David Lynch.Filmmaker Jon Nguyen spent 25 weekends over almost three years interviewing David Lynch in his studio – painting, sculpting, smoking, drinking coffee and talking – to produce the new documentary David Lynch: The Art Life. The result is a compelling autobiography from a working artist who literally makes art every day, when he’s not occupied with filmmaking or writing his new Twin Peaks TV series. Lynch leads us on his life’s journey as an artist, from childhood to the AFI grant that enabled him to produce his fabled first feature Eraserhead.

This “private memoir” is dedicated to Lynch’s young daughter Lula, who was about three and a half when seen with her father in his workshop. (His daughter Jennifer, the offspring of an early relationship, is seen in a home movie from the late 1960s.)  Lynch’s unforced lilt as he narrates his life reminded me of John Cage’s one-minute storytelling cadences in Indeterminacy. Danish composer Jonatan Bengta’s electronically-based soundtrack over a hypnotic percussion beat etches a deep groove that moves symbiotically with the film’s natural rhythms. Bengta wrote on his Facebook page just before The Art Life premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September: “As a teen I tried to copy his hairstyle and twang my voice similarly. I then learnt how to talk like the elephant man and finally started to drink black coffee like Agent Cooper.” Lynch’s own blues-based music – I Have a Radio, The Night Bell with Lightning and Sparkle Lounge Blues, all with collaborator Dean Hurley – makes a few pointed appearances as well.

Filled with family anecdotes illustrated by old photographs, Lynch takes us through a happy childhood in the American Northwest and an unhappy adolescence triggered by a move to Virginia, all of it seemingly focused on his past, present and (implicitly) future life as a hardcore artist. An early key was his prescient mother who recognized something in her son that led her to forbid his use of colouring books because their rigidity would restrict his creativity. In high school it was the painter Bushnell Keeler, the stepfather of a friend, who became a mentor and later rented Lynch space in his studio. Keeler was the embodiment of “the art life,” which for the teenaged Lynch meant “smoking, coffee and painting.” Now at 71, he’s still blowing smoke into the haze of memory, stoking the creative process.

Among the priceless stories the film relates: Lynch inviting his father down to the basement of their house to show him his prized collection of rotting fruit and decaying insects and animals which prompted his horrified father to advise him never to have children; and then there’s the time when he was a boy at play in the street and suddenly saw a naked woman walking towards him – a striking correlation to the memorable scene from Blue Velvet. Tellingly, he always kept his friends separate from his family and his friends separate from his art friends, a compartmentalization that resonates in such films as Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.

David Lynch and his daughter Lula. This is must-see stuff not only for Lynchian aficionados but also for anyone interested in the creative process.

David Lynch: The Art Life is currently playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

NFD Poster BannerNational Film Day 2017 PosterOui The North. On April 19, 340 unique feature films will screen for free in more than 1700 locations in Canada, plus over 60 international sites like Canadian embassies and Canadian military bases, to celebrate our country’s movies in this sesquicentennial year. From 90 screenings in Toronto to two in far-flung Tuktoyaktuk NT (appropriately The Sun at Midnight and The Lesser Blessed), the country will be blanketed in movies from coast to coast to coast in what is billed as the world’s largest film festival. “Everything from high to low,” Reel Canada’s artistic director Sharon Corder told me mid-March.

Reel Canada has been moving towards this unique celebration since they began showing Canadian films in schools in 2005. The inaugural Canadian Film Day, April 29, 2014, became an annual event that will culminate April 19 with this year’s National Canadian Film Day 150 (in partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival’s Canada On Screen project which is responsible for 150 of the screenings).

“In scale and intention,” Corder said. “We’ve been building to this. We’re going after everyone.” What an extravaganza it will be, a far cry from the not-too-distant past when Canadian movies (English-language in particular) were scorned by the general public. Now the richness of our film culture is evident from Oscar nominees to Cannes prizewinners. And, as Corder points out, because of the school webcast (with schools screening films before logging on to interact with guests), movies like Breakaway and The Trotsky are two of Reel Canada’s most popular. The same goes for the French school webcasts and Paul à Québec. And because of the “respectful inclusion of Indigenous people,” there will be more than 75 screenings of films by Indigenous filmmakers.

