Inuits come on the bus but this time no one speaks to me in the world’s great order-giving language.
It turns out these kids had literally just landed in Montréal and were spending their first few days away from home. They were all from Nunavik, a series of Inuit villages that line the northern shores of Québec, from Hudson’s Bay to the very tip of the province and back down to Labrador.
Québec’s Inuit villages, contrary to popular belief, are not reservations and the Inuits who live there pay taxes even though they receive precious few government services. One of the many services they don’t get is higher education. The kids on the bus were in Montréal to go to Cégep. Half of them we’re studying in English at John-Abbott College in the West, the other half were going to school in French at le Collège Marie-Victorin.
Language politics are obviously completely different in the North—where, at least until further notice, the first language of most people is neither French nor English—but it still struck me how the French and English Inuits reproduced so many of the south’s social behaviour.
Anglo and Franco-Inuits kept apart, with one group occupying the back of the bus, the other the front. If the Anglo-Inuits spoke or understood any French, they weren’t using it. On the other hand, the French-Inuits all seemed to be able to speak English. Indeed, they often used English when addressing the Anglo Inuits. The Anglo-Inuits were (as the morning’s experience illustrated) loud and testy. The Franco Inuits ate poutine for lunch and their women were hotter.
The Franco Inuits also had their token white boy who was able to speak (what seemed to me) fluent Inuktitut, which is pretty cool.
As the sun came down and the humidex level fell, my white guilt shot up. I had had negative feelings about native kids. Micheal Ignatieff would so hate me.
I needed to redeem myself from the morning’s tense encounter with the first group and to demonstrate what a culturally sensitive person that I really am. I asked the big and beautiful First Nation lady who had yelled to me in English if she could teach me how to say Hello in Inuktitut so I could impress the other kids as they came on the bus. Apparently unaware that we had been fighting, she was glad to teach me.
It turns out that Hello in Inuktitut is Ai, which, with a gringo accent, sounds exactly like English Hi, which left the kids absolutely unimpressed with my linguistic skills.
There is even one of the Franco Inuits who replied with a very dry Bonjour, as if she was annoyed that I assumed she spoke English because she was an Inuit.
On the 29th of January 1969, 10 months 22 months before the kidnapping of James Cross and Pierre Laporte by the Front de Libération du Québec and the beginning of the October crisis, about 200 black and white students of Sir George William university—now Concordia University—occupied the computer room to protest racism and discrimination. Things got ugly, fire broke out and the university called in the riot squad to arrest the students while a crowd of white students stood by, chanting « Burn, Nigger, Burn ».
Canada briefly became the symbol of racism and imperialism across the black world, writes Sean William Mills of Queen’s University in The Empire Within, as « protests against symbols of Canadian power erupted throughout the Caribbean. In the aftermath of the event, students at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados mounted a “symbolic burial of (…) the racist institution of Sir George Williams University,” and the visit of Canadian Governor General Daniel Roland Michener to the West Indies on a ‘good-will’ tour set off a series of mass protests, contributing to a revolutionary moment that nearly toppled the government of Trinidad. »
That was Montreal in it’s “glory days”, you know, before the separatists showed up…
Earlier this week newspapers across Canada offered unsolicited advice of the controversy surrounding the proposed reading of the Front de Libération du Québec’s manifesto on the Plains of Abraham as part of a commemoration of the 1759 battle that, according to a Globe and Mail writer “marks the birth of the great Canadian spirit of cultural accommodation.”
Some, like the Calgary Herald, argued against “celebrating and glorifying the racist text.” Most, however, thought the manifesto should be read in the name of memory and History. It is a reminder of the dark side of Québec nationalism, editorialized the Edmonton Journal: « The document is as ancient, paranoid and creepy as a lunatic pamphlet promoting sterilization or racial cleansing ». The National Post also agreed the Manifesto should be read, as long as it was « delivered with all the savage, sneering, race-supremacist spirit in which it was written. »
The National Post editorial board saw a black québécois, Luck Mervil, who announced he was going to read the manifesto of a 1970’s radical gang that trained in Jordan with the PLO, idealized Algerian revolutionaries, worshiped the Black Panthers, kidnapped a couple of white guys–a Brit and a French-Canadian–before fleeing to exile in Cuba, and with their deep and subtle understanding of History discerned a “race-supremacist spirit »?!?
People sometime do that. When they don’t like an event or memory in their personal past they ctrl-x it out and ctrl-v another story in its place.
