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Bruce McDonald's 'Hard Core Logo' (Canadian Cinema) Paperback – July 23, 2011
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About the Author
Paul McEwan is an associate professor in the Department of Media and Communication and the director of Film Studies at Muhlenberg College.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is not really for Hard Core Logo fans. It's a scholarly work and really meant more for other film academics. For diehard Hard Core Logo fans, however, this is probably one for your "completist" collection that includes Noel S. Baker's "Hard Core Roadshow." There are some interesting tidbits of info, trivia, and insider knowledge McEwan gleaned not only from the DVD commentaries but also from his own interviews with the director (McDonald), actors (Rennie, Dillon, Pyper-Ferguson, Coulson), screenwriter (Baker), and original author (Turner).
The entire first section of the book discusses the source material (Michael Turner's epistolary novel) and the many adaptations of Hard Core Logo -- from McDonald's movie to the comic book through the stage musical Hard Core Logo: Live. Interestingly, in the first section on Adaptations, McEwan generously includes fanfic and fan video remixes (specifically slashfic) from Hard Core Logo fandom. In a wonderfully refreshing parallel with all other adaptations of Turner's source (including McDonald's film), McEwan opines that fanfic and fanvids are "valuable and interesting in their own right" (p. 43) and adds that while "we might imagine someone making the case that only Turner's original novel is a work of artistic value and that all of the subsequent works are of lesser standing . . . . Michael Turner himself is emphatic that his own novel has no special status over subsequent creations. And once we accept that McDonald's film, and filmic adaptations more generally, is a legitimate form of art, it becomes impossible to justify any criterion of cultural value that excludes what has followed the film, whether it is a comic book, a punk song, or a piece of erotic fiction" (p. 44).
Wow! For fans (and completists) of HCL -- especially in fandom -- this may be a very rewarding read.
The film school retrospective of Bruce McDonald's films and detailed analysis of Hard Core Logo mostly succeeds on its own terms. I found it interesting, especially since it places Hard Core Logo within a film history context of not just all of Bruce McDonald's films, but also within a history of the multiple genres HCL spans: road movies, documentaries, rock documentaries, mockumentaries. Due to the genre overlaps of HCL itself this is important and necessary.
The short analyses of Bruce's earlier films, some of which I've seen or own, are interesting. However McEwan makes some points with which I disagree, and leaves some surprising stones unturned.
The (very short) epilogue of this book concerns Hard Core Logo II, which is also mentioned in the last part of the first section on Adaptations --- one of four films McDonald released in 2010. According to McEwan, Hard Core Logo II was McDonald's second attempt at a sequel to Hard Core Logo (there's no footnote or end notes citation for this). According to McEwan (from conversations with Bruce McDonald), the first attempt at a sequel to Hard Core Logo was the 2010 film Trigger. (Who knew!)
Trigger was originally conceived as a Hard Core Logo sequel for Billy and Joe. But "the inability to make the scheduling work led to the film being re-imagined as the story of two women" (p. 51.) and Molly Parker and Tracy Wright were cast. Though only a total of 3 paragraphs are spent on Hard Core Logo II in the epilogue, McEwan praises Hard Core Logo II because it "demonstrates a deep understanding of the nature of documentary" and for "being both a cautionary tale about artistic hubris and a celebration of the power of film." (p. 118)
I found this praise somewhat ridiculous -- rather like Hard Core Logo II itself -- and this is where I strongly differ with McEwan. In my opinion, Hard Core Logo II is pretty much an epic fail as either a stand alone film *or* a sequel. The premise sounded interesting -- the spirit of Joe Dick is haunting/possessing a female punk singer. One can imagine Joe's spirit might do any number of funny, scary, or poignant things if it could take control of someone's body.
But HCL II doesn't generate, let alone sustain, interest in the returning character (Bruce), the new characters, or the new narrative from the beginning -- even (maybe especially) for those who saw the original Hard Core Logo. The direction is Bruce's usual over-the-top faux verite. The lack of an ensemble (and the lack of chemistry), and the annoying voice-over questioning of film!Bruce combine to make HCL II visually and narratively boring. The choice of the title Hard Core Logo II is questionable and comes off as pandering as well self-serving. A more honest title for HCL II would have been The Haunting Of Care Failure. Then fans of the original film might not have been deceived into thinking HCL II had anything to do with the first film -- other than to examine/portray fictional film!Bruce's guilt and remorse in a dull movie dominated by the idea (not a new one, btw) that a documentary filmmaker has a responsibility to his documentary subjects. The positioning of film!Bruce's role in the climax of the film is unconvincing self-referential martyrdom.