Some of the most popular films being screened April 19 are:

The Grand Seduction, Snowtime/La guerre des tuques, Passchendaele,

La légende de Sarila (The Legend of Sarila), The Whale, Corner Gas: The Movie, The Rocket, Anne of Green Gables, The Sweet Hereafter, Angry Inuk, Stories We Tell, Water and Sharkwater.

“Not necessarily what anyone could predict, eh?,” Corder said.

And then there the films that fit nicely into The WholeNote’s Music and the Movies niche. Most, if not all, can be seen somewhere in Canada on April 19.

It’s Only the End of the World

What follows is a random sampling of films where music plays a significant role headed by the most recent.

Xavier Dolan’s emotionally riven chamber piece, It’s Only the End of the World (2016), won six Canadian Screen Awards, three French Césars and the Grand Prix at Cannes. Dolan’s camera lingers on his characters in close-up, accentuating pauses, building to the affective climax. Gabriel Yared’s warm, empathetic symphonic score and pop music outbursts like Camille’s Home Is Where It Hurts, Grimes’ Oblivion and the Moldovan pop group O-Zone’s Dragostea Din Tei are crucial ingredients.

Sleeping Giant

Toy Piano Composers co-founder Chris Thornborrow wrote the evocative score to director Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant (2015), which captures the energy of growing up near Lake Superior in a well-crafted character study over one summer of awkward adolescence. Kevin Turcotte’s uncanny trumpet on the soundtrack of Robert Budreau’s Born To Be Blue (2015), a reimagining of Chet Baker’s life, is essential to making Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Baker believable. Pianist David Braid, who arranged the extensive music track (which is far more reality-based than the plot), leads the fine quartet of Turcotte, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Terry Clarke. 

Mommy

Stéphane Lafleur’s understated little bijou, Tu Dors Nicole (2014) filmed in rich black and white, is a finely etched portrait of a 22-year-old young woman maturing over one aimless summer. Xavier Dolan’s Cannes prizewinner, Mommy (2014), which jumps off the screen with a life force that is contagious, is driven by a carefully chosen soundtrack of music performed by Sarah McLachlan, Dido, Counting Crows, Andrea Bocelli, Lana Del Rey and the ecstatic use of Oasis’ Wonderwall.

Gabrielle, the title character of Louise Archambault’s exceptional Gabrielle (2013), is a young woman with Williams syndrome (a genetic condition characterized by learning disabilities, among other medical problems). She has a contagious joie de vivre and perfect pitch (exceptional musical gifts are a positive blessing of Williams syndrome). Gabrielle and her boyfriend are members of a choir that is preparing for an important music festival. The film’s emotional impact is unforced and uplifting.

In his mesmerizing documentary, The End of Time (2012), Toronto filmmaker Peter Mettler uses images and sound -- the tools he’s most comfortable with – to observe time and make our experience of it palpable. Music by Autechre, Robert Henke and Thomas Koner animates his images (of lava flowing on the big island of Hawaii, for example) while techno DJ Richie Hawtin (“Plastikman”) distills time down to its basic rhythm and Christos Hatzis’ and Bruno DeGazio’s Harmonia depicts harmonic overtones.

Nathan Morlando’s cinematic intelligence permeates every frame of his film debut, Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster (which won Best Canadian First Feature at TIFF 2011). His cinematic good sense led him to hire Max Richter to compose the music which supported the narrative without ever being overbearing.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

The following classics of Canadian cinema are inseparable from their musical bearings:

I am one of many who believe Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) is the best Canadian film ever made. Music by Huun-Huur-Tu, Christopher Mad'dene, traditional Inuit ajaja songs and throat singing, plus Chris Crilly’s score back this Inuit tale handed down over the generations. A masterpiece of stunning landscapes, epic in scope.

