Written and directed by Vancouver filmmaker Ross Munro (A Legacy of Whining), The Moviegoer is a short film celebrating the magic of an afternoon at the movies. Munro narrates his journey as a nine-year-old traveling alone to the movies, complete with re-created vintage “previews” and preshow announcements.
Though it bills itself as a “documentary”, The Moviegoer is more concerned with feelings and imagination than accuracy. The film itself is a collage of animation, stock and archival footage, and family photographs. The result is off-beat, whimsical, and a little surreal – but it successfully draws us in to young Ross’ world. While we might not see 1972 as it really was, we certainly see Ross’ version of it. There is an ironic distance between the voice over narrative, which is infused with Munro’s self-deprecating humour, and the cartoonish visuals.
But before we learn anything about young Ross or his childhood, we are introduced to the silver screen starlet that occupies his fantasies – a Venezuelan actress named Carlota. A quick journey through Carlota’s career also serves as a glimpse of the kind of movies that inspire Ross. Action, adventure, violence, and larger-than-life heroes don’t just provide escapism for a kid on a Saturday afternoon, they also ignite Ross’ creativity and inspire him to become a filmmaker.
The movie trailer for a fictional B-film about sexy Swedish stewardesses is one of the highlights. Munro clearly has a well-developed funny bone, though it’s sometimes hard to discern if he’s poking fun at the relentless misogyny of 1970’s movies or joining in on the sexism. While his portrayal of women on the big screen is accurate to the era, it isn’t exaggerated enough for the parody to be obvious. Instead, Munro turns the camera back on himself and his own bashful, heterosexual male enjoyment of the spectacle. While this is occasionally funny, it feels superficial. As though Munro’s attraction to filmmaking were one and the same as his attraction to beautiful women.
While The Moviegoer conveys a strong sense of time, it lacks a similar geographic specificity. Munro says he is from “Canada” and specifies that he grew up in “the suburbs” – but doesn’t mention a specific city or province. At one point, Munro substitutes “snapshots he took in Times Square in the mid-80s” for his city’s downtown, again without mentioning the name of the city. The use of the photographs is a clever way to positions us in his 9-year-old self’s thoughts; the viewer immediately understands that to little Ross his home city at night feels as wild and dangerous as the mean streets of New York. But it also makes his experiences feel somewhat cliché, rather than personal.
The Moviegoer is a sweet and nostalgic look back at the 1970s. As a Millennial, I’m a few decades removed from the experiences Munro describes. Audiences who are closer to the material will likely find more to appreciate.