New Hip doc ex­plores Downie’s ‘best case sce­nario’


TORONTO A frank dis­cus­sion about the “best case sce­nario” for Gord Downie af­ter his brain can­cer di­ag­no­sis and the singer’s strug­gle to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions as the Trag­i­cally Hip mounted last sum­mer’s farewell tour are among the most pow­er­ful mo­ments in the new doc­u­men­tary “Long Time Run­ning.”

The con­tem­pla­tive film by di­rec­tors Jen­nifer Baich­wal and Ni­cholas de Pencier pre­miered Wed­nes­day night at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val ahead of a na­tion­wide lim­ited the­atri­cal re­lease, with screen­ings sched­uled for Thurs­day and Mon­day. It will also air on CTV on Nov. 12 and be­gin stream­ing on CraveTV the fol­low­ing day.

“Long Time Run­ning” con­firms the Kingston, Ont., band al­ways con­sid­ered the string of 2016 con­certs to be their last, even though the group was ret­i­cent to ac­knowl­edge that re­al­ity.

“It’s kind of over for ev­ery­body, and that’s kind of a lot to bear, I think,” says Pa­trick Downie in the film, as he re­calls learn­ing of his brother’s di­ag­no­sis.

But there are sprin­kles of lev­ity amidst all the dark­ness, in­clud­ing a scene in which Downie pol­ishes his boots while stripped down to his un­der­pants.

“It’s a nightly thing. I’ve done this my whole ca­reer,” he re­as­sures the cam­era.

Here are some other high­lights gleaned from “Long Time Run­ning”:

THE DI­AG­NO­SIS: The film tack­les the 53-year-old front­man’s health early on, with Downie re­flect­ing on how he felt when told he had glioblas­toma — the most com­mon and ag­gres­sive type of tu­mour to start in the brain. Neu­ro­sur­geon DJ Cook says he ex­cised the bulk of the tu­mour af­ter ex­ten­sive talks with Downie about his wishes. “What would you pre­fer: liv­ing with­out be­ing able to speak, or have new mem­o­ries, but have more time with your fam­ily,” Cook asked the singer, “or should we limit things and ul­ti­mately give you less time on Earth, but have higher qual­ity?” He says Downie chose a full tem­po­ral lobec­tomy, which gave him a “best case sce­nario” of five years of sur­vival.

MEM­ORY PROB­LEMS: Pre­par­ing to per­form live pre­sented Downie with huge chal­lenges. “I ac­tu­ally couldn’t re­mem­ber a damn thing. I think I started to cry,” the singer says of the first tour re­hearsal. Dave (Billy Ray) Koster, the Hip’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, re­calls Downie’s strug­gles with “My Mu­sic at Work,” a song which re­peats its ti­tle in the lyrics 18 times. “He would look at me and say, ‘Billy, what’s that line called?’ and then he would write it down,” Koster says. Downie ul­ti­mately used six teleprompters to help him get through the con­certs.

MU­SIC THAT WORKED: Sur­pris­ingly, Downie says he’d clear his mind by lis­ten­ing to hits from pop brothers the Bee Gees, who he cred­ited as one of his guilty plea­sures. “It would be like, the Bee Gees, who are my se­cret. Ya know — it’s not a band that you’re sup­posed to (like) — but god, I love them,” Downie bash­fully says be­fore launch­ing into a ren­di­tion of one of their songs.

DOWNIE’S KISSES: Some fans seemed be­fud­dled by Downie’s pen­chant for kiss­ing his band­mates on the lips at each con­cert. The singer un­abashedly ad­dresses the un­usual show of af­fec­tion in the doc. “It went from hugs a bunch of years ago and it’s just grown and grown and grown,” he says. “These last ones were just me not let­ting go. I’ve got my arms around Rob­bie (Baker) and I’m just kiss­ing the ear.”

DEEP CUTS: One of the high­lights of the tour was hear­ing the Hip dig into their cat­a­logue to per­form rar­i­ties and lesser-known songs. Many fans knew those tracks by heart but the band ad­mits they needed a re­fresher. “I said, ‘There’s some records where it’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge to get two songs we know well,’” gui­tarist Paul Lan­glois re­mem­bers. “I think the con­cept re­ally arose be­cause of the fairly good pos­si­bil­ity that this would be the last one.”

THE FI­NAL SHOW: Stand­ing in a packed sta­dium, with mil­lions of Cana­di­ans watch­ing on tele­vi­sion, Downie says he in­ex­pli­ca­bly lost his past in­hi­bi­tions and the ner­vous­ness he usu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced in front of cam­eras. “I was hav­ing none of those sen­sa­tions,” he says. “But then I re­al­ized, I haven’t said any­thing.” Downie says that thought was what in­spired his im­pas­sioned ad­dress about the plight of In­dige­nous peo­ple in Canada.


Gord Downie per­forms at Medicine Hat’s Canalta Cen­tre in Septem­ber 2015.

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