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Goin’ Down the Road (1970)

by on 2013/07/04

Goin' Down the Road (1970)“There’s going to be so much there, we won’t know where to begin.”

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I don’t remember dreaming often, at least not when I go to sleep, so I do it when I’m awake, by the light of day. One of my grandest dreams is of returning to Toronto, to my friends and family, to my birthplace and my home.

So Goin’ Down the Road is essentially my idea of a terrible nightmare.

A mashup of the then-recent Urban Cowboy and the generation-later idiotfest FUBAR, it details the misadventures of two down-and-out Maritimers, Pete (Doug McGrath) and Joey (Paul Bradley), seeking new lives and fortunes in Toronto.

We Canadians love our road movies but, title notwithstanding, this isn’t Going the Distance, Hard Core Logo, One Week, or Terry. Our anti-heroes appear in the city almost immediately, and we follow their day-to-day lives, from a Sally Ann hostel, with thirty dollars between them, through their false hopes, struggles, and descent, to their ultimate bid to escape and begin again elsewhere.

They endure a succession of unprofitable jobs (most of which are now done by machines), and enjoy varying levels of romantic success to distract themselves. Throughout they continue to wish for something better, though they’re not sure exactly what it is, where it is, or how to get there.

Though the subject matter is exotic to me, the setting is eerily familiar. The movie’s skyline looks relatively uncluttered to modern eyes, a Toronto I often conjure in my mind, reminiscent of early Degrassi episodes. When the pair arrive on Richmond Street, inbound to the downtown core, my heart aches at the sight of a home lost less to distance than to time.

There’s no CN Tower on this horizon, and A&A, BP stations, Dominion, Eaton’s, and Sam’s still exist. TTC buses and streetcars are rounder, with scarlet and dark-cream colour schemes. It’s more than just shops and fashions, buildings and vehicles, clothing and hair. Life itself is distinctly different. Phone booths are everywhere. Both smoking and drinking are pervasive. Littering is common and, perhaps most significant, women are treated differently, uncomfortably so.

However, rather than feeling insulted, as I did with FUBAR, such shortcomings rang with a practically innocent pathos. Nothing feels forced, it’s all organic, simple slices of life. Though the themes remain serious and relevant today, here they’re rooted in a distinctive environment, a context now so outdated, it’s quaint and nearly charming.

That sense of modesty sometimes extends to the film’s low-budget production, with occasional strange framing and blurring but, overall, an immersive show, with vintage grain and saturated colour. The 16 mm stock had me feeling I was living through a National Film Board documentary and – aside from the prominent use of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie 1” – the original score by the great Bruce Cockburn completed the experience perfectly.

To judge by all I’ve read online, and the video’s promotional materials, Goin’ Down the Road is a feature I should already be acquainted with. However, despite being a Toronto native, middle-aged, and a Canadian film buff, I’m certain I’ve never even heard of it, let alone seen it. Rarely am I so glad to be wrong and set right.

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Interview (2011)

Rated PG

86 minutes

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