Bruce McDonald is probably best known to American and international audiences as the man behind the minor rock and roll movie masterpiece that is Hard Core Logo, starring Hugh Dillon of the Headstones. Canadian cult movie buffs who paid attention though should remember Roadkill as the film that brought he and writer/actor Don McKellar (of Exotica and eXistenz) some well deserved attention.
Shot over a week or two in Sudbury, Ontario for just shy of $250,000 (Canadian dollars), this low budget road movie follows a lovely young lady named Ramona (the intriguingly hot Valeria Buhagiar of Highway 61) on her quest to find a band called The Children Of Paradise that she's been sent after by sleaze-ball promoter Roy Seth (Gerry Quigley). It seems the band is going to miss the big last show of their tour and no one knows where they went. So, being unable to drive, Ramona hires a cab to drive her across the province until she can track'em down and reel'em in. Her cab driver is named Buddy (Larry Hudson), and he seems to be full of rock and roll stories and is more than happy to help her out as long as he can keep the meter running.
Along the way she meets up with a wannabe serial killer named Russell (McKellar), who hasn't actually kills anyone yet and delivers the most poignant line in the film, "In Canada there are really only two jobs to choose from – hockey player or serial killer. I've got weak ankles." Russell's career is kind of at a standstill of sorts, but he's a good natured loon who helps her out as best he can in his own special way. Along the way she meets a few other oddball characters, including a man who doesn't speak anymore because he has nothing left to say, and late lamented punk rock founding father Joey Ramone.
Some of the camera work is a bit rough and the film has a very gritty look and feel to it but all of that works in its favor, and it's the characters that are important here, not so much the technique. Romona's trip becomes a voyage of self discovery, as she learns about herself through her encounters with the weirdos in the greater Sudbury area, and while sometimes the story shows a few holes, overall it brings things together nicely in the end. The humor works well, the characters are interesting, and the film exudes cool in an obviously Canadian style.
When director Bruce McDonald won a $25,000 prize for the film at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, he proudly exclaimed that he was going to use it to buy a 'really, really big chunk of hash.' McDonald teamed up with McKellar and Buhagiar again a couple of years later for an unofficial sequel, Highway 61, which was a slightly more polished and professional film that lacked some of the independent charisma that Roadkill had in spades.
For a low budget film that was shot on black and white 8mm film stock, Roadkill doesn't look too bad on this DVD. The original 1.37.1 fullframe aspect ratio is maintained, and while there is a fair amount of grain and some mild print damage present, contrast levels look well balanced and there's a nice level of detail present on this presentation. There are a few scenes where there's some edge enhancement but not too many and overall it's safe to say that this edition looked considerably better than the one I'd taped off of the CBC ten or so years ago.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 English Stereo mix sounds like it might as well be mono as there isn't a whole lot of channel separation going on at all, but this is the way that the film has always sounded. Dialogue is a wee bit muffled in a couple of spots but overall comes through nice and clear and the films eclectic soundtrack comes through balanced nicely without any distortion or clarity issues.
Aside from the standard cast and crew biographies and a moderately interesting photo gallery, there are three reasons to check out the features on this disc – the first is a commentary, and the second two come in the form of a pair of short films from Bruce McDonald.
The commentary gets writer/actor Don McKellar and producer Colin Brunton behind the microphone to amuse and inform us with a bunch of 'making of' stories and behind the scenes anecdotes. McKellar's work has always been interesting to me so I found this track to be pretty interesting and his comments on the romanticism of Sudbury struck a humorous chord or two in this cold, Canadian heart of mine.
The first short film is a nine minute piece called Elimination Dance which is a humorous short that mixes up a dance-a-thon with a sort of truth-or-dare style game in which we find out the dirty secrets that the participants are hiding. Fort Goof is the second short, based on a poem by Canadian poet Lynn Crosbie that debuted at the Bravo! channel short films festival in 2000. Neither film is truly great, but both are pretty funny and nicely demonstrate the director's eye for the odd. They look like they were done quickly and without much money but much like the feature itself, that's part of their charm and they compliment the title film nicely.
Bruce McDonald's breakthrough film finally comes to DVD in style. I'm not sure how widely distributed this movie will be in the U.S., but fans of the Coen Brothers and their brand of quirky humor and odd characters will do well to look this one up. Roadkill comes highly recommended.