Scanners’ Stephen Lack at the Royal Cinema + CanCon Distribution Headaches

April 22, 2016 | By

NCFD_poster_2016This past Wednesday was National Canadian Film Day, a celebration organized by Reel Canada that’s had tangible success in getting merchants, vendors, and exhibitors to participate with free screenings and video rentals, audience Q&As with actors & filmmakers, and activities for all age groups to show that yeah, amid the heavy saturation of Hollywood product and its heavily controlled distribution outlets, there’s a Canadian film and TV industry that’s fun, provocative, and worthy of pride.

On April 20th, 2016, Toronto’s Royal Cinema screened David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981), and NOW Magazine’s senior film writer Norman Wilner conducted a Q&A with actor and artist Stephen Lack, and discussed Scanners’ 35 years of cult fame, blowing up Louis Del Grande’s head, co-star Patrick McGoohan, director Cronenberg, make-up whiz Dick Smith, and The Rubber Gun, a 1977 film co-written by Lack and director Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume) which is seeking a Canadian partner in assembling a special edition release with rare materials from Lack’s own private archives.

I mention The Rubber Gun because it’s tied to a series of issues I touch upon in the tail-end editorial that follows a slightly edited excerpt from the Lack-Wilner Q&A. It’s not a rant (per se), but it is a recapitulation of ongoing grievances, if you will, in which a wealth of Canadian movies (and TV shows, for that matter) are available nowhere, a situation that isn’t helped when a native film is actually released by a U.S. label and has to be imported and sold up here for a hefty price. Sometimes it’s a Criterion-level edition and it’s worth the expense; sometimes it’s on par with a VHS-quality dub.

Access to and distribution of Canuckle films has and will likely remain a challenge (that’s the most polite term one can use), and I envy independent American and Brit labels who take their own productions (and Canadian films) and assemble first-rate definitive editions that contextualize a work for future generations.

It’s also an industry, home video special editions and producing value-added content (featurettes, interviews, commentaries, etc,), that I’ve always wanted to become involved with.

There’s perhaps four main labels in Canada: eOne, Mongrel, Unobstructed View (formerly VSC), Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada. And media conglomerates like Bell and Rogers, themselves sitting on massive catalogues and licensing rights.

Small U.S. and Brit home video labels keep approaching big studios who’ve themselves been wisely transferring their catalogues to HD over the years, and license titles for special editions. No one makes a mint, but the movies circulate, fans get a crack at owning a cult or art film, and labels preserve memories and archival materials to create a historical document(s) as the pool of former film participants (actors, directors, writers, producers, etc.) continues to dwindle.

And a small industry of home video producers and production personnel ensure indie labels survive. There were some significant labels in Canada, but their activities are either tied to rare efforts due to the cost of digitizing and producing special features content, or they were bought up by media conglomerates. Those special editions are often out of print, and if they do re-materialize via another label, it may be as bare bones discs because the extras mandate separate licensing fees.

Now let’s get back to Scanners.

Scanners_Ital_poster_mBookending the roughly half-hour Q&A excerpt is the Editor’s Blog that would’ve run here, and this semi-podcast is available via iTunes and Libsyn. (I’ll have a YouTube version up within the next 24-48 hours, as I might render a few effects for a visual edition.)

Within the excerpted Q&A, Lack references a few films that I touch upon in my editorial that tend to exist only dead media.

To accentuate this point, I slapped together a short video showing said dead media – a CED disc – being inserted, played, and ejected, and excerpted the first 5 minutes of the film to give an indication of the level of its audio-visual quality. It’s basically VHS resolution, and that’s what Canadians, more often than not, have to settle for if they do find their Holy Grail cult or classic film.

Whereas Brit and U.S. labels seem determined to apply their model of ‘rescuing’ films and marketing them using a graduated and successful formula, we don’t have that in place over here with a plethora of indie labels because if we did, Canadians wouldn’t have to settle for contemporary film classics (and award winners, as well), that look like this:



One day things have to improve, right?

Thanks again for reading, and coming this weekend is a cluster of assorted reviews.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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