The timing of this new, small volume from the University of Toronto Press could not be better. Union Pictures announced last month the release of a double DVD set containing a superb digitally remastered version of the original 1970 film as well as the 2011 sequel Down The Road Again.
If you thought you knew everything there was to know about Goin' Down The Road, you're wrong. Pevere had access to the director, the screenwriter, members of the cast and others as he carefully reconstructs the making of what would come to be known as English Canada's "seminal film." It's clear from the very start that no one set out to make that movie. That it got made at all may be well-known but here the details are revealed. From the original idea of a documentary on east coast Canadians coming to Toronto to look for work to how the cast came together so quickly, Pevere shines light into the dark corners of film history and brings to life the making of the film. As the book progresses we learn how many of the scenes got made and how many of them ended up being filmed thanks to the god of serendipity who placed opportunities in Shebib's path. We are all lucky he was smart enough to act on them.
Another, equally important aspect of the book is that it captures the time, the era, the baby steps of a film industry that didn't exist. Chapter 4 begins with the words, "The first thing that struck Martin Knelman about the press screening of Goin' Down the Road was the fact there was a press screening." Shebib admits earlier in the book that when he was making the movie he hadn't even considered distribution. Pevere points out that the timing of the film seemed to ride a growing wave of awareness that we, as a nation, had our own, unique voices, characters, singers and songwriters. The CRTC would mandate Canadian content regulations two years after the release of this movie.
Then there are the invaluable snippets of reviews good and bad from here and from away. They too point to a time when there seemed to be a hunger for something like this film, but no one seemed to know if this was indeed the breakthrough film it promised to be.
Placed here and there throughout the book are City of Toronto Archival pictures of what the city looked like in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the movie was being made. They again underline the time and help remind the reader that this film was made a startling 42 years ago. And yet, here it is, still a vibrant source of discussion, still a topic worthy of our attention, still a film worth being explored in depth, which is what Pevere has done in a book that runs just under 150 pages.
Allow me to repeat myself. Geoff Pevere's new book, Donald Shebib's Goin' Down the Road is an essential companion to the classic Canadian film. It should be required reading in every film course in Canada and elsewhere.
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