music friday: pink
what i watched last week

by request: goin' down the road (donald shebib, 1970)

Phil Dellio had this at #8 on his Facebook Fave Fifty list. Phil is Canadian, which is relevant here because Goin’ Down the Road is a legendary film in Canada, even though it is barely heard of in the States. (By legendary, I mean SCTV once did a parody of it.) To watch it, I had to buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon in Canada.

That parody gets at something essential about Goin’ Down the Road: they keep reminding us that it is Canadian. The film itself doesn’t beat this into the ground; it just exists. Shebib treats the story and the locale and the characters simply as things he knows. There is something universal about the story of two guys who hit the big city, but even there, it was easy for me to get confused … they are from the East, and they move to Toronto, as if that’s in the West, which it may have been for those characters, but living in California, I always think of Toronto as the East.

One lesson in all of this is that even though Canada is our direct neighbor, watching Goin’ Down the Road as an American makes me feel as distant as I do when I watch kitchen-sink dramas from England, or world cinema in general. The entire time I was watching the movie, I suspected there were allusions I was missing.

So why is Goin’ Down the Road such an important marker in Canadian film history? I can’t say I know much about it, even after doing some reading, but it seems clear that Canadian film historians think of Canadian films in terms of before and after Goin’ Down the Road. It’s easier to see how it was influential stylistically, with its ultra-cheap budget, unknown actors, and documentary look. It has been compared favorably to the work of Cassavetes at around the same time (Faces, Husbands), and certainly Shebib’s film feels more “real” than Cassavetes’ hyped-up way with actors.

Beyond the improvisational feel, Goin’ Down the Road has little in common with Cassavetes. It is a very low-key movie. The two leads seem like typical “guys hitting the road”, except even their rambunctious escapades feel mellow (I mean, Bruce Cockburn is on the soundtrack). They are not “cool” … we’re not talking Dean Moriarty here, and Kerouac would never tell a story this way (he’d have to insert Meaning-with-a-capital-M).

It’s no insult to say a work was intended for someone besides me, and in fact, I was able to connect with Goin’ Down the Road on many levels. But between my own taste preferences, and the film’s Canada-centric core, I was never going to name it my 8th favorite movie. (My own #8 was The Wild Bunch.) 7/10.

Comments