The deception of Hard Core Logo II's title might have been forgivable if Hard Core Logo II had been as engaging, interesting, and moving as it is "meta" (or as the original). But it is none of those things. It's just meta. After the raw affection, angst, love and menace of Hard Core Logo, HCL II is just flaccid. The concept isn't particularly creative so much as it is convenient, and the meta *could* have been executed in an interesting way.
But HCL II fails to execute these ideas in an engaging way either narratively or visually. So I just don't understand McEwan's short but gushy academic praise of HCL II.
Then, to add insult to injury, McEwan's examination of McDonald's film Trigger, the originally intended HCL sequel, is even shorter and more superficial. This is strange for two reasons: (1) Trigger was originally intended as the Hard Core Logo sequel and was only "re-imagined" for two women due to "the inability to make the scheduling work" (p. 51) with the two main leads from Hard Core Logo; (2) between Trigger and HCL II, it is no contest: Trigger is far superior as both a stand-alone film *and* as a sequel.
Trigger gets two paragraphs (one paragraph less than the three paragraphs Hard Core Logo II gets in the epilogue). 1/3 to 1/2 of the text on Trigger is plot summary and mention of the tragic early death of lead actress Tracy Wright (which shouldn't go unmentioned, but isn't relevant).
McEwan merely states the "film's implied feminism is somewhat ironic" since it was originally supposed to be a HCL sequel about Joe Dick, and says "The script deals with the aftermath of a friendship and an artistic relationship in compelling ways" (p. 51). McEwan asserts "the fact that the characters are now female adds resonances that would not be there in the original version" (p. 51) and "Some of the most emotionally powerful moments in Trigger come when young women recognize Kat and Vic.... a sense... of the community of women in music." (pp. 51-52)
Uh... okay, fine. That's great. But McEwan's superficial feminist angle completely eclipses any deeper exploration of the rich text and subtext of Trigger as either a stand alone film or as a Hard Core Logo sequel. There's no gushing meta-analysis of Trigger like McEwan lavished on HCL II in the Epilogue. To me this smacks of either the standard male gaze at Trigger's portrayal of the dysfunctional, poorly-bounded emotional closeness and enmeshment of the two main characters (turned female) -- or de rigueur pro-feminist, single-issue academic film analysis.
The film's title "Trigger," the two main characters' struggles with sobriety and triggers for substance use, their stated intents to not use any substances, and the gun used at the end of the prequel (Hard Core Logo) provide a lot of text and context: triggers abound. Trigger is, in some ways, a mirror negative of Hard Core Logo (especially in terms of the benefit concerts). If you have seen Hard Core Logo and Trigger, read Kat (Molly Parker) as Billy and Vic (Tracey Wright) as Joe, and you will understand things on a level that enriches what is already a great film about aging in a youth-driven field like rock 'n roll, about deep, decades-long friendship, about the ways in which poor boundaries may be hell on relationships but can drive great creativity. McEwan's highlighting of Trigger's supposed feminist resonances leads him to quickly praise Trigger and then also quickly dismiss it -- much more quickly than Hard Core Logo II (as if Trigger is just a femme-rock 'n roll bonding flick).
There's no exploration of the Kat and Vic dynamics, the "aftermath of a friendship and an artistic relationship" (p. 51). This baffling sweeping-under-the-rug of Trigger's significance as a sequel is both a big omission and a huge missed opportunity for analysis. Cinematic tics in Trigger (fantasy and hallucination scenes) parallel devices McDonald used in Hard Core Logo, but their use is much more retrained -- and those are not even addressed. Ultimately Trigger's significance to Hard Core Logo is downplayed in an almost chauvinist way, as if 'male-centric McDonald mock rockumentary sequel ends up ironically feminist' is all there is to say about it.
McEwan doesn't even address the way Trigger contrasts Kat's (Billy's) ex-pat material success (and superficial "recovery") in Los Angeles with Vic's (Joe's) relative poverty but artistic resurgence (and sobriety) back in Canada. Surely that was worth mentioning in a book that examines Bruce McDonald's films, their Canadian-ness, and mentions the special issues facing state-subsidized Canadian cinema (where, without state subsidy, there would otherwise be nothing but total domination of American product on Canadian screens) along with analyzing Bruce's contrasting of LA-"sell out" Billy and Vancouver-"We'll never sell out" Joe in Hard Core Logo. Not examining any* of this in relation to Hard Core Logo just seems like a huge ommission. I would argue that Trigger is more important than Hard Core Logo II in exploring the tricky territory of artistic partnership, collaborative creation, and the murky motivations when friendship and partnership intersect in the personal and professional arenas, as well as what happens when one person "sells out" and one doesn't (the perks of money versus the "street cred" of not selling out).
