The top 10 movies about Toronto bands
The top movies about Toronto bands make for perfect summer viewing - after all, it is outdoor festival season. These 10 legendary Canadian flicks have something else in common - they're all documentaries (or, in one case, a hybrid of a doc and a fictional narrative). But they still skip from punk to folk, from eccentric geniuses to comeback kids. There's something here for music fans of any stripe.
Here's a rundown of my picks for the top movies about Toronto bands.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
The difference between Anvil and Spinal Tap is that Anvil is real. This 2008 rockumentary by screenwriter Sacha Gervasi (The Terminal) charts the rise, fall and rebirth of dysfunctional Toronto heavy metal band Anvil. After an initial flush of success in the late '70s and early '80s, Anvil fell into obscurity. The film chronicles a revival of sorts for the band when a fan books them for a European tour. The Story of Anvil is funny and poignant with so many twists it's almost unbelievable. Superb.
Concert docs are a dime a dozen, but Andy Keen's film of Sarah Harmer's 2005's I Love the Escarpment tour adds a thoughtful dimension. Harmer was promoting PERL, Protecting Escarpment Rural Land, a conservation group she co-founded to stop quarry development on the Niagara Escarpment (Harmer's hometown is Burlington). The film deftly intercuts between Harmer performing onstage and publicly debating the issue in places like community hearings.
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
Hands down, Glenn Gould is the most eccentric musician Toronto ever produced. He was also the most brilliant classical pianist of his time. This 2009 doc by Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont gathers rare performance footage, private home recordings, diary excerpts and interviews from Gould's close friends and lovers (including his mistress), some of whom have never spoken about him publicly. It's a fascinating exploration into the psyche of a musical genius.
Jane Bunnett: Spirits of Havana
Toronto soprano sax player and flautist Jane Bunnett takes a musical travelogue through Cuba. This doc from 2000 is pure heaven if you love Cuban music. Bunnett and husband/trumpeter Larry Cramer generously showcase Cuban players including the rumba group Los Munequitos de Matanzas, singers Bobby Carcasses, Amado Dedeu and Ernesto Gatell, pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba, tres player Papi Oviedo, and percussionist Tata Guines.
The Last Pogo & The Last Pogo Jumps Again
Colin Brunton's legendary 1978 short film, The Last Pogo, is a snapshot of the last punk show at the Horseshoe Tavern. It features The Scenics, The Cardboard Brains, The Secrets, The Mods, The Ugly, The Viletones and Teenage Head in their snarling glory. The 2013 sequel by Brunton and Kire Paputt is an exhaustive history of the Toronto scene running over three hours. Altogether, the Pogo films are essential for chronicling Toronto's punk scene - which (American) rock historians have long ignored.
The Last Waltz
As punk rose in the mid-'70s, the Woodstock generation entered middle age. The Last Waltz immortalizes The Band's marathon farewell show in San Francisco on American Thanksgiving 1976. Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan were among the many guests who joined The Band onstage to say goodbye to the road. There are too many highlights to mention here, but the finale with Dylan is especially moving.
Neil Young Journeys
There have been several Neil concert films over the decades, but this one, by Jonathan Demme, is the most personal. Demme follows the Toronto-born legend as he reminisces about growing up in Omemee (the "town in north Ontario" he immortalized in "Helpless") and Toronto as he drives to Massey Hall. There in May 2011, Young put on a pair of solo electric shows at Massey Hall. Several powerful performances from his then-new album, Le Noise, are intercut with Neil's on-camera memories.
Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage
Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn's 2010 documentary is the authoritative film about Toronto's most successful heavy rock band, Rush. It charts Rush's beginnings in the early '70s as an indie progressive rock and traces their rise as an international phenomenon. Concert clips and interviews with band members, their families, fans and managers abound. McFadyen and Dunn specialize in heavy metal docs, and they've served Rush well.
This Movie Is Broken
Bruce McDonald's "rockshow romance" as written by Don McKellar follows longtime friends spending a final day together before she moves to Paris. They wind up at the July 11, 2009 Broken Social Scene gig at Harbourfront, but what happens after that is frankly confusing. The thin narrative is intercut with smoking versions of "Almost Crimes", "Fire Eye'd Boy", "7/4 (Shoreline)", "Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl" and "Bandwitch" performed by a full complement of BSS members.
Writing by Allan Tong / Still from Anvil: The Story of Anvil