Toronto celebrates its 175th birthday this year, and as a means of celebrating the city’s demisemiseptcentennial, the TIFF Cinematheque (formerly Cinematheque Ontario) is playing host to the Toronto on Film series. An impressive programme of features and short subject films by Torontonian auteurs such as Deepa Meehta, Clement Virgo, Patricia Rozema and David Cronenberg, Toronto on Film serves as an on-screen compliment to the TIFF Group's recently released book of the same name (WLU Press).
From Robin Spry’s Yorkville hippie doc Flowers on a One Way Street (1967) to the heady McLuhanisms of Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) to the CN Tower scaling fantasia of Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1988), these are all films which, if not dealing explicitly with the social and cultural topography of Canada’s largest metropolis, at least present Toronto qua Toronto.
I’m probably exposing myself a bit in saying this, but I remember repeated viewings of the stoner comedy Half Baked being foiled in my youth when Toronto refused to successfully pass as New York City. A Pizza Pizza storefront, licensed under L.L.B.O. signage, silver hot dog carts and that iconic (and now defunct) Sam the Record Man flagship store seemed as blatantly out of place in New York City as the Skydome or a St. Pat's jersey. Such telltale signs of Toronto’s surreptitious presence spoiled attempts to suspend my disbelief more than the film’s flying Rottweiler sequence.
Refusing to doll Hogtown up in drag as the Big Apple or the Windy City, the selections of the Toronto on Film programme are unashamed of their uniquely Canadian set-dressing. In something so simple as having James Woods “ride the rocket,” they gamely prop up Toronto as a lively metropole on par with NYC, Chicago or London. John L’Ecuyer’s Curtis’s Charm (1995) manages to take this one step further, effectively inverting the flow of Toronto’s regular presence in American cinema in transplanting Jim Carroll’s (RIP) story of junkie camaraderie from New York to Toronto.
While there are some curious omissions—Don McKeller’s Last Night (1998) seems to me as fine a Toronto film as any of these, though I suppose with Videodrome and The Bloody Brood in the mix, the Cinematheque programmers didn’t want to overload on cult cache and urban apocalypticism—on the whole, Toronto on Film is an exciting, informative and fairly comprehensive look at the cinema of The Big Smoke.
For the complete programme and schedule, click here.