Francis Mankiewicz’s haunting Les Bons Débarras (1979) uses Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 K488, Franck’s Symphonic Variations and Puccini’s O mio babbino caro to underline its Gothic passion. The music in Jean-Marc Vallée’s coming-of-age masterpiece, C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), is inseparable from its narrative. Patsy Cline, Charles Aznavour, Grace Slick, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones (among others) form the soundtrack to a life. And Perez Prado’s Mambo Jambo makes it alright in the end.

Denys Arcand’s Le Déclin de l'empire américain (1986) captures a vibrant historic moment in Quebec’s intellectual and social history to a score by François Dompierre. Arcand’s next film, Jésus de Montréal (1989), uses Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and the exotic The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices to buttress his engrossing, uncompromising look at contemporary religious values.

Bruce McDonald’s iconic road movie, Highway 61(1991) is propelled by The Archies, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Tom Jones, The Ramones, Sonny Terry, Nash the Slash, The Razorbacks, Rita Chiarelli, Colin Linden and the infamous Bourbon Tabernacle Choir.

Alan Zweig will make a guest appearance April 19 at 9pm when his compulsive documentary, Vinyl (2000), shows (appropriately) at the Sonic Boom Cinema Club, 215 Spadina Ave.

J.A. Martin: photographe

One of the first Canadian films to make an international splash, Jean Beaudin’s J. A. Martin, photographe (1977), a beautiful cinematic portrait of a bygone age, is supported by Maurice Blackburn’s unobtrusive score.

Oscar winner Howard Shore has worked with David Cronenberg on almost all his films including the seminal Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), Dead Ringers (1988) and Crash (1996).

Mychael Danna, another Oscar winner, has scored almost all of Atom Egoyan’s films including the still-resonant The Sweet Hereafter (1997). He has an uncanny but totally unforced ability to combine Western and non-Western music seamlessly. For proof, watch (and listen to) Deepa Mehta’s best film, Water (2005).

Egoyan’s Calendar (1993), unusual in not being scored by Danna, is one of the director’s most revealing and personal films. The music by Eve Egoyan (piano), Jivan Gasparyan (duduk), Hovhanness Tarpinian (tar) and Garo Tchaliguian (singer) reinforces the enigma that drives the film’s deceptive narrative.

Two indelible Music and the Movies moments: Atom Egoyan’s Exotica resonant with Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows and Sheila McCarthy literally flying high accompanied by The Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé in Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987).

One film I wish was available: Julian Roffman’s beatnik time capsule, The Bloody Brood (1959), was Peter Falk’s first starring role and the movie that preceded Roffman’s widely heralded 3-D horror film, The Mask (1961). I saw it at a special TIFF Cinematheque screening several years ago and was delighted to see that the jazz combo that provided the music in the coffee house where Falk and his cohorts hung out was led by none other than the eternal hipster Harry Freedman. On English horn. How cool is that!

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

Finally, there is François Girard’s Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993), its elegantly constructed vignettes a masterful distillation of the life of a (musical) genius. That is the film I would choose to watch on National Canadian Film Day 150. Luckily for me, it’s showing at TIFF Bell Lightbox on April 19. Writer-actor Don McKellar and star Colm Feore are special guests.

adam driver_credit_may cybulski-banner.jpgAdam Driver – CREDIT – Mary Cybulski

Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s clever and captivating neo-minimalist film, chronicles seven days in the life of a Paterson, New Jersey, bus driver (named Paterson), his happy marriage and daily routine. In this city of the poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson (Adam Driver, bringing subtle levels of sensitivity to the role) is also a poet. So is Jarmusch in his own refreshingly natural and observant way. Paterson is two hours of serenity, a musique concrète of city sounds and overheard conversation, the music of daily life. The spare, ambient score is by Sqürl (Jarmusch and Carter Logan).

Adam Driver – CREDIT – Mary Cybulski

Sqürl’s tentative electronic murmurs are first heard under the film’s opening credits before morphing into warm synth electronica to accompany Paterson’s written words (we see them onscreen as he writes): “We have plenty of matches in our house.” What begins as a reference to a preceding scene where we saw Paterson examining a box of matches at home continues at lunch on a park bench overlooking the city’s Passaic River and Great Falls. After his Monday bus driving is done, he presents the completed Love Poem to his wife; it stands as a tangible memento of the day. That poem and the others Paterson composes were written for the film by American poet Ron Padgett. 

