This past weekend I had the privilege of watching Bang Bang Baby at Innis Tall Hall theatre. The event was hosted by Canadian Cinema Editors, a local Toronto based organization and coterie for film editors in Canada.
Editor Matt Lyon was present and gave a really interesting talk after the screening about the post-production process he went through to bring the film to TIFF.
From being rated top five worst films at TIFF by BlogTO to being awarded City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film, he said it was an emotional rollercoaster he will never forget.
First though, let's talk about this kitschy-indie-musical-thriller. The description on TIFF net describes it perfectly:
"St. Jules has created a sly, genre-twisting musical about big hopes and busted dreams, set in an off-kilter, surreally detailed vision of the 1960s" - Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo
The film resonates with most Canadians, featuring a small town populated with characters too afraid to leave and characters wanting to break free. Stepphy, played by Jane Levy, is one such latter character, hoping to make it big in New York City. She is held back, however, by an alcoholic father (Peter Stormare) who is unable to support their two person family. With crushed hopes and a dim future ahead of her, she loses all gumption and attends a high school dance drunk, alone. An obsessed towny offers her an immediate escape and they visit a chemical plant. Falling asleep in the passenger seat, Fabian (David Reale) takes advantage of the situation and essentially rapes her.
What follows is a surrealist perspective of Stepphy's inability to cope with her trauma. This is represented brilliantly by a "chemical leak" at the plant that affects the entire town. Stepphy begins to hallucinate and believes that her favourite rock star Bobby Shore (Justin Chatwin) is stuck in town with a broken down vehicle. She invites him to stay at her place. They become romantically attached and Bobby proves his honourable intentions. He is the quintessential man that Fabian and her father are NOT. He represents everything in life she is hoping for. Except he is not real.
These visions are constantly undercut by Fabian's intrusion into a scene, in which Bobby magically disappears. Fabian explains that the whole town is quarantined and that Stepphy is unable to leave. Stuck in a place that horrifies her, and with no one to turn to, Stepphy continues to live in her mind.
Her condition worsens and she begins to get a growth on her stomach. The growth being an effect of the "chemical leak." The growth represents a rape-pregnancy of the unwanted inphant brewing inside her.
Bobby Shore leaves her mind on her wedding night and her nightmare comes full circle. The reality and truth of the situation, her marriage to Fabian and her advanced pregnancy, cause her to go momentarily insane. The morning after the birth of their baby girl, Stepphy considers killing her. But, as the pink chemical fog clears from around the house, so too does her mental disease and she suddenly sees clearly for the first time. Fabian pays the price and is perhaps owed the death he deserves after his despicable acts.
The story is highly original and the style of the film refreshing. St Jules hyper-accentuates his vision through a quirky sense of humour and a final dark ending.
"That there satellite in the sky, the USA planted it there so they could bomb countries from space" - Bobby Shore (Justin Chatwin), Bang Bang Baby
The film has a familiar three act feeling to it. It is not that each section is disjointed and piecemealed together under one title. There is a natural flow and pacing of the events. There is the obvious establishing scenes, a happy but not so happy middle, and the shock factor at the end with a pleasant release and hopeful ending. In the interview above, he mentions Guy Maddin producing similar kinds of outrageous and quirky films that are absurdist in their own right.
If I have to be critical, I will start by saying that I wish the main character had dreamed of traveling to a large Canadian city, instead of championing the US as a place for top Canadian talent to go to. But, it is set in the 1960s and being in NYC is a real dream for Canadian talent seeking fame. There was a harsh and apparent dislike for small town "folks" and small town dreams. Stepphy is only happy when she escapes and leaves Lonelyarms, and ALL her past behind her. Her only reminder is the baby. Therefore I can let it slide because it adds to the overall humour of the film.
After the screening, Matt Lyon told the audience about the process of cutting. He said, you start cutting the day after the first shooting day. Your organize, rough cut scenes together, and provide notes and feedback to the director. Side note, this was entirely cut in Final Cut Pro 7 (just saying). He said within two weeks of the final shooting day, he had to create a feature length film. It then went through 12 private screenings before they were semi happy with the cut. At this point, TIFF was creeping around the corner and they had run out of time.
What a whirlwind journey and a great film to be a part of! Congratulations to all the Canadian and outside of Canada talent. Jeffrey won a 2015 Claude Jutra Award at the Canadian Screen Awards this year for Bang Bang Baby and it was recently acquired by Random House Media for theatrical release in the US.