Higson, Leach, & Canada’s “National” Cinema

title mon oncle antoine

Both Andrew Higson and Jim Leach approach the notion of defining a “national cinema” as a difficult, murky business. While Higson is interested particularly with British audiences, his findings are fitting given Canada’s ties to its past Colonial master and the way in which both countries are inundated (or is it invaded?) by American cinema to an overwhelming degree. Leach, on the other hand, paints a rather downcast view of Canadian cinema and its slight interactions with the absent audience that awaits it (or doesn’t, rather) within our borders.

One of Higson’s most interesting points is worded, “very often the concept of national cinema is used prescriptively rather than descriptively, citing what ought to be the national cinema, rather than describing the actual cinematic experience of popular audiences” (37). Much of Leach’s writings bemoan the lack of success for several highly-regarded projects from the history of Canadian film, while at the same time giving the likes of Porky’s and Meatballs a typically film-snobbish reaction that discounts those films’ impact on the national psyche. Whether we like it or not, those films all have a place within the Canadian film canon. I’m not suggesting Canadian film scholars spend much time analyzing those films in particular, but a consideration of their presence and effect on Canadian movie-goers could reveal a more complete picture of the true nature of our national cinema. Perhaps, god-forbid, Canada is far more a Trailer Park Boys nation than it is a Maelstrom one.

My primary issue with Leach’s writings, however, comes with his reliance on the sound-bytes of others over his own thoughts and ideas. So far, what I’ve read of Film in Canada plays out as a collection of clips from “Canadian Film Theory’s Greatest Hits,” without presenting much of a distinct point of view from Leach himself. Higson, on the other hand, asks difficult questions that, for the most part, are still not answered – especially in a nation as confusedly composed as Canada – yet he makes an admirable attempt at forming a solution of his own.

Given the nature of film in Canada – one of “admirable attempts” to complete the huge undertaking of independent film production and simply finding solutions that work – it seems that the British Higson comes off as the somewhat more “Canadian” writer. That said, Canadian cinema borrows heavily from its neighbours, something Leach is surely guilty of doing liberally throughout his book. From the examples we’ve screened in class thus far, perhaps it’s fair to compare Higson as the Mon Oncle Antoine to Leach’s Bon Cop, Bad Cop?

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