Movies Made Personal by Jay Scott (Globe and Mail, March 9, 1979)
The CBC interviewer tells the girl, a would-be performer with ratted hair and freckles and braces that she looks like Kate Reid. “Tee-hee,” says the aspiring actress. Canadian actor Peter Kastner, in an improvisational scene with another would-be, an actor this time, confesses that he is dying. The young actor thinks a moment and then says brightly, “Well, life doesn’t last forever!” A third teenager informs the interviewer in all sincerity that her studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music will be an aid to her when she sings the blues professionally.
It goes on for an hour: one gruesome delusion after another. The name of the movie, funny and grisly at the same time, is Summer Camp, an anthology culled by Ross McLaren from five hours of CBC audition tapes dating from the early sixties the auditions took place when McLaren was about 10.
He is now 25 and is the founder and director of The Funnel, Toronto’s major outlet for experimental filmmakers interested in the possibilities of movies as signed, personal statements – statements as intimate as a surreal etching, as self-descriptive as the results of a Rorschach. For the past several months, The Funnel, located at 507 King Street East, in a comfortably tawdry building that resembles SoHo in its better (ie. less affluent) days, has been host to programs of experimental films from around the world.
The programs are screened Monday and Friday nights (Summer Camp is part of a Ross McLaren retrospective on tonight) and are, within the confines of the label “experimental” – which usually, but not always, means inexpensive and unplotted – eclectic. One night, you can see a slick, full colour satire from California (Michael and His Things) which pokes fun at the tendency to define personality by possessions; another night (a week from today, to be precise), you can watch Michael Snow’s 4.5 hour opus, Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen.
But most of the films are short, from one minute to 30, and many of them resemble McLaren’s work – they rarely ask for viewer involvement in the conventional sense of suspending belief, preferring instead to treat the medium as a medium, with its own syntax. There are often movies about movies, reminiscent of the work of some painters (abstract expressionists, for example) who make paintings about paintings.
While The Funnel is supported by some government grants (Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council), there is an emphasis on raising funds by selling memberships. And most of the filmmakers whose work is exhibited function independently, sans financial aid.
“We do not cater to any market,” McLaren explains. “We deal with our own aesthetics, with our own formal concerns; it’s a way of getting back to individual expression in film without having to make the compromises called for in an assembly-line product. A large budget is not necessary – an experimental film can cost as little as the $5 required for a roll of Super 8 film.”
On the last Monday of every month, an open screening is conducted: anyone who has made one of those $5 statements can bring it and have it projected. Thus, the Funnel, which attracts an aesthetically elite audience on the one hand, can be seen as the city’s most democratically accessible outlet for self-expression in film on the other.