Dec 152008

Having crossed Canada several times and lived in half our provinces, I can tell the mostly American patrons of Rock Town Hall one thing for sure about rock and roll in Canada. While Ottawa may be our capital, we have a hands-down, undisputed capital of rock and roll: Winnipeg.

In Winnipeg you either play hockey, play in a band, or both. Neil Young grew up there, The Guess Who (also known in Canada as “The Prairie Beatles”) were all from The Peg, and more recent artists like Chantal Kreviazuk, Remy Shand, and Bif Naked all picked up and instrument and headed to the basement on cold winter nights.

Whatever you think of Winnipeg, and the reports are not all good, Peggers are extremely proud of their hometown and their is a bit of an island mentality to the place. The best way to illustrate this phenomenon, and the point of this post, is a movie called The Phantom of the Paradise.

The Phantom of the Paradise is a 1974 “comedy-horror-musical tragedy” from a young director named Brian de Palma. The movie is generally regarded (when it is regarded at all) as a precursor to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie flopped across the world and even in the rest of Canada. In Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary the film lasted a week and never returned. In Winnipeg, well…

Phantom is the biggest movie ever in Winnipeg. I first learned of this after three rocker friends of mine of a certain age referenced the movie constantly, as though it were The Godfather or Star Wars. They did not know that us non-Winnipegers did not know what the H-E-double hockey sticks they were talking about. I was sat down and forced to watch it. Better than I imagined, with a great soundtrack by Paul Williams. Of course, I didn’t like it enough to put on a massive party called “Phantompalooza,” like they do in Winnipeg every year. Oh yeah, pretty much the whole cast, including Paul Williams, attends this event. In case you’re wondering, this is not “hipper than though” digging on this movie; this is genuine love from people who were 8 to 12 years old when the movie hit.

I wonder, could this phenomenon happen in today’s Internet world? Probably not. Did it happen with another movie or record in your town? I am interested to hear…


  17 Responses to “The Titanic of Winnipeg”

  1. As a few people on RTH know, for years I harbored a deep fear of this movie, due to Paul Williams. When I finally saw it, I thought “Meh!”

    One of my favorite new-ish bands is from Winnipeg, The Weakerthans. TheGreat48 and I have both rhapsodized about them here from time to time.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    I, too, long avoided this movie for fear of Paul Williams. A couple of months ago I finally caught a large chunk of it on tv. I was pretty good, in a bad way. I’d like to hear the music again someday – I remember it being more lively than I would have imagined.

    The movie could have benefitted from being less claustrophobic, if my hazy, late-night memories are intact. Philly homeboy and fellow Friends school graduate DePalma is one lousy director, for the most part. Buskirk, would you agree he’s a poor man’s Paul Schrader in the repressed perv-director department?

    That Phantompalooza link is worth the price of admission, Northvancoveman. Thanks. Now let me think about your question regarding such instances of regional phenomena…

  3. My sister is a big fan of The Weakerthans.

    I’ve not seen this, although I need to. I’m no fan of DePalma. We always called him “the poor man’s Hitchcock.”


  4. Damn, I was hoping to simply post “I hate Winnipeg” without further commentary.

  5. De Palma does owe a lot to Hitchcock, but I have always felt he has his own thing, too. He has a few real gems. “Casualties of War” for instance, was quickly shuffled to the side but I think that was one of the better war movies ever made. “Carrie” was great, so was “Blowout”.

    But the real question is who is creepier Nathan Katruud or De Palma?

  6. BigSteve

    I actually saw Phantom in the theater when it was first released. Thank god it was not successful worldwide, or we might have had to see Paul Williams in other movies.

  7. Couldn’t decide which was lamer “The Prairie Beatles” or “Peggers” I call it a draw you Winnipeg folk and your goofy-speak!

  8. ..and now I just orderd this from Amazon..what a strage little movie. The wikipedia “plot” sold me

  9. Mr. Moderator

    I’ve been tempted to do likewise, Jungleland2. The DVD is featured in our RTH Sound + Vision link, on the left side of our page for those of you who want to quickly link to the Amazon ordering page.

  10. dbuskirk

    If you’re looking for me to pile on to to DePalma you’ve got the wrong guy. I went through a period when I was dismissive of him as a Hitchcock fanboy (probably after that film BODY DOUBLE w/ the dreaded Craig Wasson) but he has rebounded enough times now, and with a pretty wide range of material, that I have to give him props.

