| by Doug
it Never Ends
It never ends.
Phantom ads, 1975-1976.
paying attention to the Phantom phenomenon would expect a certain
amount of momentum at this point. Paul Williams had just
played two sold-out shows at the concert hall, and the city was still
buzzing. Phantom was back on Winnipeg screens after a short
absence and all systems seemed to be "go" for another lengthy
engagement. But it was not to be.
July 4, Phantom of the Paradise was gone from the
Park Theatre after a two-week run. There was no lengthy
revival. However, the film started popping up now and again at various
theatres and drive-ins over the next couple of years--a weekend here, a
one-nighter there--leaving the impression that it never really
left. It even returned to the Garrick in February of 1976,
double-billed for four weeks with Young Frankenstein.
Whenever and wherever it played, right up through the 90s and onto the
IMAX screen in 2000, it drew a dedicated audience.
So far, this article has chronicled the "what" in
detail, but has perhaps pulled its punches when pondering the
"why". But here goes. "Why Winnipeg?" The
answer to this question lies within our people. We're a proud
people. Proud, artsy, and a bit eccentric. And we
dig the rock and roll. There will be a test on this later, so
please pay attention. I'm serious about the test.
Okay, here's the test right now (see? I was
Behind one of these doors is The World's Most
Famous Winnipegger. Move your mouse over the correct door for
the big reveal:
I tricked you. Wiseacre comedian David Steinberg,
magician Doug Henning, and game show host Monty
are all equally famous Winnipeggers, and indeed representative of a
long line of famously eccentric Winnipeg entertainers.
McLuhan. Mitch Funk. A. E. Van Vogt.
Bill. Greg Klymkiw. Ken Finkleman. K-tel
International. Homer Simpson. All
weird. We squeeze them out like garlic sausage from a north
up with the knowledge that Monty Hall was from Winnipeg conditioned us
into believing that hosting Let's Make a Deal was a
badge of honour and a point of civic pride. This led to even
the most harsh or derogatory reference to our home town being accepted
with misguided glee, because "they mentioned Winnipeg on TV!"
here.) Monty's legacy ensured a certain
predisposition to the unusual, the ironic, the whimsical. We embrace
weirdness. We revel in
eccentricity. Phantom of the Paradise was
simply the right movie, at the right time, for the right people.
to late-seventies were arguably Winnipeg's last golden age.
We were still the third largest city in Canada. The Canadian
dollar was strong, and nearly every major touring band paid a visit.
Our symphony was making successful crusades to Carnegie Hall under the
baton of maestro Piero Gamba. Our Jets were winning Avco Cups and
dazzling hockey crowds with the now-mythic play-making of Bobby Hull,
Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. K-tel had built an international empire
selling patty-stackers and greatest hits LPs out of their head office
on Inkster Blvd. Verne Gagne's AWA was in its prime, bringing
bizarre characters like Mad Dog Vachon and Baron
von Raschke to town to do battle along with the likes of Nick
Bockwinkel and Bobby Heenan. And The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner
Hour played every Saturday night at 5 on CKND, seemingly
forever. The occasional blizzard, plague of grasshoppers, or
bout of western equine encephalitis were mere nuisances to be shrugged
off. We took what Mother Nature threw at us, laughed, and
asked if she had anything stronger.
then came the eighties and the beginning of the Great
Decline. An entire generation of baby boomers sought oilier
pastures in Alberta, and our population ranking tumbled from third to
ninth. Bobby Hull having retired, our once-mighty Jets joined
the NHL, were emasculated in the reclamation draft, and became the
laughingstock of the league. Downtown movie palaces began
closing as the inevitable trend to suburbia left the city core a vacant
no-man's land after dark. K-tel International filed for
bankruptcy protection. Entire blocks of unique specialty
stores were razed for the construction of a massive generic shopping
mall meant to reverse the downtown's declining fortunes (it
didn't.) And then the final indignity: they took
Bugs Bunny off the air and replaced him with the wretched Smurfs.
Winnipeg became a punchline. Canada's
answer to Cleveland (with all due respect to Cleveland, of
course). A better place to be from than in.
Compounding this inferiority complex was a series of wretched booster
campaigns from various chambers of commerce that, if anything, defeated
their purpose by lowering our self esteem even further.
("Love Me, Love My Winnipeg" was the prize-winning slogan from one of
them.) We have another problem. We try too hard
to be that which we are not. We come up with meaningless
comparisons and empty catchphrases when trying to define
ourselves. Chicago of the North.
Paris of the Prairies. Gateway
to the West. Ultimately, the most fitting slogan
was bestowed upon us by a recent return visit from native son Homer
Simpson: "We were born here...what's your excuse?"
(Come to think of it, even this is better than the
travesty that was "Love Me, Love My Winnipeg.")
But throughout all of this doom and gloom and decades of decline, the
true heart of this weird, anarchic, alternative Winnipeg we grew up in
has been quietly, proudly beating. Future civic image
campaigns will no doubt repeat their past mistakes and focus on the
generic things all cities have in common. The real Winnipeg is harder
to find, but those of us who stuck around and choose to live, work and
play here recognize it when we're bestowed with, say, the title of Slurpee
capital of the world. We see it in the films of John Paizs,
like Crime Wave,
and in Guy Maddin's
My Winnipeg. In blogs like Winnipeg: Love
& Hate and Winnipeg Cat. In the works of
l'Atelier national du Manitoba, as they scavenge the buried
treasures of Winnipeg's film and TV ephemera in Garbage Hill,
or scrutinize the loss of the Jets
in the take-no-prisoners Death
By Popcorn. And in Matthew Rankin's masterful Negativipeg - exploring the trifecta of Burton Cummings, a beer bottle, and a 7-11.
So the next time someone questions our, ahem, "spirited energy", tell
them to look no further than the above clip featuring Jessica Harper
reprising her performance as Phoenix at Phantompalooza 2.
And dream it never ends...
December 26, 2006
| A tip of the
Phantom helmet to: David Sanderson, Andy Mellen, Ari the
Archivist at swanarchives.org,
Andrew Boardman, Mike Navis, Russ Gourluck, and Deborah
Znaty. Gene Telpner, R.I.P.
Remember it differently? Found an error? Want to
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