I just saw the oddest little movie on the lame movie channel, aka MoviePix. It’s called Canvas, from 1992, and stars Gary Busey and Vittorio Rossi. Rossi, as we all know, is a local boy, an acclaimed playwright who earns a buck being urban and gritty in the occasional TV show and movie.
This was a very Montreal movie, but oddly so. At no point in the film was the city named, nor was there even a single word of French spoken or seen. Yet, the film makers were obviously Montrealophiles. Check out these oblique Montreal cues and references that only Montrealais would notice:
- Just after the openning credits there is a sweeping vista of the Montreal downtown cityscape, from the air. Not Montreal posing as generic city or some other place–it was unmistakeably and unabashedly Montreal.
- At the protagonist’s art show, the beer bucket was full of St. Ambroise and Belle Guelle beers.
- Any time anyone drank a beer in the film it was a St. Ambroise (oddly, in green bottles).
- There were only two other beer references–the sign behind the bartender at the strip bar was a neon "Lite" sign (very American), but one scene had the protagonist cleaning up after a party, carrying a box of Molson Ex empties.
- Gary Busey plays the owner of an art gallery "on Mountain Street".
- An art theft occurs at a residence "near Hudson".
- A character says "I’m going back to Greece–I hate the winters here".
- There’s a hockey game playing in the background during one scene–and it’s the audio you hear, not just a background image. (Generally speaking, audio backgrounds are more or a concious "plant" by the film maker than small visual references.)
My favorite oblique Montreal reference was this: the artist guy shows up to do an art theft that he has been forced to participate in. He’s wearing a black leather car coat, a black beret, black pants, black t-shirt, and black boots. (Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I wear two or three days a week.) Anyway, the Greek guy says to him "hey you’re dressed like a thief". The guy in black shrugs and says "What? Everyone I know dresses like this". (Obviously, the scriptwriter has spent a lot of time on the Plateau.)
All in all, it was a so-so movie. Actually, it was better than that. Not bad–on the level of a pretty good TV show. Gritty and urban, hip, etc., but spoiled by some weak supporting actors. Still, I find it amusing that there were conflicting attempts to both keep the location generic, yet be so very "of Montreal". And of course, only people "of Montreal" would even notice those references.