Another inconsistency is McEwan's glossing over of Joe Dick's and Billy Tallent's "time travel" game in the bar after the Rock Against Guns benefit (when Joe pitches the reunion tour to Billy). Throughout the book, McEwan points out the many ways in which Bruce's direction and various film devices like mise en scene, sound and editing highlight (if not mock) the documentary nature and aspects of the film and the ways in which this mockumentary road movie both parallel and differ from other documentaries, mockumentaries, and road movies. He examines in detail the ways in which footage, sound, and interview snippet voice-overs are carried from one scene to the next, the epistolary nature of John's diary, Bruce's comments (both those heard and *not* heard by the band), and the ways in which these numerous devices address the documentary/mockumentary nature of the film and the subjectivity/objectivity of film!Bruce's role. This attention to the details of Hard Core Logo is utilized to illustrate and flesh out McEwan's theories and compare/contrast points.
Yet when he addresses Joe and Billy's time travel game (p. 67), McEwan merely describes the moment as "silly childish jokes where one of them freezes and the other pretends he cannot see him." He utterly fails to note the *most* important aspect of this game and moment -- namely the *total loss of ambient sound and music* for those moments in the film when Billy or Joe "freezes". Literally, the film sound ceases to exist. It is an interesting directorial choice on Bruce McDonald's part, one which is *only* deployed in these moments of the film. The loss of all ambient sound in that scene, and that scene only, is simultaneously the most real moment of the film -- what the scene would have sounded like when they filmed it: "quiet on the set," etc. -- and yet simultaneously the most "unreal" because there is no soundtrack, instrumental or otherwise, and no sound mix of ambient sound, crowd noise, etc., to make the scene more "real" for viewers). It both highlights the unreality of the moment and also asserts the primacy of the Joe/Billy friendship/partnership as the dominant subject and theme of Hard Core Logo. It also underscores the "fakeness" of the mockumentary format.
Given McEwan's close attention to such details, their documentary significance, and the tension of subjectivity/objectivity throughout the rest of his analysis, it is even more curious that he fails to note this device. There is no discussion from McEwan on how and why that choice was made by Bruce. Another missed opportunity.
McEwan also cautions, "the potential homoerotic subtext of Billy and Joe's relationship is a complicated issue, because in some sense it seems so obvious, even without John's claim that they have actually had sex (however limited and perhaps not even consensual). I would suggest that homoerotic subtexts always seem obvious because they've become almost a default reading in almost every film that has two close male characters. The frequency of this type of reading does not mean that it is not there, but it should give us pause that we almost never discuss close female relationships this way." (p. 88)
First of all, if homoerotic interpretations have become "almost a default reading," this is a very recent phenomenon in the history of film studies. The dovetailing of the free availability of fandom (and slash fandom) works on the Internet with the availability of online pop culture/TV/movie/music media coverage (coining terminology like "bromance") has only recently allowed homoeroticism (in, say, the past 20 years) to become "almost a default reading". McEwan glosses over this fact, perhaps (I'm guessing) because he himself is young.
McEwan also states that a strict homoerotic interpretation of Joe and Billy's friendship/partnership "closes off readings of the complexity of their emotional relationship, and denies their actions as standing on their own terms.... In the end, such a reductive reading is limiting, homophobic, and boring." (p. 89) This is specifically with respect to John (an unreliable narrator) talking to Mary The Fan about the huge fight between Joe and Billy which was, he says, their way of dealing with "the real issue, which was Joe fucking Billy up the ass the night before" (movie quote).
Maybe it's reductive and limiting; maybe it's not... but it *is* canon: it *is* in the film, in the scene between John and Mary The Fan. McEwan asserts on the previous page that "leveling of the charge 'homoerotic' often seems to be a way to undermine the images of masculine power in film" and references super heroes specifically before continuing "calling their heterosexuality into question is a way to undermine that power, and while those images of masculine power do need to be undermined, it is not clear that the best way to do that is to call them queer." (p. 88) McEwan asks, "why can't two or more men have a close emotional relationship, with all of the interdependence and baggage that implies, without it being sexual?....The inference of homosexuality in their relationship... depends to a significant extent on the policing of gender boundaries in which men are not supposed to be emotionally interdependent." (pp. 88-89)
Better questions are: Why must McEwan's analysis skew towards heteronormative? Why must he classify two men who have clearly had numerous sexual relations with women as well as a close emotional and perhaps even sexual relationship with each other (with all of the interdependence that implies), as EITHER heterosexual OR homosexual? Why isn't bisexuality considered a possibility despite the "evidence" cited in the film itself (John's assertion that Joe fucked Billy; Billy's discovery that he has a child by Mary the Fan)? Why is it an either/or hetero/homo proposition? Even within the film, Joe and Billy are presented as frequently fully taking advantage of the opportunities being on the road presents for sex with random women, groupies, etc. Even if their primary emotional relationship is with each other, how can they be read as either exclusively queer or exclusively straight? If McEwan had truly read widely of the enormous body of homoerotic Hard Core Logo fanfic, he would have found that a large proportion of it posits bisexual &/or multipartner (m/f/m) encounters.
