Friday, August 3, 9:30pm, The Middle Dam, by the Saugeen River
by Phil Hoffman
The veteran Toronto Writer/Director Keith Lock has worked as Quebec director Claude Jutra’s assistant, as well as Michael Snow’s cinematographer. In 1987 his independent short film, A Brighter Moon, was nominated for a Gemini award in the Best Short Drama category, and in 1991 his short experimental films were the subject of a retrospective held at the Euclid Theatre in Toronto. Keith Lock’s first feature film, Small Pleasures, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1993, received an art house theatrical release in Canada, and was broadcast on CBC in 1995.
Keith Lock interviewed by Phil Hoffman
PH: I wondered if in Work, Bike and Eat you knew the people in the film or were they auditioned?
KL: They were not auditioned at all. They were all people we knew. The old lady was Jim's neighbor who he used to shovel snow for. John Turnbull was one of my best friends. Besides Jim, my two best friends in high school were both named John Turnbull.The actors were all people we knew that we thought would be good in the film, for instance Jim Murphy. Jim Anderson and I were in the very first year of the first film production course in Canada so perhaps people didn't know how films were made and would just be themselves.
The kids who convince Arnold to ride his bike down the hill were just kids we ran into while shooting scenes of Arnold on his bike. Sometimes we would just load the camera and Nagra and actor into Jim's mother's car and drive someplace at random and film. This was possible because a legendary gaffer, Jock Brandeis, owned an Eclair NPR and he would let us borrow it for long stretches of time. I don't remember ever paying him money. Thinking back on it, his trust of what were basically two teenagers was the reason Work Bike and Eat exists. At that time making Canadian films was more like a religion than a industry ; ).PH: Did you improvise scenes?
KL: Every scene was improvised. The dinner scene was written the morning we shot and written after the actors arrived. The beer scene with Jim Murphy was totally improvised and we started out with the notion that it would be just some friends having a "bull session" and we just let the scene happen. It's chronological and a lot of beer was consumed. I wasn't used to drinking, but I did, and the camera work gets more wobbly as the scene progresses.Another example of just letting things happen occurs in the scene with the old lady. When we arrived to shoot this scene we found a construction crew, complete with pneumatic drill, working just outside her window. It never occurred to us to reschedule and come back on a quieter day. Instead we incorporated the noise and activity of the construction into the scene. While the woman talks about her memories, the camera sometimes drifts to the men moving around outside, adding a layer to her memories.
PH: Where did the scenes come from...written ahead or did some things just happenKL: ...as above. it was all stuff from life. Sometimes Jim would get an inspiration and would say "let me shoot this one". In the scene near the beginning in which Arnold cuts his own hair, just before shooting he got the idea to run out on the roof with our friend/ sound recordist, Stuart Rosenberg, and do jumping jacks. He knew the guy who ran the bookstore on the next block and he allowed them to go out on his roof on the spur of the moment. It just syncs up perfectly with the Rompin Ronnie Hawkins song. I worked in my dad's store in Chinatown since i was 7 or 8 yrs and many of the things shown there were also taken from life. Like the shoplifter. it was a safe and public space and Jim and I made some of our earliest films there, like the short film "Arnold"
PH: What was your relation to the Toronto Filmmaker's Coop?KL: Jim and I were at the first meeting of the Toronto Filmmaker's Coop, at Rochdale. We were invited by Moira Armour a filmmaker at the Toronto Board of Education. Jim's film Scream of a Butterfly had won the Grand Prix at a UNESCO festival in Amsterdam, 1969. A super 8 film which we made together also won the best super 8 prize. The prize was received by the Canadian Ambassador to the Hague and we were in the newspapers etc.
The Toronto Filmmaker's Co-op was the first film coop in Canada and it later morphed into LIFT. A film co-op was a totally new concept at the time and one of the many brilliant things to come out of the notorious Rochdale College.PH: Any more things about the background to the making of the film?
KL: The origin of the film was that I used to hitchhike home from York University . In those days everybody did it and the University even set out signs on the road out showing your destination. You'd stand under your sign so drivers would know which way you were headed. It was a form of carpooling. One day I got picked up by a Federal civil servant who had been out at York promoting a Trudeau initiative called "Opportunity for Youth". The program hadn't been very well promoted and that is why he was out at York. He urged me to apply since they didn't have many applicants. I did and Jim and I received $1200 to shoot Work Bike and Eat. When the film was over, I think we still had $600 in the bank since Kodak gave us film stock and Ryerson did the processing.PH: Was the commune at Buck Lake which is depicted in Everything Everywhere Again Alive, a predesessor for the Funnel Experimental Film Theatre, in Toronto (the home of experimental film in Toronto in the 70’s and 80’s) .I noticed Anna Gronau and I think James Anderson......was Ross Mclaren in there.....Who else was in the film?
