Tag Archives: Montréal on Film

Montreal’s Impossible Car Chase

Blazing Magnum (1976) 1971 Ford Mustang VS… by Z-cinema

Found this clip on Reddit Montreal.

It’s a car chase scene from an Italian detective/crime flick from 1976 called ‘Shadows in an Empty Room‘.

It’s not quite Bullitt but not bad either.

There are a few ‘goofs’ in this sequence, namely that the car chase route is completely impossible (i.e. turning from Bleury onto René-Lévesque, then winding up in NDG and then the Turcot Yards). According to IMDB you can also spy a cop walking into a sex shop and can further spy a truck advertising Cinévision, one of the companies involved in the production (not exactly goofs per se, the latter a clumsy attempt at product placement).

I’d love it if someone could throw together a sketch of what route the cars took based off the clip above, just to further demonstrate the convoluted nature, but also to see what aspects the cinematographer wanted included.

And that said, we need more car chase scenes filmed on the mean streets of Montreal. As much as I want to get cars off our city streets, this is an exciting city to drive in and car chases seem to make our roads look somewhat more decent and less congested than they actually are.

Montreal – Horizon 2000

Fascinating clip I found on the YouTubes called Montréal Horizon 2000. Its a promo piece for the 1967 City of Montreal Master Plan, otherwise branded as ‘Horizon 2000’. Put together by the city’s planning department, this film, and the plan from which it is derived, plots the development of the city from the Summer of Love to the dawn of a new century. At the height of Expomania, as one might imagine, the plan was bold and ahead of its time. That said, after watching this clip you’ll realize much of the plan would end up getting realized anyway, though perhaps to not as large of a scale and not always to our collective advantage (spoiler alert – they figured our highways would be over-saturated, quel surprise).

The plan clearly has one major goal in mind – population growth, with a targeted population of seven million souls by century’s end. Mayor Jean Drapeau and Chair of the Executive Committee Lucien Saulnier were elected into office in 1960 largely on a ‘one island, one city’ platform and during his time in office the communities of Saraguay, Rivières-des-Prairies, Saint-Michel and Pointe-aux-Trembles were voluntarily annexed into the city of Montréal. Horizon 2000 points to a future city that would occupy all of the island, inasmuch as the South Shore and Laval, with economic influence and a commuter zone stretching towards the borders. A city of seven million in thirty-three years, starting from almost three million in Greater Montreal at the time.

They estimated thirty some-odd years to more than double in size.

They were optimistic, but on the whole the vision and plan of the Drapeau administration (and it’s insufferably uninspired quasi-extension under Bourque) at the very least realized growth through annexation. Though we now know forcing annexation on independent communities through provincial government initiative is extremely unpopular, it shouldn’t prevent the city of Montreal from pursuing voluntary annexation now or in the future. The thinking goes that over time, the larger tax pool of a larger city (and the efficiencies that would come with service standardization and streamlining throughout the metropole) would permit the city to offer better bang for the collective buck. It seems clear to me Horizon 2000 looks forward to the annexation of bedroom communities and commuter suburbs to enrich the public purse, redistribute zoning for maximum economic impact and operational efficiency, and further still to ensure the city on the whole maintains a diverse and balanced local ecology. And their boldness vis-a-vis annexation might be explained by the view that the suburbs were mere extensions of the city made possible by the city’s investment in local transit and traffic infrastructure.

Suffice it to say, the city planners of Montreal in 1967 may not have anticipated much if any opposition to the growth of Montreal at the expense of the political sovereignty of the tiny farming villages that constituted the rural belt around the city. I assume they figured few in the year 2000 would be going around calling themselves a Lavalois or Pierrefondsienne.

The plan anticipates a wide variety of issues and considerations a much larger city would doubtless have to contend with. Congestion, environmental degradation, access to public education, health, social and civic services, representative democracy, sustainable economic growth and general viability were all primary concerns for the authors of Horizon 2000, who seem to anticipate a larger city-proper might actually have the financial means to properly address and triumph over these problems.

