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It Was 40 Years Ago Today

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By Ralph Lucas, Publisher

(October 21, 2011 – Toronto, Ontario) It’s a bit of an odd thing that Don Shebib’s latest movie, Down the Road Again is being released today, because it was exactly 40 years ago today that film historian, writer, editor, publisher and Contributing Editor to Northernstars, Wyndham Wise began his long career in Canadian film by reviewing Shebib’s Rip-Off. Wise taught film studies at Algoma University (1985 & 1988) and York University (1987–88), and media writing and film studies at Sheridan College (1989–93). By an accident of timing he turned out to be the last Toronto reporter for Cinema Canada magazine (1988–89) and launched POV magazine in 1990 for the Canadian Independent Film Caucus (now the Documentary Organization of Canada). In 1997 he founded the Toronto Film Critics Association, and launched Canadian Screenwriter for the Writers Guild of Canada in 1998. From 2008–11 he was the editor of Canadian Cinematographer. He is usually associated with Take One: Film & Television in Canada, the magazine he published from 1992 to 2006, as well as Take One’s Essential Guide to Canadian Cinema. A short time after the magazine folded, we acquired the digital archives of Take One and Wyndham became a Contributing Editor to this website.

Much has changed in the way movies are made and seen, but the one constant is the value of an intelligent review. We are pleased that Wyndham continues to contribute his thoughts to our efforts. It is with great pleasure that Northernstars.ca pays tribute to Wyndham Wise on this anniversary by republishing that first review from 40 years ago.

What’s the matter with kids today?

Adolescent behaviour and awareness Is a topic handled often in films. Summer of ’42 does it with poignant simplicity, Bless The Beasts, tragically, just to give two recent examples. Rip-Off, Don Shebib’s latest feature. currently showing at the New Yorker. takes a light-hearted, comic approach to the subject, with an undertone of sadness, but with very uneven results. Shot mainly In Toronto, the story revolves around the misadventures of four inept high school friends (Dunky, Richie. Cooly and Steve) in their graduating year. Anxious to discover the delights of sexual pleasure. while being as “hip” as possible, they make valiant attempts to impress their school friends, especially the girls, with their Individuality, virility and musical talents, with a notable lack of success.

Dunky (Don Scardlno) picks up three girls at a rock concert at City Hall, convincing them that he and the others are also rock musicians and brings them home (a house in the Don Mills suburban wasteland) to listen to the four of them play. After an atrocious session. the girls pick up and leave, frustrating the boys’ hopes of sexual involvement. As a way of asserting their indiViduality, Dunky and Rich (Peter Gross) smoke up before a Math class, only to be found out by the teacher and Dunky is forced to stay after class to write “I will not smoke in school” a multitudinous number of times across the blackboard. That is essentially the role the four play: friendly but inept bunglers.

After a series of such disasters, it develops that Dunky’s grandfather leaves him in his will 500 acres of land near Timmins and the four decide on forming a commune, with their minds definitely set on bacchanalian orgies and final acceptance amongst their peers as something different. The plan works initially. They start attracting attention, become celebrities at school. and Dunky succeeds in laying the chick he has been chasing all year (Sue Helen Petrie. who plays her part well with a mixture of coy Innocence and haughty pride).

However, when they make it up to the inherited land on their Easter vacation. they find a beaten-down shack with no water or heat. Unable to take care of themselves and with a classic put-down by two Indian hunters (possibly the funniest episode in the film) they leave, disillusioned and irritable after four days and return to Toronto. High school graduation and grudging acceptance of the “realities” of life follow and the film ends.

I missed Sheblb’s earlier effort Goin’ Down The Road but it seems to have achieved wide financial success as well as four Canadian film awards. By all accounts, this one will do even better, if only on the financial side. Made on a strict budget, with a skeleton crew of nine, Sheblb has put together a light, inoffensive comedy that should appeal to the average film goer. The first half holds together fairly well and has some fine comic scenes, such as when Cooly (Mike Kukulewich) finds himself picked up and involved In the making of a blue movie with the others listening at the door. But the film becomes very episodic, almost to the point of boredom towards the end; it doesn’t have much depth and if there is a point, it gets lost somewhere In the middle.

For two of the four boys, this is the first appearance in film. This tends towards a certain naturalistic charm, but not very strong acting. Sheblb attempts some character development with a confrontation between Dunky and his father. when Dunky returns home from his “irresponsible” flight for freedom and discovers that his father gets up at 6:30 in the morning to go to work to support the family. The point is strained and if Dunky understands it, it is never made clear to the audience. At one point Dunky tells the others that “we were born too late, there’s nothing left to discover”. In this type of film, the story is usually resolved by the characters discovering something about themselves and the world around them. At the end of this film, however, nothing is made clear; all seems to have passed by without making much impact on the four. Certainly none is made on the audience. Maybe at $2.SO a seat, the film itself is the rip-off.

By the way, there is a great short made in England with the voices of Harold Pinter and Donald Pleasance. If you’re going to the flick, try and get there on time. It’s only five minutes in length and well worth the effort.

Wyn Wise

Also see the cast & crew for Rip-Off