This movie was first released at TIFF (Toronto International Film Fest). It was then released to the Canadian public on a 1 day only showing at theatres across the country on September 14. I went to my local theatre on this date and sat down just after the movie started. (I hope I did not miss much, but I don’t think I did)
At the point I walked in, the medical team that was involved with his care was speaking of his predicament. I was in utter shock. I mean, I knew Gord had incurable brain cancer that was going to kill him. I did not know that he had brain surgery to remove some of it. I did not know that Gord chose to go the route that would cause him to lose the most memory. I’m not sure how the other viewers felt, but I was instantly flooded with emotions as my body and mind took in this information.
After surgery Gord did not know the lyrics to any of his songs. He didn’t even know the name of one album. Not a good thing for a lead singer. He had to relearn all of the songs. The band was going on a cross-Canada goodbye tour to support their new album, Man Machine Poem. For years, while starting a new tour, the band played some songs off of the new album, and a bunch of favourites thrown in. The thing is Gord knew this would be the last tour, so he wanted to re-learn songs to represent all of their albums. He wanted to do deeper cuts, so he re learned 90 songs. 90!! This was a problem for the band because they had to try and remember how to play the songs (it was the first tour the musicians had to rehearse for), but a real problem for a singer that has no recollection of any of the words. None. We see this as footage for the tour rehearsals started shortly after surgery. He is frail, weak and seems to be grasping. The film mentions Gord had to ask what the titles and words were a lot. Even right after reading them off the page. I really wonder how this lack of memory was affecting Gord. It must have gutted him. He was one of the best lyricists I ever knew. He constantly read, and had knowledge of history, politics, poetry etc. and was such an articulate man. I have seen the way Alzheimer’s can turn a strong and intelligent person into an infant in a fully grown body. Gord was, in a way, like them. He was trapped in a dying body, and may have been trying to get back to where he was before.
Gord mentions how his brother Pat played him Waterboys, but also his guilty pleasure, Bee Gees. Gord says “I know they’re not a band you’re supposed to like….but God I love them.” This brought a welcome laugh to the movie.
Downie is very self-deprecating in this movie. One of those times was when he was trying on one of his shimmering suits(the suits were specially made to be flashy but also act like a sort of suit of armour for Gord). It was feeling a little snug and he referred to the suit, and himself as “Elvis ’74”. Another laughable moment.
We, the viewers get an all access, backstage pass for this tour. We get to find out about Gord’s pre-show rituals. One of which involves sitting in his underwear while polishing his boots. We see Gord walking off stage after the shows. He reminds me of a feeble old man in the halls of a nursing home. Not sure where he is, and not able to get where he is going without help.
We hear a story of Gord’s hero, former hockey great Bobby Orr calling Gord after the diagnosis. Gord said “I love you Bobby” then there was an awkward pause on the other end of the phone call. Gord chooses to remember it as hearing Bobby say “I love you too Gord.”
There will be discomfort for some viewers. Be forewarned, if you do not like to watch grown men kiss each other on the lips, or if you don’t want to watch an older dude sitting in his tightly whiteys, then maybe sit this movie out, or look away. I know, especially for an older generation, some of these sorts of things are taboo. I know my dad did not like the kissing from the footage of the final concert. I say, get over it. Gord, and the rest of the band knew that the end was near. Gord wanted to always tell his bandmates that he loved them. It went from hugging, to kissing on the cheek, to kissing on the mouth. If it’s good enough for Gord, it’s cool with me.
There will be plenty of tears, some shock, but plenty of joy and laughter. The full gamut of emotions will pour out.
I can not urge you enough to search out this documentary. It may actually be the best music documentary movie I have ever seen. So many others are filled with over the top exploits, in-fighting, bravado and all that other bullshit that sells movies. This one is real. Real awesome!!!
For those interested CTV in Canada is showing this on Friday October 20 at 8pm ET. (Check your local times). They will also replay it on Sunday November 12 at 8pm. Crave TV will begin streaming it commercial free on November 13. Netflix will be airing this outside of Canada on November 26. The movie is also being shown at select theatres. Go to http://www.thehip.com for details.
(As a disclaimer, I will say that I did this review from memory after watching the movie a month ago, and foolishly not making any notes. Therefore any inaccuracies are due to my flawed memory.)