Souvenir of Canada
DIR Robin Neinstein | Ontario | 2005 | 69 min
Sun. Oct. 2 | 9:30pm | Granville7
Tue. Oct. 4 | 12:30pm | Granville2
Tue. Oct.11 | 9:45pm | Granville2
Commentary by Loretta Sarah Todd
In the feature doc Souvenir of Canada, author/artist Douglas Coupland finds a soon-to-be demolished house for his installation “Canada House”. He paints everything white – even the windows and sink. He papers a wall with huge photos of Terry Fox’s artificial leg and the Canadarm and dresses the house with found objects that say Canada – like Nanaimo Bar packages. It’s as if Marcel Duchamp’s Mini-Me went dumpster-diving at the now defunct Woodward’s.
Director Robin Neinstein weaves the making of the Canada House installation through the doc – while almost literally bringing to life Coupland’s book by the same name - Coupland’s homage to Canada and Canadian design. This is Canada as an artificially enhanced, graphically (and digitally) finessed world – at play in wide-open spaces.
Neinstein completes the film with “stories” from Coupland’s life – yesterday and today – so that Coupland becomes a star in his own home movies. Neinstein not only gets the art direction of the Souvenir book just right – but also the art direction of Coupland’s fiction, where “the artificial seems natural” – as if he used film stock made of leisure suit polyester.
You can read this doc like reading an artful magazine, perhaps W or Wallpaper or Artichoke – wherein your perceptions are informed by surface and object before substance and content. It is pleasurable, simple, surface amusement, and you could end there.
But I wonder about the identity Coupland is manufacturing for/of himself – what fictions of himself and Canada? Perhaps he’s becoming the softer Canadian John Wayne, the protector of “our” sentimental history. Or, he could be casting himself as McLuhan-lite – decoding and recoding our (supposed) collective countenance. I’d like to think he wants to be the new Friendly Giant – creating sweet dioramas with comfy plaid covered chairs for us to curl-up in. Or a new Mr. Dress-up – whose tickle trunk is full of design tricks rather than play costumes.
I overheard someone remark that Souvenir is the view of a “middle-class white West/North Vancouver boy.” Coupland does acknowledge his limited experience within Canada of people not like him. And it is evident. (At the Canada House opening, I keep hoping some girl in black boots showed up – smearing her Goth mascara on Coupland’s shirt as she cried about their failed love affair. Would that make it more or less Canadian?)
But while that is telling of Canada’s literary and cultural elite – there is something I find even more disquieting. While Coupland wears his Canadian heart on his sleeves – he is also casting himself as the New Native – the materia prima of the true north strong and free. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Native – though we seemed to have been thought to death in this neo-ethnography of Canada.