Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Tragically Hip, "Long Time Running"

At the time, I wrote that the broadcast of the band's final concert was a disappointment, in that it didn't rise to the majesty of the moment.  It looked like just another arena concert recording, and didn't capture the connection between the fans and a legendary band almost certainly playing their last ever show.

Fortunately, "Long Time Running" fills that void and perfectly captures the emotional long goodbye to The Tragically Hip.  There's little in the way of philosophizing about why the band means what it does, and no critics appear to explain the appeal of the Hip.  It's an intensely personal (sometimes uncomfortably so -- details of Downie's treatment and recovery can be difficult to hear) look at the band's final tour from their innermost circle.  Everyone who appears is part of their extended family, from the neurologist who performed Downie's surgery (a longtime fan and friend of the band), to Downie's hatmaker who saw her work as a way to give back to the band for providing decades of memories, to their tour, sound and security staff, most of which have worked with them for over twenty years.

The filmmakers (Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, two more long time friends of the Hip) were asked to do the project only five days before the start of the tour, and yet with such little preparation, they almost telepathically knew how to wring the best possible footage from the band and their audiences.  They try hard not to turn their film into the Downie Show, but like the tour itself, it couldn't not be.  Frail and shirtless, standing in his underwear before a show, Downie could look any less of a maverick poet rockstar.  Then he begins his pre-show ritual, which includes shining his own shoes -- he explains that it's something he's done for his entire career.  Amazingly, Downie brings the same determination and intensity to monotonous shoe shining that he does to his on stage singing.  Then he gets dressed in that night's pair of shiny pants and outrageous hat and suddenly he looks twenty years younger, a gleaming larger than life rock star.  The transformation would have made David Bowie proud.  The confused, emaciated, bearded singer we saw in his first post-chemo rehearsal in Toronto one year before is a distant memory.   

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