Broken hearts and social scenes

According to what some guy told me, if you have done something for three years or more, you can be an expert witness in a court case. Since I have been watching “concert movies” since 2000, when Phish released Bittersweet Motel (which I saw three times in theaters), I think I know a thing or two about the subject.

I know that there is a strict format for a concert movie. You focus half of the screen time on the band playing music, and the other half to what goes on behind the scenes. As simple as this is, it would appear that nobody told Bruce McDonald.

McDonald’s new concert movie, This Movie is Broken, takes place over the course of a couple of days, chronicling a Broken Social Scene concert which took place in Toronto during the garbage strike of 2009.

McDonald gets the first half of the “concert movie equation” right by having several scenes in the movie feature this epic performance — which included such iconic Canadian indie-music icons as James Shaw, Emily Haines, Leslie Feist, Amy Millan and Jason Colett — but then he throws the whole thing out the window by not including any footage of the band setting up, becoming intoxicated or traveling on a tour bus.

What gives?

The movie opens on a couple sleeping on a roof, with the narrator — the man in the couple — indicating that he has pulled off quite the coup. He has finally slept with his childhood crush.
Now I feel that at this time I should point out that, depending on your personal experience, you are likely to view this movie from one of two very different perspectives.

The first set of eyes you might view this film through are those of Bruno (Greg Calderone). After years of awkward and frustrating friendship, he is finally in the relationship he so desperately wanted, and for a few fleeting minutes he is content.

The second set of eyes are those of Caroline (Georgina Reilly), who was back in town for a few days and sought some comfort in the arms of a friend.

The rest of the non-concert part of the movie involves Bruno swinging on a pendulum between ethereal contentment and the harsh reality that Caroline wants nothing more than to hang out and have a little casual sex.

Broken Social Scene is brought into the plot after Bruno’s friend Blake (Kerr Hewitt) tries to help him out by bragging to Caroline about how Bruno is friends with the band and can get them backstage passes to a concert that evening.

The concert part of the movie consists of scenes of the band playing, spliced with a floor-eye-view from Bruno, Caroline and Blake’s perspective. The songs McDonald chose to use fit the mood of the characters at the time, but can feel a little bit too much like they were plucked from the playlist of a non-existent Broken Social Scene “best of” album.

If you have ever been a “Bruno” or a “Caroline” then I need not tell you how this brand of love story ends.

What will tell you is that, while This Movie is Broken eschews the traditional formula, McDonald actually manages to pull it off. The concert scenes are seamlessly worked in to the plot, and what you’re left with is one coherent film, rather than two clumsily sewn together. If you’re a fan of the traditional concert movie, you might miss the scenes of your heroes, back-stage and acting like real people. However, if you give it a chance, This Movie is Broken might just open your eyes to what this genre is capable of.

This Movie is Broken plays at Cinematheque until Oct. 13.