Photo and Cutlne: Golshifteh Farahani_CREDIT_Mary Cybulski

Paterson’s wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is joyfully obsessed with various projects: baking cupcakes, learning guitar (with the goal of being a country music star) and black and white colours. She wears various black and white patterns, does black and white interior decor in their house and of course, ices her cupcakes in black and white. The couple’s willful English bulldog Marvin is another component of Paterson’s daily routine. Each night after dinner the two walk to the neighbourhood bar where Paterson  has a social drink or two while Marvin waits outside.

For these scenes, Jarmusch uses pre-existing music, often barely noticeable, to augment a character. Persian singers Ahdieh and Pouran underscore Laura, for example; and Tammy Wynette accompanies her dream of being a country music star, while that theme is extended with a pair of pedal steel guitar excerpts by Jerry Brightman and Gary Carter. The nightly bar episodes are announced with such mood setters as Reuben Wilson’s 1960s organ tune Blue Mode, Lester Young’s still cool 1940s Blue Lester and Willie West’s sincere, soulful I’m Still a Man (Lord Have Mercy).

Jarmusch is fond of doubles, like Paterson the man and Paterson the city; twins are noticeable as bus passengers or in passing; Paterson tells Laura about Petrarch who wrote sonnets to another Laura. Jarmusch uses poets and Paterson personalities as signposts: Williams’ epic Paterson; references to Allen Ginsberg, Dante Alighieri, the boxer Hurricane Carter, Sam Moore, the original Sam of soulsters Sam and Dave, comedian Lou Costello, founding father Alexander Hamilton, even a deadpan reference (by Moonrise Kingdom’s Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as aspiring anarchists) to the Paterson immigrant who returned to Italy in 1898 to assassinate King Umberto I.

Paterson has a chance encounter with Method Man (a.k.a. Cliff Smith) rapping in a laundromat about the 19th-century black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. He stumbles on a young girl (Sterling Jerins) who reads him a poem, Water Fall, she has written under the influence of Emily Dickinson. Later, Paterson's writing, briefly and accidentally curtailed, is revived by a conversation with a Japanese tourist (Masatoshi Nagase). Nagase, who was fixated on Elvis in Jarmusch's 1989 Mystery Train, plays a writer caught up in Williams’ Paterson, which he carries in a Japanese translation.

A poetic film with touches of Zen.

Paterson begins its theatrical run February 10 at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and VIP.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Credit: Dale Robinette.

A bittersweet love story, a song-and-dance musical and an aspirational fable of dreamers pursuing their ambitions, Damien Chazelle’s ebullient La La Land jumps off the screen from its breathtaking first scene and never lets up. Embracing an aesthetic that unites the Jacques Demy/Michel Legrand musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort with the lush Technicolor Gene Kelly films of the 1950s, Chazelle and his musical soulmate Justin Hurwitz (they met at Harvard as teenagers) plunge us into an alternate universe that is part retro and part contemporary, where the fantasy is grounded by the reality of the showbiz life.

Mia (Emma Stone) is pursuing an acting career; Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist, rooted in his love of classic mid-20th-century music, “pure jazz.” They meet briefly in that first scene, a surreal six-minute song-and-dance number on an LA freeway during a traffic jam. Over the next two hours their relationship with their art and each other develops with the help of a half dozen tunes, two of which, Audition and City of Stars, are particularly memorable. In fact, six weeks after I first saw the film at TIFF, I still remembered the understated, sinuously melancholic melody of City of Stars.

Emma Stone. Credit: Dale Robinette.Last summer Hurwitz spoke to Variety about his process and how some of the best songs in the movie happened the most effortlessly: “City of Stars started at the piano with me just working on demos for Damien, sending him ideas until something really sparked…We went through a lot of ideas, but I can’t really think of any music I was listening to at the time that I was thinking of when I was writing it. I was just composing it from an emotional place and thinking about the tone. I would say the tone is hopeful, but melancholy at the same time. And it kind of goes back and forth between cadencing in major and cadencing in minor, because I think that’s kind of what the song is about. You have these great moments and then you have these less great moments in life and in Los Angeles and we see it happen in the story. I was thinking about that idea a little bit and just trying to compose a melody that I thought was shapely and beautiful.”