Despite the various socio-political factors which stalled our growth and development, the city grew in some of the ways anticipated by Horizon 2000 (meaning, to me at least, that it’s worth re-investigating this plan in particular should we ever got our act together to build a bigger and more significant city).

Unfortunately we’re starting to occupy as much space as was once deemed large enough to hold twice our number. Suburban sprawl is one problem, but a larger problem might be our inability to increase density in extant suburban areas. We occupy an inordinate amount of space.

While we’ve managed to develop an enviable public transit service, it’s far from the elegant and sophisticated ‘grand social equalizer’ envisioned for a more egalitarian future. While comprehensive, what we have isn’t nearly as large as the system that was conceptualized to move so many more people (and as you might suspect they expected much larger Métro and commuter-train systems as a matter of fact necessity), further expecting the highway system they were designing at that time to be as over-loaded as it is today.

In any case, take a gander, seems interesting enough.

It makes me wonder what kind of master plan we have today. The nearest example I can find is the Montreal 2025 plan (which for some -cough- inexplicable reason default opens to its English-language page), but this is nowhere near as bold or as driven as Horizon 2000.

Sure it’s aesthetically more appealing to most (especially when you compare 3D renderings to the grainy 60s modern film styles of the video above) but unlike Horizon 2000 (an actual plan which was pursued despite some major and unforeseen economic problems), Montreal 2025 is little more than a list of private residential and commercial projects and provincial or federal development initiatives. The city doesn’t have a reason or a goal, even such a simple goal of becoming a bigger city.

Food for thought – does this city have a project? If not, why not? And why don’t our apparent leaders share their visions with us?

In a video like the one above you see an example of a city that respects itself and takes itself seriously (this would have been expensive in the late 1960s, and keep in mind this is just a promo piece for the actual written plan). It confronts the big problems that can come about with big dreams in a straightforward manner, and further still it suggests confidence in our ability to overcome the difficulties of growth to produce an world city sans pareil. Montreal 2025 is hardly such a plan.

It occurs to me that too few of those who have thrown their name into the ring to run for mayor – as though it were nothing more than a popularity contest – have any idea what this city’s goals ought to be, and worse still would be loathe to spell anything out concretely for fear they can’t meet their commitments. None of the popstar candidates whose names have been batted about have a plan at hand.

It wasn’t too long ago this would have been considered the bare minimum. Perhaps our standards have fallen.

Ah, the good old days…

This is a keeper.

Back in the late 1980s there was a TV program called Caméra 88 (which aired on I’m not sure what – guess I’ll ask Fagstein) which was running a kind of early 48hrs type game, albeit with a more local focus and a shorter running time.

Anywhootenanny, apparently Montrealers were as bored with themselves back then as we are today, and Montreal’s basic offerings for entertainment and leisure may have felt a bit stale even to locals twenty-five years ago. City’s with major tourist draws always tend to make the locals a bit cranky, as though they themselves have not delighted in the city so many tourists go gaga for. I get that feeling time and again, like I’ve seen it all, but I’m a creature of habit who’s easily entertained.

Enter Caméra 88 which decides, all the way back then, that they need to ‘shed some light’ on Montreal’s otherside, it’s ‘underground’ as it were, as if to learn the locals a lesson – what do they really know about Montreal? It’s almost as if this episode was anticipating Kristian Gravenor’s Montreal: the Unknown City, a kind of Hipster bible popular amongst Ontario ex-pats who settled here to get a cheap and dirty education right up until the economy sank.

Well this mini-doc would certainly appeal to Hipsters. For one, the ‘tour guide’ Errol or Harold, seems to be the quintessential proto-Hipster, washed up on our shores from what was doubtless a less open minded community in the United States. He takest he camera crew to visit some of the various odds and ends that made late-1980s, early-1990s Montreal a lot of fun.

