Poetry in mo­tion

Hip doc cap­tures Downie’s en­durance — and fan de­vo­tion

Kingston Whig-Standard - - ENTERTAINMENT - TINA HAS­SAN­NIA

Long Time Run­ning is a pre­fab­ri­cated doc­u­men­tary that is sin­gu­larly and con­spic­u­ously tar­geted for its de­mo­graphic au­di­ence: Trag­i­cally Hip fans. Does that make it a good or bad movie? Per­haps more im­por­tant, does that ques­tion mat­ter when the fan base is built-in and the pay­off for such a film as­sured?

Pop cul­ture fans are typ­i­cally die-hard cus­tomers for life, beg­ging for op­por­tu­ni­ties to shell out money to get them just a lit­tle closer to their beloved fran­chise, band, ac­tor, or car­toon char­ac­ter.

In the case of The Trag­i­cally Hip, even the least-de­vout sup­port­ers are likely still reel­ing from the emo­tional cathar­sis of last year’s his­toric, cross-coun­try

Man Ma­chine Poem tour. It was a tour so wide, so mon­u­men­tal, so seem­ingly fi­nal, that its last stop in The Hip’s home­town of Kingston, Ont., be­came a na­tion­wide broad­cast for the count­less Cana­di­ans who con­gre­gated at bars, restau­rants and other lo­cal hubs to watch a band per­form on screen and ex­pe­ri­ence a com­mu­nity brought to­gether by a hope­ful poet’s en­durance de­spite ter­mi­nal brain can­cer.

That emo­tional con­nec­tion Hip fans have with Gord and the Boys is ex­plored to some ex­tent in Long Time Run­ning, as di­rec­tors Jen­nifer Baich­wal and Ni­cholas de Pencier (Wa­ter­mark, Man­u­fac­tured Land­scapes) fo­cus their cam­eras mostly on the band it­self, as if the film­mak­ers had in­tu­ited this may be the last time the band can speak as a whole on cam­era.

The first leg of the film, which had its world pre­miere at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val on Wed­nes­day, por­trays the im­prob­a­bil­ity of Downie be­ing able to per­form at all. Can­cer greatly af­fected his abil­ity not only to re­mem­ber lyrics but to be able to sing them, yet he pushed for a mir­a­cle, and lo and be­hold, he got one. Long Time Run­ning cap­tures the hope that he im­bued in his fel­low band mem­bers and doc­tors alike.

The po­ten­tial threat of seizures or other phys­i­cal calami­ties al­ways loomed in the dis­tance. As the con­cert man­agers ex­plain, the fi­nan­cial loss if Downie sud­denly couldn’t fin­ish a show or the tour would have been dis­as­trous, and it put all the more pres­sure on the tour to suc­ceed.

Af­ter paint­ing a grave pic­ture, the film­mak­ers change to an ap­pre­hen­sive but hope­ful tone just be­fore the first con­cert. From there on out, the film’s pace be­gins to quicken as the Hip pull it all off. The movie then be­comes a non­stop char­iot of em­pa­thy, com­mu­nal con­nec­tion, the soul­ful­ness of live mu­sic and de­liv­er­ance, with mon­tages fea­tur­ing Downie’s shiny, colour­ful, metal­lic suits and footage of weep­ing fans.

The film doesn’t dig too far back into the band’s his­tory be­cause, again, this is a movie made for Hip fans. They know how the Hip rose to do­mes­tic star­dom and sell-out sta­di­ums. These peo­ple helped the band get there, af­ter all.

If you’re a Hip fan, be pre­pared to cry. If you’re not, bring Kleenex any­way. Two ex­cep­tional mo­ments in Long Time Run­ning are not enough to trans­form the film from just an­other con­cert doc­u­men­tary to some­thing much more spe­cial, but they cer­tainly help. The first is an in­ter­view with Karyn Ruiz, the de­signer of Downie’s iconic hat. As she ex­plains her process in some de­tail, she care­fully and lov­ingly en­velops a piece of fabric in­scribed with two of her favourite Hip lyrics in­side of the ac­ces­sory. It’s a unique, in­ti­mate and lovely mo­ment of a fan find­ing her own way to con­nect with a beloved mu­si­cian.

The other mo­ment in­volves Downie kiss­ing fel­low tour mates and com­pan­ions af­ter each show. This in­cludes men. And all on the lips. We’re not talking quick pecks here, ei­ther, but full-on, pas­sion­ate smooches that defy the usual pro­tec­tive guard straight men keep up lest they are ac­cused of be­ing gay. It’s a won­der­ful ges­ture that speaks to Downie’s sig­na­ture com­mit­ment to au­then­tic­ity — not only as an artist but as a per­son, and the way it in­spires ev­ery­one around him.


Gord Downie of The Trag­i­cally Hip salutes his fans dur­ing the band’s last show in Kingston, Ont., in a scene from the new doc­u­men­tary Long Time Run­ning. The show and en­tire Man Ma­chine Poem tour are the sub­ject of the film.

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