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Credit: Dale Robinette.Just as La La Land is Chazelle and Hurwitz’s third feature together (after their brilliant debut, the black and white Nouvelle Vague-inspired musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and their breakthrough hit Whiplash), it’s also Gosling’s and Stone’s third collaboration (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad), unusual these days. While they’re not exactly Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, their naturalism and star power more than make up for it. If you’re keeping score, Gosling’s a little surer of foot than Stone but her singing skills surpass his. The fact that both Audition (Stone’s career-making plaintive showstopper: “Here’s to the ones who dream, Foolish as they may seem”) and City of Stars were recorded live as they were filmed is telling, if not extraordinary.

Ultimately, it’s Chazelle’s and Hurwitz’s vision that makes it all work. Mia and Seb even have their own theme; it begins inauspiciously and simply on the piano, grows and recurs as the narrative demands, and changes like the four seasons in which the film is set. You may even be humming it as you leave the theatre walking on a cloud.

La La Land is currently playing at a number of Cineplex Cinemas.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck, in Manchester by the Sea. Credit: Claire Folger, courtesy Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

One of the year’s best films, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea follows Lee (Casey Affleck) as he copes with his late brother’s request that he serve as his 16-year-old nephew Patrick’s guardian. Lonergan jumps back and forth in time to paint a fully formed picture of this emotionally scarred handyman/janitor, who has been living in Quincy, a working-class neighbourhood of Boston, since he moved down the road from the fishing village of Manchester after a personal tragedy.

The utter naturalism of the characters as they interact is characteristic Lonergan – real characters, real situations, real interactions – but now we’re in the orbit of a mature filmmaker at ease with a world where tragedy doesn’t preclude humour (and with the technical skills to convey it). Lucas Hedges as Patrick is one fount of situational comedy; the extraordinary Michelle Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife, is another.

Mirroring the action (and the evocative cinematography – especially of Manchester’s rows of small hillside houses lit up in the flickering night) is an original score by Toronto-born Lesley Barber (who worked with Lonergan on You Can Count on Me). Uncannily, her score can suggest an element of uncertainty or trepidation at the same time as it expresses calm or warmth; as Affleck’s emotions are reined in, unleashed or in a holding pattern, as the case may be. It’s an award-worthy performance.

Barber, who began writing the music at the script stage, was inspired in part by 17th-century New England Puritan hymns and threnodies. One element she uses is a haunting, ethereal, soprano a cappella tune (sung by Barber’s daughter Jacoba, a third-year music student at McGill who sings in Opera McGill). Another is a minimalist piece for piano and strings with repetitive broken chords reminiscent of Philip Glass, suddenly interrupted by painful sonic dagger thrusts that reflect what Lee is going through in the film.

Lonergan likes to use music as counterpoint. “It always feels right to have the music help you step back a little and look at the whole environment, not just the characters’ experience,” he told Variety. In that vein, Lonergan supplemented Barber’s score with excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings and Oboe Sonata and a resonant cover of I’m Beginning to See the Light by the Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald.

Members of The National Theatre in London Road.

Rufus Norris’ London Road is a film adaptation of The National Theatre’s groundbreaking musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork about the “Suffolk Strangler” murders in Ipswich in 2006. London Road uses the townspeople’s own words describing the events they lived through as the basis for the show’s lyrics, creating a fresh and arresting re-imagining of the form. The emotionally empathetic Tom Hardy is one of the townspeople. Watching London Road was an exhilarating experience to the point of walking out of the theatre humming the catchy tunes. This mesmerizing musical hybrid, as satisfying as it was innovative, is at its core a hymn to humanity.

Manchester by the Sea is currently playing at Cineplex Varsity & VIP. London Road can be seen at Cineplex Yonge and Dundas & VIP.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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