Trag­i­cally Hip’s farewell doc show­cases strength

Of­ten funny, film looks at beloved band’s fight to the end

Metro Canada (Ottawa) - - Front Page -

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 CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Hip’s Gord sin­clair, far left, Johnny Fay, Paul Lan­glois, and Rob Baker at the film’s TIFF pre­miere.

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