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Weird Sex & Snowshoes: And Other Canadian Film Phenomena

by Katherine Monk

Any attempt at defining Canada’s cultural landscape must acknowledge such pioneering works as Northrop Frye’s The Bush Garden and Margaret Atwood’s Survival. Vancouver film critic Katherine Monk recognizes the critical foundations laid down in these earlier efforts, but distinguishes her own examination of the collective Canadian psyche by using a more “modern” marker, film.

Monk introduces Weird Sex & Snowshoes as a “populist-oriented primer.” The first 10 chapters form a thematic structure to Canadian film history and feature such intriguing titles as “Sex and the Great Repression.” Perhaps in an effort to wrap things up in these rather lengthy chapters, Monk’s ideas sometimes read too pat, and she reaches somewhat by comparing, say, the American film Deliverance to our own Surfacing. Still, Monk’s ideas never fail to demystify what so many viewers consider the baffling pastiche that is Canadian film. Each chapter also ends with a first-rate profile documenting an individual’s contributions to the industry.

In section two Monk lets loose with 100 of her incisive film reviews. The reviews are seamlessly integrated with the themes of the first section, and each includes a “Canadian Checklist” highlighting such themes as survivor guilt, outsider stance, potent women, passive men and, well, weird sex.

Quoting from her own review of Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, Monk makes an impassioned plea for a reconsideration of film viewing in Canada, proposing a more calculated interpretation of films such as Egoyan’s: “Inversion of film expectations is the heart of Egoyan’s gift.” In Canada absence invokes presence, difference defines sameness. With Weird Sex & Snowshoes, readers have a book that is as much a treatise on Canadian culture as it is a celebration.