KL: A few people people do think Buck Lake was a predecessor to the Funnel, especially in it's tribal and DIY "we can do this!" and work positive attitudes.Ross McLaren wasn't there but Funnel mainstays Anna Gronau, James Anderson, David Anderson and Michelle Mclean were in the core group at Buck Lake. The names of some of the other people who are in the film are: Thomas Brouillette (the acknowledged leader, a boiler maker and now a dancer), Tom's brother, Robert, Anna Gronau's brother, Jim, Leslie Padorr (we're still married), Mona McNabb (Leslie's daughter) and Jerry McNabb (Leslie's ex and co-ordinator of the Toronto Film maker's co-op and the CFMDC).
PH: Where was the commune?
KL: It's near Gravenhurst between Hwy 400 and Georgian Bay. About 100 miles north of Toronto. There are many Buck Lake's in Ontario. I couldn't find Google map co-ordinates. The closest road is South Sparrow lake Road.PH: Any explanation of the superimposed symbols?
KL: Joyce Weiland showed me the filmsSailboat and 1933 in which she uses high contrast supers and was very interested in what they did to the image over which they were superimposed. The cinema camera uses a lens and optics to create perspective and depth, or at least the illusion of perspective and depth, since the projected image only exists in 2 dimensions. When I saw Joyce's films, I noticed a push - pull between the camera perspective and the flat super impositions. If I looked at the camera images behind the supers, I got depth, if I shifted my eye to the super, I got to feel the surface of the film, a very subtle and intangible effect. I don't know if this is what Joyce saw or not.Sometimes the supers are used to convey extra information. I was very influenced by primitive poetry in Technicians of the Sacred a book of poetry edited by Jerome Rothenberg and used the supers to convey simple statements, like the poetry in this anthology, to add another layer of meaning. Today we see text over a moving image all the time but back in 1973 - 74 only artists and experimental filmmakers used this (at least that was the only time I recall seeing it).
During the scene of the mating of the pigs, I superimposed a simple circuit diagram for a radio. It had an antenna and a ground which is like the connecting of heaven and earth, male and female or sex. I thought the electronic symbols mysterious, yet had a very specific meaning. The sound under the picture was created on a early synthesizer. I used this because it sounded mysterious and it was electronic.In the sequence which uses an optical image rotator to invert the mirrored treeline of the lake, numbers one to ten are supered. I did this because numbers are symbols of quantity and each quantity in turn symbolizes something for instance the four directions and four corners of the earth. The number zero represents nothing yet it is a circle which implies completeness or everything. I found the paradox of the totality and emptiness being contained in the same symbol quite intriguing and central to the idea of Everything Everywhere Again Alive. Hence the blank domino becomes the domino with a single dot follows right after the pig breeding scene to represent conception.
I think with the supers, I was trying to get outside the confines of the frame, which is a difficult task given that the frame is the film.PH: It seemed it was shot non sync...just with a Bolex and wild taperecorder?
KL: Yes that's correct. In those days being able to record sync sound required the top technology of the day. I used a Bolex and the first miniature cassette recorder. Later I acquired a Uher 4000 reel to reel tape recorder. The Bolex was great because it had a clockwork motor which didn't require electricity or batteries. It was perfect for shooting in remote areas. Even though the Bolex had 3 lenses, the entire film, except 1 shot, was shot with the 25mm or normal lens. I wanted to use just the normal lens so as not to disrupt the spacial relationships of things.
Work, Bike and Eat
Arnold, an existential figure, slips and slides on his `antique bike’, through the everyday of 1970’s Toronto, riding to the beat of his own drum, yet complacent regarding the social agenda of the time. He takes a job in a pharmacy in the heart of Chinatown, where he comes face to face with the pressures of the burgeoning consumer society, beginning to “find its wings”. Arnold’s desires seem to weave carefully between the crumbling patriarchal world of post-Presbyterian Toronto and the mushrooming youth rebellion (with its prescriptive trend to drop out). The film was likely influenced by the North American Cinema Verite and Direct Cinema movements of the 1960’s, which traversed the fiction-documentary boundary (Owen, King, Maysles Bros, Leacock, etc) and as well, there are clear footnotes to the French New Wave. The film’s careful attention to detail, and quotidian reflections, revealed through the improvisational style of the filmmaking, makes Work, Bike and Eat a time capsule for 1970’s Toronto, and its youth cultures. With an impeccable cinematic design, the film makes use of composition, lighting and temporality, which invites the viewer into Arnold’s private space, and the fragmented city life that surrounds him.