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- Posted on Jun 24th 2010 12:30PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Summertime in the city -- what better time for music and mayhem, not to mention a little romance? That's the conceit of acclaimed Canadian director Bruce McDonald's collaborative film with Toronto indie squad Broken Social Scene, 'This Movie Is Broken,' which puts the band's free hometown show last summer at Harbourfront Centre on screen in all its epic glory.
The movie, which opens in select theatres in Toronto and Vancouver this week, isn't your typical concert doc -- McDonald (known for rock'n'roll-themed flicks like 'Hard Core Logo' and 'Roadkill') teamed up with his longtime collaborator, writer/actor Don McKellar, to craft a loose fictional narrative arc that frames the concert footage. The story follows twenty-something hipsters Bruno (Greg Calderone) and Caroline (Georgina Reilly), long-standing friends (and supposed BSS fans) who've drifted into something more -- just before she's about to depart for Paris.
The movie captures the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of what was ostensibly a big Broken Social Scene reunion -- when the band's scheduled concert across the lake at Olympic Island was cancelled due to the local garbage strike, the gig was revived as a free concert at Harbourfront Centre that saw all the group's famous faces (Feist, members of Stars and Metric) come together for a hometown hurrah.
McDonald, a longtime fan of the band, had often talked about collaborating on some kind of concert film, but the Harbourfront show proved an irresistible opportunity -- even before the extended family came on board.
"We'd worked with Bruce before many a time, so we knew that at some point, something was going to happen," BSS frontman Kevin Drew explains. He's sitting with McDonald during a recent round of promotion for the movie, and it's clear the pair is a mutual admiration society, praising each other's work and their partnership on the film.
"But when we first spoke about [filming the show], the band that we were going to play with was the [smaller] band we'd been playing with for a year and a half," he continues. "But then after the island show got cancelled, things got more complicated. Don McKellar got involved; there was going to be a storyline...we had all these speakerphone conversations about it, but even right up until the last minute we didn't really know what was going to happen."
In fact, there almost wasn't going to be a movie at all, McDonald points out -- the entire production almost fell through due to last-minute funding delays. But mere days before the concert, the financing came through and the cameras were set to roll.
One small problem, however: as the band's many members slowly started coming out of the woodwork, confirming their participation in the Harbourfront show, Drew was so busy figuring out logistics that he forgot to fill them all in on the plan.
"I was so focused on everybody and just getting everything ready, so we never told them this was going to happen," Drew admits sheepishly. "They just showed up and there were all these cameras... They played the show as if it was their last, but they were pretty upset with me on that one.
"But they all signed off on the film, and they all loved it," he continues. "Social Scene is not exactly the greatest band to deal with if you're not part of the inside -- it's just hard to deal with.
Despite all the hiccups in getting the movie made, the film plays out like an indie-rock fantasia of the highest order, capturing the multi-headed beast that is Broken Social Scene in all its shambolic, joyous glory, from sweeping multi-angle shots of the onstage action to dreamy, sun-dappled montages of the summer-scorched city streets.
The concert footage is interspersed with the fictional storyline that has Bruno, Caroline, and Bruno's best pal Blake (the triangle prompts a rather unexpected twist ending that is perhaps somewhat in keeping with BSS' nouveau-hippie romantic vibe) racing to get to the concert, and once there, trying to score backstage passes.
It's all secondary to the show itself -- if you were there, the film serves as a glorious reminder of the electric highlights: Feist, Emily Haines, and Amy Millan trilling like indie-rock angels on BSS classic 'Anthems For A 17-Year-Old Girl;' former flames Kevin Drew and Feist imbuing a medley of their own songs with extra meaning; the brass-burnished, fist-pumping perfection of 'Meet Me in the Basement.' And if you weren't at the show, there's enough of the music on screen to make you feel like you were -- the film features several full, uncut performances from the concert, beautifully shot by McDonald's extensive crew. And the eye of the camera also captures all the smaller intimate moments the crowd couldn't see, including some heartwarming exchanges between band members on stage, all beaming like long-lost friends coming home again.
While McKellar wrote the script (with input from McDonald and the band), the drama feels largely improvisational, from the acting and dialogue to the overall story itself. The fictional conceit almost seems unnecessary in light of the drama right on stage. But in keeping with their joint creative spirits, neither the band nor McDonald felt like making a straight concert documentary, he explains.
"The fictional element came second, just because the first part was whether the show was even going to happen," McDonald says. "But once that was a go, we wanted something that was going to make it different from the usual concert movie. So we came up with a concept that was as simple as possible, where the drama and the story becomes the punctuation to the music."
It's clear in watching the film that McDonald is a huge BSS fan -- the show is seen through a giddy, celebratory lens befitting the epic group hug that is Broken Social Scene.
"Working with Bruce on this movie, there was some synergy in that," Drew notes. "He's helped out this band or other bands with licensing songs and in many other ways over the years. In fact, when we put out 'You Forgot It in People,' Bruce kept buying so many copies of it at [Toronto indie record shop] Soundscapes, that after a while they wouldn't sell it to him anymore!" he laughs.
"Well, as a director, I'm always travelling a lot, and when you go somewhere, you bring something from home on your travels," McDonald explains, grinning. "So I'd give the album to people, like, 'This is one of the good things about our town.'"
If 'This Movie Is Broken' makes anything clear, it's just how symbiotic a relationship Broken Social Scene has with Toronto: they're a direct product of their city, and their hometown loves them back with equal fervour. And the film picks up on that civic pride by spotlighting the city in true cinema-vérité style, from scenes of the actors hanging out at recognizable local haunts to incorporating news footage of that summer's garbage strike.
"We live here," Drew says simply. "We're from here, we hang out here, we eat here, we love here. It's our hometown and the show really felt special because of that, so we really wanted to show that on screen as well."
"Including [specific local details] was deliberate in the sense that that's what was happening at that time on that day," McDonald explains. "It was all part of what was happening in the city that summer. So suddenly, these little details became important.
"You see the show and the city all in one," he continues. "This movie is our little love letter to Toronto."