(One in an occasional series of film retrospectives.)
My old travelin’ pal Nick just published a piece in Ballast on the Canadian cult film Goin’ Down the Road (dir. Donald Shebib, 1970), on the heels of the release of its late, recent sequel. A movie guy, I previously had heard about the film, but, as frequently correlates with the cultishly obscure, had never had occasion to see it. Nick had formerly written and edited for Adbusters magazine in Vancouver, BC, and was one of the inspiring minds behind cutting-edge movement-media group birocreative, so given his media-and-culture savvy, but also accounting for his not-so-discerning taste for all things Canuckian, my curiosity, naturally, was piqued.
I like old road movies, and I like quirky North-o’-the-Border cult flicks (probably due to too much access to across-the-lake Toronto television back in my blooming years). The films of Canadian directors David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan rate among my contemporary favorites, so, noticing that Ballast previously had ranked Goin’ Down the Road at #7 on their list of the 50 Best Canadian Films Ever Made, among numerous Cronenberg and Egoyan selections (Dead Ringers #1!!1one1!!), I figured Nick had struck Molson Gold (which itself, Molson, turns out to assume the role of one of the obscure objects of the film). And, as often occurs with obscure objects, I had to have it (the film, not the beer–Molson’s not so hard to come by south of the border). Still, the picture itself is hard enough to find outside of Canada; fortunately, however, the Internet Age allows the keen-and-inquiring eye to discover these objects, if one desires. (In the parlance: Google that s#it, pirate hooker; you can find it fast, furious, and for free.)
Goin’ Down the Road‘s a comin’-of-age buddy flick, a little Jules et Jim, a little Jim Jarmusch, a little Last Picture Show and early Cassavetes, and, as Nick notes, a lot Bob & Doug McKenzie, as it follows pals Pete (Doug McGrath) and Joey (Paul Bradley), the “original hosers,” in their pursuit of…something obscure. It’s also a fun little romp across the Great White North (by Northeast) and into a Toronto you probably haven’t seen. They don’t, as they say, make movies like this anymore. Along with the internet, we live, of course, in the Age of the Sequel, the Era of the Remake, where simulation reigns, where twilights twitter, and where Toronto now stands in as New York. Yet my friend wouldn’t have revisited Goin’ Down the Road, and I wouldn’t have finally found it, without the recent release of its sequel, Down the Road Again (dir. Shebib, 2011). The sequel, as I gather from the trailer, catches up with Pete in the present day, after the death of his buddy. McGrath reprises his role 40 years after the original, and the story mirrors the actors’ lives, Bradley having passed in 2003. In the interim, the duo followed up their first film foray by banding together again in Wedding in White (dir. William Fruet, 1972, and featuring Donald Pleasence, which may not improve their Bacon Number, but certainly boosts their Hopper Factor). And speaking of sequels, McGrath has since taken turns in several Eastwood Westerns and as a gym teacher in Porky’s. Oh, the nostalgia.
In the sequel, Pete follows the wishes of his old best buddy, driving the same Chevy convertible to retrace their original path and spread Joey’s ashes across their now-beloved-yet-long-forsaken Cape Breton. A Last Orders for the Nova Scotia set, I suppose, and a nostalgic return to the original, something so often passed over in contemporary sequels. So, I guess we can thank The Sequel, writ large, for something obscure in itself, when it leads us back to the long-ago original. I’ll have to ask Nick if he got around to watching the new one, but I think he too probably left it with the trailer. He and I, we prefer the retro to the remake.