ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 4, 2006
By Steve Newton
Helix isn’t normally a band that comes to mind as one of Canada’s finest musical exports. But as director Mike Clattenburg proved in Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, its song “Heavy Metal Love” is the ideal backdrop for slow-mo footage of a skanky trailer-park chick descending from a convertible with her white-trash bridesmaids and purposefully strutting to an outdoor altar to take her wedding vows. The mere mention of the song causes Clattenburg to imitate its ’80s-metal guitar noise.
“Isn’t that one of the most fuckin’ classic Canadian rock riffs you’ve ever heard?” he raves on the phone from Halifax. “When you hear it again, you’re like, ‘Fuck, yeah, that song was awesome. Come on!’ ”
Memorable Canuck-rock tunes play a major part in getting across the various vibes of Clattenburg’s foul-mouthed comedy—based on the Canadian cable-TV show, now in its sixth season, which he also directs—about low-rent life in a rowdy trailer park. (The film opens on Friday [October 6].) A musician himself—he plays drums in a duo with Mike O’Neill from the Inbreds—the director decided to design sequences based on music rather than the other way around.
“What I tend to do is listen to a piece of music, see what it inspires, and then shoot once I have the music cleared. For example, ’38 Years Old’ by the Tragically Hip is a haunting, beautiful song, and I’ve never really heard it in a film. We used it when you first see Ricky playing ball hockey in jail, and he’s wearing a milk jug as a mask when he’s in the net. So it’s very subtle, gentle kinda humour. There’s almost a sad note to the song, but then you see the mask and go, ‘What the fuck?’ For me, that’s the fun stuff.”
The fun stuff included shooting scenes outside a movie theatre and using Rush songs like “Red Barchetta” and “Spirit of Radio” on the marquee instead of actual film titles. You’ve got to be a Rush fan to get the joke, though, which leads to the question of whether or not the flick is just too damn Canadian for some viewers. Are there concerns that the overt nationalism of Trailer Park Boys makes it harder for the TV show and the movie to succeed south of the border? Isn’t that what happened to the Hip?
“Canadians will really see the Canadiana,” Clattenburg says, “whereas someone who doesn’t know the Canadiana, it’ll just fly by them. But I don’t know; it remains to be seen. A lot of American comedy that I’ve seen lately is one-dimensional characters who crack each other over the head with chairs. I’m interested in complex characters and a more gentle approach to comedy.
“It played on BBC America for a coupla years,” he continues, “and they were really supportive of it; they loved the language and swearing. But at the last minute, the Janet Jackson [Super Bowl breast-baring] thing happened, and they censored the whole thing, so it lost a lot of its punch. But we still have a huge underground following down there; I hear from people in Louisiana who want the Trailer Park DVDs.”
Whether Yanks embrace his baby or not, Clattenburg will continue to inject as much Canadian flavour into TPB as possible. In one of the funniest scenes in the movie, cops played by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson and Hip vocalist Gordon Downie arrest Ricky and Julian (series stars Robb Wells and John Paul Tremblay) on a highway after a police-helicopter chase. But the Canuck-rock icons aren’t easily recognized.
“That’s cool,” says Clattenburg, “and I’ll tell you why I think that’s cool. They look different—we’ve got wigs on them—and they’re in character, so they’re not like themselves, and the third thing is they’re good fucking actors. They sell it. The same thing with [Headstones vocalist] Hugh Dillon, who plays Sonny. So I love to cast musicians that have a sense of humour, ’cause I find musicians—especially of that calibre—they can do anything.”
Regarding the difference between filming the TV show and the movie, Clattenburg explains that they often shoot 10 to 15 pages of script a day for the series, whereas the feature only managed two to four. But there was more pressure and creative collaboration than he’s used to with the movie, which was shot on 16mm film to give it an indie look.
“We shot a lot more coverage so that we could do a feature-film presentation of our characters,” he says. “And I like seeing them on film; I think it’s nice for our fans who’ve watched them on shitty DV for the last six years—although I have a love/hate relationship with that. That’s how we got a lot of our first fans. They were like, ‘Is this some home-video shoot? What’s going on here? Is this fucking real?’ So there’s a real charm to that.”