By opening his In Our Own Eyes with a quotation from Jacques Derrida (“The hierarchy is between forces and not between true and false”), Peter Morris attempts to set up an argument on the formation of the popular canonizing of Canadian film that is linked to a far wider philosophical consideration. While Morris occasionally leaves sections of his theory in the dark (quite often referring back to other writings by himself, or at times, by others that occasionally even go un-named and un-explored), overall he does provide an intriguing viewpoint from which to consider how such canons of national cinemas are created, developed, maintained, and grown.
Separated into three primary thrusts of thinking, In Our Own Eyes considers the Canadian film canon as one formed via the “Pleasures of Recognition” (32), “The Winds of Realism” (35), and “Themes Without Variation” (36). Much of Morris’ time within these frameworks is spent questioning their validity (“Pleasures of Recognition,” for myself, brings to mind viewing Cool Runnings in a local cinema upon its release, and applauding along with the rest of the audience upon the first sight of a Jamaican plane landing at the Calgary airport), yet it is without a consideration for what truth may be found within those questions. Cliché and stereotypes often link back to some kernel of truth, and where Morris debates the usefulness of compiling the canon of Canadian films using the context of, for example, our protagonists as victims and losers, he fails to fully acknowledge the strong presence of these characters in many highly-respected films of the period.
While claiming that Canadian film criticism “developed into a tendency to examine differences between the two cinemas rather than their similarities” (34) in reference to the differing considerations of Quebecois and English Canadian cinema, Morris fails to fully question how a foundation for a canon can even be built upon such a see-sawing focus. It seems, most often, that this questioning of national identity (particularly within film criticism, as that is the direction from which we’re exploring it) is one that’s a constant hindrance to Canadian film critics alone. By that, I mean that outside critics find little difficulty in classifying both a Quebecois and English Canadian film as distinctly Canadian – it is as though it’s only the outsiders that can view Canada as a complete nation, despite its conflicting personalities.
Finally, Morris classifies much of the writing under his microscope as “pessimistic”, and via that writing that Canadian cinema’s “very uniqueness doomed it to failure” (40). Unfortunately, what Morris fails to consider is that much of Canadian film is in fact easily classified as such. Given Canada’s absent audience, the difficulties of actually getting Canadian work into cinemas, and the admittedly small number of films made in this country, what Morris interprets as pessimism may be a misinterpretation of hard and cruel realism. With that in mind, Morris fails to acknowledge the importance of the audience’s role in canon formation – several of the films listed, such as Mon Oncle Antoine, did manage to get large audiences, and the importance of a collective memory in service of a canon is not one to be under-valued. How can a film join a canon if it’s impossible to see it? It’s the ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ argument at play in service of Canadian cinema – if a work of art isn’t looked upon by anyone, is it really art?
(Incidentally, the French summation before the article by, I assume, the editor of the anthology the piece is printed in, is sure to point out that Morris is focusing on the work of English Canadian critical community, and not the French. It also claims, however, that because of this, fewer French films appear in the critical canon of Canadian film. Morris mentions more than once that Quebecois films are commonly given far higher critical consideration than English Canadian films – an interesting example of difference between even the intro piece and the piece itself).