Celluloid Men – Part I: The Canadian Edition

Believe me when I say, this will not be a one-time theme for this blog.  Men and the movies is my default subject when men and warfare have exhausted me.  Considering I’m knee-deep in the index for Ulster’s Men, movies are the carrot-esque reward after I’ve been beaten by a stick and toiled within an inch of my life.

And, to be honest, this probably won’t be the only Canadiana-masculinities-at-the-movies themed blog, either.  But, at present, it’s just a bit of a fluffy diversion, which – let’s face it – I have thoroughly enjoyed assembling.  Furthermore, I’m addicted to the dash, the multi-hyphenated phrase, and ellipsis this week – just a warning. So, buckle your seat belts, bumpy ride, etc. etc.

Now, I have spent most of my academic career writing about masculinities and Ireland — more specifically, the north of Ireland.  Crossing the pond in terms of gendered social construction wasn’t something I thought I would ever do five years ago.  However, in an act of rather audacious shameless self promotion transnational analysis, I have written a chapter for the new publication, Canadian Men and Masculinities, edited by Jason Laker and published next month by Oxford University Press.  Yes, that is me as that author of Chapter 10: BRITISH and American Influences on Canadian Military Manhood (there’s a typo on the Amazon page — I really do write about the Brits… a lot!).

So, as I rally my strength to continue to work on numerous projects during this season of academic silliness, I thought I would lower add to the conversation by posting a few musings about the current status of Canadian men on film.

Canadian men are an oddity in the movie industry.  They’re there, but there isn’t a defining presence in the same manner as an Aussie or a Brit or a Frenchman.  An Aussie is a rough-and-tumble sort of fellow, fresh out of the bush, ready to go walkabout at a moment’s notice <insert stereotype about Western Australia here> etc.

The Brit either goes Brideshead Revisited or Ray Winston.

And, yes, by “Brit,” I really imply Englishman.  It’s been a long week of tracing the eighteenth century in two of my current classes, so forgive the identity overlap.

And a Frenchman?  Over-the-top accent, Gauloise in hand, black turtleneck, sexy smirk… something very Yves Montand meets Vincent Cassel.

However, Canadian men are… different?  Blander???  Lost????  We have Mounties, but, honestly, that is so overdone.  Do most people realise that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are, in fact, our country’s version of the FBI?  Of MI5???  And, to be honest, the entire RCMP is under a bit of cloud these days, so I’m moving right along to the next arche-/stereotype.

We have our hockey players – and that’s a whole bloggery in itself to be written during the holidays – and we have our intellectuals… and nary the twain shall meet.  If the ultimate cliché of a (sexy?) Canadian man is a guy in flannel who loves hockey while driving a truck through the snow in a grouchy mood, then this is the standard on celluloid…

…and Hugh, bless him, while definitely Commonwealth status, is not from our hemisphere, more’s the pity.  It’s a bit like how Southern women must feel, knowing that Scarlett O’Hara was really an Englishwoman.  (Also, do you have any idea how many fan videos I had to scroll through to find a bit from the movie?  Apparently there are a lot of Wolverine/Rogue fans out there…)

So, I’ve assembled a few (more) clips in a vain attempt to try to decipher any sense of Canadiana amongst our country’s leading men.  The problem is, I’m still not certain I can come up with a defining archetype.  Or even archetypes, given the de facto plurality of gendered identities.  As I say in my soon-to-be-published monograph: “Masculinity in the singular is a chimera, a mythical and deceptive beast.  Rather, masculinities are plural, fluid, and historically informed by ideologies of a specific time, place, and social context.”

In order words, take the following with a rather large grain of salt.

One of the main problems with finding Canadian men on film is that, so often, they’re American – either by birth or as characters.   Even the decent (and not-so-decent) hockey films like Slapshot and Mystery, Alaska involve Americans on ice.  I really, really wish Paul Newman had played a Canadian because, other than Bobby Orr, he must be the most gorgeous thing ever to lace up skates.  But, alas, it was not to be.  And, come to think of it, there’s another Australian in the mix…

We do have the lover quotient (in a way), both in old films and modern ones.  Walter Pidgeon’s Mr Gruffydd falling in love with Maureen O’Hara’s Angharad set a standard… except that, technically, he was supposed to be Welsh.

The pride of New Brunswick in black and white movies never got a chance to play a Canuck.  Similarly, Pidgeon’s awesome turn as Clem Miniver opposite Greer Garson was the epitome of the gentlemen in times of war… but he was definitely of a mid-Atlantic flavour.

Now, apologies to Christopher Plummer in advance for continuing to associate him with a role he pretty much despises, but Captain Von Trapp was the best thing in that film, particularly when seducing Maria.  I tried to find the Landler scene, but youtube was not particularly helpful, so here’s the gazebo scene instead. (And AGAIN with the fan videos… plus high school renditions!  Egad.)

Everytime I see this, however, I personally question why on earth you would break into song when alone with Plummer on a moonlit night… but there it is.  Plus, he looked very good in uniform.

The modern equivalents are intriguing, but also heavily Americanized.  We have Ryan vs. Ryan vs. (god help me) Darth Vader.  Oh, and Pacey.  Winner?  Qui-Gon Jinn  Honestly, I find them all to be rather limp.  There are rain machines, and there are missing towels, and really bad dialogue, and naughty school teachers… but pointing to what, in the end?  I don’t have a clue. I’m sure Gosling has it in him somewhere to wow me on both a personal and a national identity level, but I’m still waiting.

There is, however, some hope, c/o Nathan Fillion…

…but I’m not quite convinced.  Yet.  I might be very quickly, don’t get me wrong, perhaps as soon as I finish watching the Hallowe’en episode from earlier this week, but for now, again, Americana strikes.  Castle is a Yank.  If Fillion were to play an Albertan, he might have me as a true believer.

Joe Canada certainly had his flannel shirt and his fans (myself included in terms of his passive-aggressive jingoism), but, please note – they’re playing Elgar in the background.  Once again, it’s all about the British Connection.

Moving away from the Romeo complex and more towards Canadian Greatness (the Great One?), I immediately turn to the Sutherland Men.  If it is true that Donald is actually a clan chieftain and owns most of northern Scotland, then I am ridiculously impressed, particularly given the near-silly amount of Scottishness that has since become identified as Canadiana, caber-tossing included.  If you doubt me, just ask Billy Connolly (start at 1:28).

But I digress…

Donald is an amazing actor – anyone who has seen both M*A*S*H* and Don’t Look Now can testify to his acting range and talent… but is he identifiably Canadian?  Is Donald Sutherland now a Canadian stereotype in the same ranks as Christopher Plummer?  Perhaps it will take a year or two more.

And then there’s Kiefer… the last scion of Tommy Douglas, the hero from 24, the best of The Lost Boys… and then there was the Christmas tree.  I rest my case.

Do I even need to mention Captain Kirk?  Oh, why not:

So what does it all mean?  Well, if nothing else, Canadian celluloid men certainly prove the plural in masculinities — rarely, if ever, is one of these things like the other.  In terms of Canadian history and contemporary society, the new collection should provide some answers.  But in terms of the realm of fantasy and fashioned stereotypes?  Who knows.

Maybe the answer really is Wayne Gretzky… but, then, I’ve always preferred Bobby Orr in every way possible… and now I’m back to the hockey.  Oh, dear.


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Midatlantic Musings by Jane G. V. McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About midatlanticmusings

Historian of the Irish Diaspora and masculinities, wife, mother, lover of good books, red wine, fine whiskies, pop culture aficionado, and Star Wars wonk.
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