Second, there’s a fair bit of urban exploration going on, as our host somehow manages to finagle his way to the top of the Université de Montréal’s phallic tower and and later visits a squat. Back then the sensation that we had fallen behind was not only sinking in mentally but further, manifesting itself in a whole lotta urban decay, traces of which can still be seen strewn somewhat helter skelter along the downtown’s southern fringe.

Third, and here’s the icing on the cake, our intrepid host takes us what then passed for seedy entertainment (like going to a, gasp, heavy metal show at Foufounes), or getting your car washed at the erotic car wash.

Perhaps my older readers could fill me in – did we all get a little strange back then? I seem to recall a proliferation of strip clubs with video arcades on the ground floor, teen prostitution rings, Jo Jo Psychic Savard, street-side erotic photography studios, a lurching Serbian strongman who pulled buses with his beard and a whole lot of other stuff seemingly all coming to fore back then.

The episode also features a Hare Krishna dining experience, a dépanneur proprietress who served her clients in a Playboy Bunny outfit, a restaurant that provided psychic consultations between the third and fourth course, oddball vendors and ‘hands-off voyeurism experiences’ that pushed the limits of social acceptability a quarter century ago.

Suffice it to say, this mini-doc is kind of adorable. In retrospect I think we really are a far more conservative society than we like to admit if this is what passed for ‘scandalous’ twenty some-odd years ago. It’s comparatively quite tame.

Les amoureux de Montr̩al Рthe city at 350

Les amoureux de Montréal by Jacques Giraldeau, National Film Board of Canada

Stumbled upon this fascinating documentary about Montreal, released by the NFB in 1992.

It explores what seems to be a favoured theme amongst local documentarians – the city in a state of transition.

1992 was one of those years – an anniversary year, the city’s 350th. The city had been remodelling itself in preparation for the anniversary for the preceding six years, largely under the direction of the Doré administration.

The emphasis was principally on city beautification, though two iconic skyscrapers Р1250 Ren̩-L̩vesque Ouest and 1000 de la Gaucheti̬re Рwould join the skyline, completing a broader effort to increase class-A office real-estate in the city (the redevelopment of McGill College and the Montreal World Trade Centre occurred at roughly the same time). There are some excellent shots of the towers going up.

This is also the time the Biodome and Biosphere came to be, new parks and public spaces were created, museums expanded etc. The film seems to switch back and forth between optimism for what the future might hold and a somber reflection on an apparent loss of status. The film presents reflections on the city as love letters.

It can be ironic in hindsight, albeit understandably so given the context of the city at that time. Early on the narrator bemoans the ‘loss of port and rail, the over-reliance on cars and how we’ve fallen behind in public transit’.

Today we would see things a bit differently – 1992 was 21 years ago after all, and times and attitudes really do change. Today’s public transit network is fairly sophisticated and broader than it was back then. We’re still over-reliant on cars but at the very least urban depopulation may have been somewhat successfully cut back. As to the port, well it moved further east, out of sight but hardly out of mind. And we’re still the rail king of North American cities, not to mention the interaction between these elements of our infrastructure maintains our position as a leader in transportation.

This film is heavy on design and architecture in a way that reminds me of what seemed to be a trend from the era. I remember a host of books published at the time, not to mention the recent arrival of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and all of it coming together in a kind of architectural reawakening, as though the citizens saw the gems that lay before them for the first time.

Like we all suddenly realized ours is a good looking city only when the film crews starting popping up all over the place throughout much of the 1990s.

In any event, have a look – I’m sure you’ll enjoy. A must for all Montrealophiles.

Montr̩al РThe Neighbourhood Revived

Montr̩al РThe Neighborhood Revived by Michel R̩gnier, National Film Board of Canada

Found an interesting documentary, first in the URBA 2000 series produced for the NFB in 1974.

As described, in the mid-1970s was an established leader in urban renewal.