    I remember not thinking much of SCAREFACE when it came out, comparing it unfavorably to something like THE GODFATHER. I saw it again in a theater a few years ago and it was a revelation. Extremely elegant and visually rich in comparison to the action films that followed. It really uses eighties fashions well, not that they don’t look dated, but they’re really evocative of the essence of eighties. Coke and disco Debbie Harry!

    Even his recent Iraq War film REDACTED is kind of a mess, it is the kind of interesting and exploratory mess filmmakers at his late stage of the game seldom make.

    And I love PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE! It’s like Sid and Marty Kroft’s version of the music industry. Paul Williams’ creepiness is fully unleashed and Gerritt Graham (from USED CARS) gets to die on-stage! I’d think anyone who liked glammy 70’s rock would at least be intrigued, its way better than ROCKY HORROR (which I always thought was kind of unwatchable except for a couple of those catchy, way over-played tunes).

    I could go on; I especially like SISTERS, CARRIE, MURDER ALA MOD, BLOW OUT and the recent FEMME FATALE (with Rebecca Stamos-Whatever).

  11. Mr. Moderator

    So I’m still trying to get my head around the other part of Northvancoveman’s post – local phenomena we may have witnessed in our particular neck of the woods. We all have our “local hero” bands, I’m sure, but I think he’s looking for more than that. Is there a movie that’s much more popular in Philly than elsewhere? We still have our love-hate relationship with Rocky, but that was a big movie everywhere. Did we flock to see Birdy, for instance, more than any other town? Not that I recall.

    There was a time in the early-’70s when Philly was THE place for singer-songwriters on the verge of breaking through: The Boss, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, and others who’d rule the roost in a couple of years were much bigger here than anywhere, perhaps, but their home turf. That may be the closest I can think of along these lines. But none of these artists was a Paul Williams.

    Among DePalma movies, I like Blow Out, Carrie, and The Untouchables. That was him, right? You’re right, db, that Craig Wasson guy was the pits. I walked out of Scarface when it came out, and I’ve hated it every time I’ve tried to revisit it. Pacino jumped the shark bigtime on that film.

    Did DePalma do that other coke movie, with Sean Penn and Pacino? That’s a masterpiece of bad coke movie making. I bet Shawnkilroy digs that one too.

  12. dbuskirk

    A small theater called the Roxie in San Francisco ran the 1996 film FREEWAY to packed audiences while it had been passed-on by all distributors. It was throw-back to trashy 70’s midnight films, a dirty-minded Red Riding Hood story, part Roger Corman/part John Waters with a young pre-fame Reese Witherspoon as the hitch-hiking Red Riding Hood and Kiefer Sutherland as the big bad wolf who picks her up on the way to her grandmother’s house. I saw it twice in the theater and the crowds went wild.

    The Roxie procured distribution rights (they’d done a small but good Nicholas Cage film called RED ROCK WEST before) and distributed it in a handful of cities. It got horrible reviews and tanked in each town but it stretched out to six theaters in the Bay Area and played for over six months.

    Maybe it was the riot girl thing. She really gives it to the Big Bad Wolf at the end and Brooke Shields’ brains get splattered.

  13. 2000 Man

    I don’t know if there’s a movie that was more huge in Cleveland than anywhere else, except maybe Howard the Duck. But it’s not like it was that huge here. We really went overboard for Rocky Horror, though. I think it kept The Heights theater open twenty years past it’s sell by date.

    My little suburb had a theater downtown. It played The Sting for three years. I don’t think I’m exaggerating on that time frame, either. It was a very, very long time.

    I thought the best rock town in Canada these days was Vancouver. Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, Hot Hot Heat – there’s some fun stuff coming out of there lately.

  14. jungleland2 said: “I Couldn’t decide which was lamer “The Prairie Beatles” or “Peggers” I call it a draw you Winnipeg folk and your goofy-speak!”

    Jungleland: I’m not from Winnipeg and I’m not making this up.

    2000 Man: I have lived in Vancouver since ’91. What you are saying is partially true. The music scene has had its moments, but no one here is FROM here. They all hone their chops somewhere else then move here. I guess it’s like a rainy LA in that respect.

  15. BigSteve

    I thought Montreal was the currently hip Canadian music scene. Is it passe’ (to use the quebecois term) now?

  16. pudman13

    Williams was a member of a 60s band called Holy Mackerel, whose album is surprisingly good and even has a few mildly psychedelic songs.

  17. pudman13

    re: Cleveland. The biggest oddity here is that Artful Dodger are classic rock radio staples while nobody else (other than power pop geeks) in any other city has ever heard of them.

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