Tragically Hip’s farewell doc showcases strength
Often funny, film looks at beloved band’s fight to the end
It is frankly impossible to imagine anyone ever coming up with a more powerful statement on the Tragically Hip’s legacy than the farewell performance broadcast live from Kingston’s K-rock Centre via the CBC to nearly a third of the Canadian population on Aug. 20 last year.
That catalytic moment of nationwide celebration-in-grieving will stand into the future for those who participated in it as an indelible “where were you when...?” kind of experience.
Should you, however, desire to relive the once-in-a-lifetime show from the Hip’s 2016 Man Machine Poem tour — there’s a doc for that. Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier’s thoroughly engrossing and genuinely uplifting new film Long Time Running is a story of strength, defiance and the powerful bonds of rock-’n’roll brotherhood.
The documentary reveals that only Downie himself believed he was capable of pulling off an entire national tour after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in late 2015 and undergoing invasive surgery and radiation treatment.
“I did not think there was any chance in hell we were gonna make it to the tour,” confesses guitarist Rob Baker early in the film. And yet he and bandmates Gord Sinclair, Paul Langlois and Johnny Fay and the extended, family-like crew pull together behind Downey to make it happen.
Tour footage starts as early as a tentative first rehearsal caught on a smartphone by Downie’s brother, Pat. In it, a frail, thoroughly bearded Gord can barely remember song titles, feeling his way through the first stanzas of Escape Is At Hand for the Travellin’ Man. But later on, astonishing performances capture the band’s evolution from early rehearsals, including a gorgeous version of Grace, Too shot at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The song Ahead by a Century, performed in Kingston, concludes the film.
There was an emotional atmosphere at the TIFF premiere of Long Time Running at Roy Thomson Hall this past Wednesday evening — an event attended by all the members of the Hip except Downie. But despite the inevitable tears it drew from the audience, it is anything but maudlin film. In fact, it is often quite funny, with much of the humour supplied by Downie, himself.
He confesses his Bee Gees fanhood and that the neckerchiefs he donned onstage nightly during the Man Machine Poem tour were actually “two socks stitched together.” Plus, his detailing of an awkward telephone exchange with idol Bobby Orr is far too droll to spoil.
Audiences shouldn’t expect much suspense in Long Time Running, just the satisfaction of seeing love, hard work and determination hold the demons at bay. “When it’s over, it’s done. And what then?” asks Baker at one point in the film. Leave it to them to decide.
The Hip’s Gord sinclair, far left, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Rob Baker at the film’s TIFF premiere.