MONK, Katherine

Author Tags: Biography, Film, Music

As a Vancouver Sun film reviewer, Katherine Monk published an overview of the contemporary Canadian film industry in English entitled weird sex & snowshoes and other Canadian film phenomena (Raincoast, 2002). "Monk's nationalistic boosterism," wrote reviewer Peter Urquhart in Canadian Literature #180, "--clearly and self-admittedly the book's raison d'Ítre--while primarily responsible for the book's glaring critical blind spots, does at least help provide some of the zip and forward momentum of this unwieldy work."


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[BCBW 2012] "Film"

[Review to be added]

weird sex & snowshoes and other Canadian film phenomena (Raincoast $26.95)

It's a modern truism. Great books can make for bad movies. In 1978, an adaptation of Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women failed to match its author's sparkling intelligence. But with some graphic sex, the movie version launched the career of Canadian movie warlord Robert Lantos. With its publicity fallout, it generated the tantalizing illusion that movies made in Canada could be profitable.

We've since inched away from a once-noble NFB-bound tradition of documentaries. John Grierson? The founder of the NFB is less famous now than Eric Nesterenko or Eddie Shack. On screen, our mediocrity hyped as art is now mired by a lack of Canadian content rules in Canadian cinemas-thanks to aggressive lobbying by Jack Valenti in Hollywood. An argument is easily made that, compared to the Canadian book industry, the Canadian film industry is a disaster. [The bums-on-seats-per-dollar spent, versus the pages-turned-per-dollar spent, would make for a revelatory study.]

That's why boosters such as Katherine Monk, the current Vancouver Sun movie reviewer, have a tough job. How do you continue as a cheerleader for a losing team? One answer is prepare a cumulative overview, culled from commentaries and columns, called weird sex & snowshoes and other Canadian film phenomena (Raincoast $26.95), to help build the audience base.

Like so many critics marooned as reviewers, Monk is tempted by the task of being a nouveau taste-maker. As if Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed (1996) and Atom Egoyan's latest cold fish offering might somehow be more sophisticated and watchable than Donald Shebib's Goin'Down the Road (1970) or Claude Jutra's Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) or Richard Dreyfuss's riveting performance in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974). Monk condescends to bash Porkys; Bob 'n' Doug McKenzie's ("koo-kookoo-koo-koo-koo-kookoo") Strange Brew receives nary a mention. But have you seen the latest Guy Madden masterpiece? Kissed, with its focus on necrophilia, is praised because it "cemented our national image as sexual deviants abroad-which, let's face it, is the best thing that happened to our Canadian identity since Paul Henderson scored the winning goal against the Red Army." Say whaaa? (The Soviet Union's team had Red Army players on it.)

But amid such rhetoric, Monk shines with some conversation-starters. "One of the beautiful things about not talking about sex with any great regularity is that way it makes all sex uniformly 'dirty'." In her 'Weird Sex' chapter she argues we're repressed on both linguistic sides. The francophones have the Catholic church outside the bedroom door; anglophones have lingering Victorian values. "Part of this guilt reflects our lingering institutional past."

She suggests there's a pervasive woman-on-top female dominance in our celluloid sex scenes. Is it wishful thinking? "If we view the female as half the Jungian anima-animuls equation of Self then we can assume we are moving toward increased artistic expression, but, by the same token, a potential psychic imbalance as the female 'anima' may well overpower the 'masculine' animus."

Given the emphasis on sexual content and analysis, it is odd that the Suns Jungian expert has simultaneously excluded sex-sated Winters Tan (1987), an international hit, from her survey. Nonetheless, it's clear her heart is in her work. Her ardour is such that she could be auditioning for a job outside of Pacific Press, perhaps at some film institute. Chapter Eight is 'Pluralistic Perspectives: Seeking Salvation in the Mosaic Model'.

As that line in an old Joni Mitchell song goes, "The times you impress me most, are the times when you don't try." There are 20 biographical profiles of key figures in the industry, some finely written. Monk's 100 thumbnail reviews of significant Canadian films are useful for reference but lack production information beyond the director and lead actors. The index is sketchy. But she's supplied a useful product. With its brief foreword by Atom Egoyan, weird sex & snowshoes is more mainstream than its attention grabbing title suggests. It's an important resource book and there's a fine assortment of stills. Coming soon, to a coffee table near you. 1-55192-474-9

[BCBW Spring 2002]