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Whale Music (1994)

by on 2013/02/27

Whale Music (1994)

“It seems to me when you don’t keep track of people they die.”

* * * *

It’s been a couple of decades since I read Paul Quarrington’s Whale Music. It fit right in with The Buddha of Suburbia and all the Kurt Vonnegut stuff I was into. I don’t think I noticed – or would have cared – that it was Canadian. I was more impressed John Lennon (Imagine) appeared as a character.

I remember thinking it was okay, so-so, like Forrest Gump. (Not the sickly sweet Tom Hanks vehicle but the book by Winston Groom.) I read, forgot, and eventually lost track of it which, for a pack-rat like me, is the exception, not the rule.

A few years ago I saw this movie adaptation, an almost-forgettable experience, though one I felt Gru held too highly in estimation, having given it three stars.

Funny what a few years can change. Now I’m giving it four. And I’d probably give it five if I didn’t have any slight reservations.

As you may have learned in the previous review, Whale Music is the story of Desmond Howl (Maury Chaykin of the execrable Def-Con 4). Formerly a successful artist, he lives alone in a run-down mansion, occasionally tinkering in a music studio, until he meets a runaway named Claire (Cynthia “Cyndy” Preston of The Event). She has some issues of her own, but serves as a muse to Des, competing with the memories of his late brother, Danny (Men with Brooms’ Paul Gross).

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why I love this film. Love is irrational. I now identify with – or at least understand – its protagonist. For so many reasons, I shouldn’t have enjoyed it. Perhaps its strength is less enjoyment than edification. One thing I know for sure, it’s nearly Hollywood masquerading in indie garb. I can’t say much without spoilers, but it’s more redeeming than you might expect from its oppressive production.

Shot in the Vancouver area, it’s atypically dim, grainy, and drab. Forget the sleek sunny city of Smallville and Everything’s Gone Green. This camera work takes Fetching Cody out of the city and onto the coastline.

The plot is minimalist, the characters few, the pacing deliberately slow. Gru commented midway through about the movie’s theme of rebirth yet, ironically, it’s not ostensibly hopeful, with a mostly uninspiring score . . . especially ironic given the musical trappings. A significant exception is the Rheostatics’ “Claire”, which is fortunate in conveying a sense of inspiration.

I found Whale Music similar to other films in the past year, especially Gods and Monsters and Sunset Boulevard. Perhaps my exposure to those works primed me for this one. Perhaps I’m in a place to sympathize with its hero. Or perhaps I’m simply in a better mood.

No, it’s not perfect . . . if anything because it’s too perfect. To paraphrase the Rheostatics, this beast needed more torque.

Now, if you want to find me, I’ll be out in the sandbox.

* * * *

Rated 14A

101 minutes

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