Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974
Full length feature films from Canada arc tew and far between, but it 'Going Down the Road is any Indication, quality and not quantity is a phrase still in use somewhere on the earth. Although its season on at the St James was inexplicably short, its modest trappings (tatty billboard posters and minimal advertising) belie a terse, moving and intelligent film well worth seeing if it is ever re-run.
A shoestring budget allows for a singularly modest plot. Two aging Nova Scotians, Dan and George, with their near derelict V8 convertible, go in search of the big money in Toronto only to find that there is no love lost between country boys and opportunity. One job follows another, each worse than the last, until the winter comes and casual labour is the last thing on an employers mind. Desperate folly drives the two men to commit what amounts to aggravated robbery, and leaving Georges seven day city bride behind them, they head futher west.
To some viewers, no doubt, this tale of two lovable illiterates might be a little too reminiscent of John Schlesinger's 'Midnight Cowboy'. But, without being as emotionally engaging, 'Going Down the Road' has far greater respect for its subjects, and is prepared to venture inside its characters and record the changes undergone by them before the assault of the urban monster. And, although it shares with Schlesinger's film, a prevailing attitude of despair, arising from an inability to escape from repeated acts of self prostitution, the eventual refusal to acquiesce reveals a surer grasp of human behaviour and a better understanding of that bitter process so innocuously called urbanisation.
An indication of the strength of Donald Shehib's films is the ease with which his three principals (Doug McGraw, Paul Bradley, Jayne Eastwood) handle their parts. None of them gifted actors, but relishing an excellent script, they build their stereotyped personalities into frail individuals with memorable poignancy, effecting a pathos that even Voight and Hoffman would be hard put to match. The photography is within the long tradition of Canadian National Film Unit austerity.....space, cold and often harsh, the unsentimental images match the unsentimental script with rewarding patience.
But the most heartening thing about this film is the way in which it has travelled. Far from a local expose, the circumstances it relates are circumstances all too frequently in Newtown. Which brings me to the thought that if New Zealand is to one day realise the dream of its own film industry, this is the material of which it could be made, and—in view of our rather platitudinous cinematic history—should be made.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon:
The first effect of a film like Brother Sun, Sister Moon is to make you want to give away all your possessions. You get the feeling that it is really good to have no belongings to worry about. It seems like a really good life—simple practical Christianity without any need to go the whole hog and completely abdicate ones common sense to some supernatural being.
But then, with a little careful thought, you start to realise that that whole thing is a bit of a have. You remember the words spoken to the monks at the harvest that they should go back to their rich parents for a meal, and leave the working people to enjoy what little they have. It is all very well to get a nice Christian feeling from giving away all your possessions, provided of course, that you have got some possessions to give away. University students, however, generally don't have to worry about such things, since 95% of them are of middle class upbringings. If you are poor though, all this talk is only so much rubbish.
The realisation of this is half of the recognition of the distinction between Christianity and a more realistic code of behaviour. By giving away all their wealth, and impoverishing themselves so that they are better able to love God, Francesco and his friends are successfully solving their own problems. But they are not doing anything about the problems faced by other people. What has happened, for example, in the meantime, to the 200 people employed in the factory beneath Francesco's father's house? Are they still imprisoned in wage slavery, and praying to God to bless the master of their house? What vile degradation1
Zeffirelli goes to considerable lengths to build up a myriad of beautiful impressions. By capturing on film a lot of dreamy, pretty, graceful movements and backgrounds, with happy smiles the sham which is the basis of the film is carefully masked. Because all of this director's art is aimed at producing the one effect of beauty it serve, to accentuate the impression of beautiful Christianity.
And when he is not discussing beautiful Christianity and original innocence. Zeffirelli shows us, through Alec Guiness as Pope Inocent III, his other aims in the film. Not only does he wish to glorify the hippie form of Christianity with its consequent abrogation of social responsibility, but he also wishes to draw people's attention to the greatness and resilience of the Catholic Church. The non-innocent Pope in all his finery wants to see Francesco lead the poor back to the church, so that he may become a great pope. If he is the best the church can offer, it is scarcely any wonder that the poor find it unattractive Yet Zeffirelli's options for the ordinary working masses seem to be a choice between being ripped off by the pope, or being ripped off by the sons of the rich who tell you that wealth is useless. They might be better off if they got rid of the whole system.