Kings and Desperate Men (1981) + Scanners Q&A Visual Podcast + Book Signing

May 2, 2016 | By

Scanners_Ital_poster_mBack in the 1970s, the Canadian government set up a film investment program that enabled investors to write off up to 100% of their cash, providing the proposed film had the right amount of ‘points’: the more Canadian talent in the primary roles (writer, director, producer, composer, cinematographer, and master thespians ), the bigger the write-off.

There were many problems with the program, but the intended results were arguably quite successful: movies did get made, talent pools in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver evolved, and when the bottom fell out (the write-off was knocked down to less generous amounts in later years), there were actual movies that could fill the TV airwaves and fulfill the minimum requirements for Canadian-made product.

The movies didn’t have to be good, nor even get a proper theatrical release; they just needed to exist. Not a perfect system, but from a film fan’s vantage, the sudden spurt of native product meant many generations grew up seeing movies many times on TV, and as the home video industry began its meteoric rise, more than a few did get videotape releases, both domestic and internationally.

The cruelest irony is that many of the movies my generation saw on TV are largely unavailable, and many fans of good and bad CanCon flicks would like to own more than a few of these productions because they’re kind of fun. It’s a peculiar form of nostalgia that I imagine other countries may share when their film industries experienced sudden bursts of activity, and the results soon filled up network, local, pay and specialty stations, only to vanish from distribution.

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) is lucky for being good and notorious – Louis Del Grande’s head explodes with chunky cranial glopnick raining down in marvelous detail – and has forever benefited from TV and home video releases, including a recent Blu-ray from Criterion.

KingsDesperateMen_poster_sAlexis Kanner’s political thriller Kings and Desperate Men (1981) is neither good, notorious, thrilling, or memorable, and yet it too enjoyed TV airings, but exists as a YouTube rip from its only VHS release, and quite frankly looks like crap, especially in 1.33:1.

Both films star Patrick McGoohan and were almost shot back-to-back around 1977, and yet only one managed to enjoy a traditional release in theatrical and ancillary markets, thrive during the heyday of DVD, and remain in print via the esteemed Criterion label.

It’s also an import, because as CanCon film fans know, we often have to import DVD and Blu-ray editions of our movies because a handful of media conglomerates own most of the films produced in the country, and show no interest in persevering nor exploiting their libraries as digital and physical editions to buy.

That’s a beef shared by many, and if Reel Canada’s National Canadian Film Day this past April 20th succeeded in celebrating the very fact we have an industry whose current and veteran members deserve some feting, then domestic film fans & buyers should pester, shame, encourage, and badger the industry to start preserving and distributing our filmic history.

The inability for you and I to buy a CanCon production is a key issue I address in the blog that bookends my edited version of the Q&A between Scanners actor and NOW Magazine’s senior film writer Norman Wilner which followed the film’s screening, and as promised, in addition to the iTunes and Libsyn audio-only versions, I’ve uploaded a visual podcast version for’s YouTube channel, featuring some imagery that befits a movie whose credits and use of computers are rooted in flickering analogue graphics:



I’ve also posted extracts of the main visuals in full HD on Big Head Amusements’ Vimeo and YouTube channels, and there’s also small making-of blog on the gear used to create the visuals, which you’re welcome to check out at Big Head Amusements. Below is a pair of frame grabs featuring patterns that pulse in sync with our voices:





And skipping back a few paragraphs, in the Scanners Q&A, Lack mentioned a particular film McGoohan was filming in Montreal in 1977, and that movie is Kings and Desperate Men, which I watched via YouTube and have posted a lengthy tear-down for what was undoubtedly an ambitious work for actor, co-writer, director, producer, editor, co-cinematographer, and co-sound editor Kanner, plagued with unexpected challenges.

ILostItAtTheVideoStore_cvr_sLastly, jumping back further to the issue of home video releases and video rental shops, those free around 8pm tonight should swing by Bay Street Video and listen to Norman Wilner engaging in a chat with I Lost It at the Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era author Tom Rosten. Following the discussion is an audience Q&A and book signing.

I’ll have a review of Rosten’s book and some related bonus media content around Tuesday, plus a review of Noel Mellor’s Adventures in VHS book later in the week.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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