We’ve got a forty, possibly fifty year old tradition of urban renewal and preservation via maintenance of desirable residential neighbourhoods within the urban core.

Though all these buildings seem to still exist throughout much of what I would call the most desirable neighbourhoods adjacent and integrated into the urban tapestry, I’ve noticed that these neighbourhoods are far, far greener today than back then. There are many more ‘pocket parks and playgrounds’ disrupting the long rows of triplexes and duplexes, more trees lining the streets and alleyways like veritable jungles.

When this documentary was made protecting trees and green space within the urban environment and first ring residential zones was still very new. Efforts to accomodate families in subsidized housing were relatively new as well, though the city counted more than half of its city-owned apartments with more than three closed bedrooms. Also novel at the time – clearing out the old backyard sheds (which were no longer needed as homes were no longer heated with coal or wood) and developing back yards.

Amazing this was all head-scratchingly new in 1974. Good watch.

The Force of Montreal

21-87 by Arthur Lipsett, National Film Board of Canada

So here’s something.

This is a film called 21-87, by noted Montréal avant-garde film-maker Arthur Lipsett. While he was working as an editor and illustrator at the NFB (back when the NFB was quite literally laying the foundation of Canadian cinematic arts), he created an apparently mesmerizing collage of diverse audio recordings he had collected over the years and weaved it into film. He combined stock footage he found on the cutting room floor of the NFB along with his own footage of various urban scenes from the city streets of New York and Montreal. The result is a rather impressive short film I too feel compelled to watch several more times (though that’s largely because I’m tired and think I’m missing something – film criticism is not my forte, I’m still astounded Vaudeville fell to the Talkies. But I digress…)

Like too many great Canadian artists Lipsett was way too far ahead of his time and committed suicide two weeks shy of his 50th birthday largely unknown and under appreciated. But he did have a profound and lasting impact on a young George Lucas (as well as Stanley Kubric; Lipsett was offered a chance to create the trailer for Dr. Strangelove but declined. What Kubric ultimately produced was heavily inspired by Lipsett).

Lucas credits the inspiration for his idea of ‘The Force’ to a specific moment in the film when the word is mentioned, in the decontextualized snippet of an apparently spiritual conversation (at 3:51).

But it is the imagery that caught my attention at that moment. The old man feeding the pigeons is doing so in Phillips Square, and is sandwiched between shots of a flock of pigeons soaring above Dorchester Square, in such a fashion that it looks almost like the same birds jumped from one cut to another, sweeping from left to right. A character of an old man with a hat, at first feeding pigeons and well dressed, then disheveled yet holding a bird in his hands, continues this micro-story arc through what seems to be several different pieces of film. That’s what George Lucas was looking at when he began to conceive The Force, a belief and pseudo-spiritual plot device that has inspired some 400,000 Brits to describe themselves as Jedi, making Jedi the fourth largest reported religion in the United Kingdom (there are more reported Jedi in the UK than Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews; you can’t make this shit up.)

You can read as much into this as you like, I just think it’s neat that George Lucas, the man who created one of the most enduring, popular and lucrative films of all time was thinking up The Force while watching a crazy old man play in pigeons in one of my favourite city parks.

Also it should be stated that Dorchester Square looks really good but, as I suppose I am somewhat unaccustomed to seeing my city in black and white, I found the textures and character of the buildings facing the square (all of which are still there and just as prominent today, they nonetheless seem more severe and imposing. In one instance the Dominion Square Building looking like a cloudy backdrop quickly coming into focus as a detailed wall of windows. The glass and slate CIBC Tower almost appears as a solid mass, and in the background the Cathedral looms large and ominous, as if viewed through a fog.

Yet in the foreground there are quaint and relaxing scenes we could quite literally go see in real time any old day of the week during the more temperate months. Dorchester Square still has possibly crazy old men talking to and feeding the pigeons. In Phillips Square, by contrast, a newspaper-hawking dwarf handles such affairs. Plus que ça change, eh?

What do you think of 21-87?