HCL itself demonstrates that Joe and Billy can not be exclusively queer. They both had sex with Mary The Fan. Joe is seen flirting with two women in the background of Pipefitter's and Billy's "You rock star mother fucker!" scene. Billy and Joe also pick up the two "working" girls from the diner who later steal all their money (Billy calls them "Thelma and Louise," a rather misogynistic switcheroo on screenwriter Noel Baker's part, given that Thelma and Louise were neither hookers, nor thieves, and it was Brad Pitt's cute drifter character who stole Thelma and Louise's money -- a point that despite his feminist take on Trigger, McEwan also fails to note).
Given all the evidence of their sex with and attraction for women, a strict canonical reading of the Hard Core Logo script and the plethora of m/m fanfic can not conclude that Joe and Billy are "queer"; at most, they might be bisexual (straight but "gay for each other"). But even that's not entirely certain, since the one possible known encounter mentioned by (unreliable narrator) John appears to have been nonconsensual.
McEwan specifically differentiates between Joe and Billy and the typical action hero/superhero masculine power constructs in film... but then fails to take that comparison to its logical conclusion. Rock 'n roll has been historically more forgiving of gender bending than action hero worship. Early rock musicians and singers were accused of being homosexuals simply because their hair was "long" -- i.e., not a crew cut. Rock 'n roll has also been notoriously lax at "the policing of gender boundaries" when compared to, say, action hero actors McEwan mentions (Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis). Tom Cruise has had to repeatedly squash rumors of homosexuality because that's a threat to his action hero actor status -- whereas it never hurt Mick Jagger or David Bowie (in terms of record or ticket sales) to be suspected of bisexuality or homosexuality. In rock 'n roll, there have been divisions (consider Rob Halford of Judas Priest's closeted life while Judas Priest and Rob specifically had bevies of screaming female fans as well as homophobic teen male fans)... but punk was originally far more tolerant and inclusive of queerness than, say, heavy metal hair bands. So there is no reason to think being perceived as bisexual would negatively affect the fictional Joe and Billy
While McEwan mentions McDonald's use of the song "Which Way You Goin', Billy?" twice in the film and its possible use as a coy hint at Billy's sexuality, it is more likely addressing the question of whether Billy will stay in Canada or go to LA, and Billy is repeatedly teased and even later goaded about living in Los Angeles. But when specifically addressing Billy's work with Jenifur, Joe tells Billy: "...this Jenifur thing--I've got no problem with you going down there. You record and tour. The rest of the year you spend with us. Jenifur's your side gig. You can do whatever the fuck you want. That's our policy. Has been, always will be." (HCL subtitles)
The song "Which Way You Goin', Billy?" seems to pose an either/or choice with respect to Billy's creative and professional future (poverty in Canada with Joe/Hard Core Logo vs financial success in the US/LA with Jenifur) in a way that Joe himself actually doesn't in the film, which is curious. So when McEwan cautions readers against the "default" homoerotic reading of the Joe/Billy relationship, he relegates Joe and Billy to an either/or (100% straight or 100% gay) reading of their relationship and their individual sexuality in a way that Bruce McDonald and Noel Baker didn't in the script and the finished film. One could even view Joe's position as supporting polyamory: Joe stakes his claim/position as Billy's primary friend/lover/creative partner, yet he gives Billy permission to befriend/fuck/create with others as a "side gig" -- as long as Billy maintains primary loyalty to Joe and Hard Core Logo.
So, all in all, this slim volume is worth a look for people who (like me and tons of Hard Core Logo fans) have spent way too much time thinking about Joe and Billy and John and Pipefitter and have watched the movie Hard Core Logo more times than they can count, up to and including purchasing multiple copies in different formats (book, VHS, DVD). If you're in fandom and/or a fanfic author, you'll be happily surprised at the cultural value placed equally on all adaptations, up to and including fanfic.
But be warned. The author is perfectly competent at providing the filmographical analysis and the historical and national/cultural context of Bruce's films and HCL, and at placing Hard Core Logo appropriately within multiple genre perspectives (road movie, mockumentary, etc). But he clearly has inherent (possibly academic) biases of his own which both overstate the significance of the official sequel and limit the acknowledgement and/or interpretation of some relatively significant aspects of both Hard Core Logo and Trigger.