The way in which English-Canada has been mapping the events of the Civil Rights movement and the violence that shook the deep american south onto the October Crisis is transparent. English Canadians are cast as the good guys, progressive and modern JFK-type northerners. French Canadians play the role of the fundamentally good yet slightly retarded southern whites in need of stern moral guidance. English Montrealers become the powerless black folk and the FLQ is completely reinvented as a hate-filled rear-guard militia of inbred bigots known in other parts as the KKK. In that story the Canadian army was sent into the streets of Montreal to prevent a race war and restore harmonious multicultural peace.
Hey, Canadians aren’t the only ones who are trying to live out someone else’s history. The white private school guerrilleros of the FLQ had deeply immersed themselves in the writings of Malcom X, Aimé Césaire and Black Liberation. They had come to see and describe themselves as the « Blacks of Canada » and the « White Niggers of America ». Whiggers with dynamite.
Québec and Black Nationalists actually did bang together on some occasions, like that time in 1962, reported in Time magazine, when a “frowsy, 6-ft. blonde named Michelle Duclos, 26, (…) a frequent visitor to New York for dates with African representatives to the U.N.” was arrested for transporting dynamite over the border for “the Black Liberation Front, a hot-eyed batch of pro-Castro New York Negroes.” Randy negros and promiscuous French girls: Protestant America’s nightmare.
But at the end of the day the fact is there were black people in Montreal in 1970 and they weren’t down with the FLQ any more than they were the FLQ’s target. They had their own struggle.
Remembering History is great. Remembering what really happened is even better.
And what actually happened is that when the anti-racism Sir George William University demonstrators were tried for civil disobedience and destroying 2 million dollars worth of computers, their attorney was Robert Lemieux…
…the FLQ’s lawyer.
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In her entire career, Céline Dion has has produced one and only one acceptable recording: 1992’s Je danse dans ma tête, 4 minutes 14 seconds of unintentional pop pleasure which has finally been properly recognized and covered by Orange Orange.
The rest of her music should be banned like hip hop in Iran (Iranian hip hop actually is the bomb and shouldn’t be banned, but sadly is… You know what I meant…)
I remember clearly sitting on my bed in the late 80’s, looking for pictures of cute girls in one of sisters Québec celebrity magazines and finding instead this article about this very ordinary looking Jesus Freak who was confidently informing us that she was going to be as big a Micheal Jackson. I laughed.
Look who’s laughing now.
I have tremendous respect for Céline Dion and her manager/husband René Angelil for an impeccable commercial carreer. I especially appreciate how she has been as loyal to her fans. She goes on Oprah and talks to America as if she’s in her living room talking to her sisters. Even as she became one of the biggest selling artists in the United States she kept on appearing on local Québec TV, hosting l’ADISQ, Québec’s music awards and participating in Québec’s cultural scene.
Others, like Roch Voisine (who actually was a bigger star than Céline for a while) tried to follow her footsteps down the middle of the road, but failed because he did not understand the need to consolidate what he had built. He used the Québec market as a stepping stone to France, and French success as a springboard to the English-speaking market. Focused on the Holy Grail of the best selling English album, he ignored his first public for years and years. When he came back, defeated, for a consolation prize French career, his fans had moved on.
Céline has one career. She is an international star who sings in French and English. Céline brought all her fans along with her to the top.
Except English Montreal, apparently.
Brendan Kelly, a reporter covering the French-language showbiz beat at the Montreal Gazette posted a couple of lines a few weeks ago about Céline Dion’s pregnancy. The story triggered a deluge of, in Kelly’s onw words, “not just negative, but bitterly negative” comments.
The comments are apparently not only about Céline’s crimes against music, which would certainly be justified, but about her being Franco, about the old story of her infamous “I am not an anglophone, I am a Québécoise” quote and about how she really is a separatist mole…
“I’m actually not sure but it underlies once again that Céline is something of a lightining rod for feelings of discontent amoungst anglo Montrealers”, speculated Kelly. “Like I said, weird.”
Yesterday Kelly expanded his theory on his blog: “Could it be that this anger is a kind of odd manifestation of the discontent felt by some in the anglo community as francophones here gain more and more power (politically, socially, in business)? Céline rose to the top at the same time that we anglos were slipping far from our previous dominance and, to add salt to the wound, Céline was becoming the most famous franco Québecoise in the universe by singing in English, the language on the downswing chez nous.”
I would say that Brendan is correct.
I would add that Céline’s success also shatters two important Angryphone myths:
Myth one: Francophones need the benevolent unilingual Anglos to take them by the hand and guide and and protect them in the wider English-speaking world.
Myth two: Once you have made it in the real (i.e. English-speaking) world, you do not go back.
Céline’s success brought home the fact that the English-speaking world is only a part of Céline’s world. Céline Dion, Québec, the French language and the world go on beyond English.