Okeedoke Mr. Johnson: The Films of Leon Johnson

Okeedoke Mr. Johnson: The Films of Leon Johnson (with Leon Johnson in conversation with Gene Walz)
Thursday, April 22 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Leon Johnson’s films represent the pioneering spirt of the independent filmmaker. From capturing a steady stream of phone-in callers to the manager of a rental housing agency office (in Good Afternoon Royal Tower) to the bewildered puzzlement of actor Randy Woods struggling to remember whether he left something in the car (in Park), these films portray the individual struggle for dignity in ridiculous circumstances. St. Boniface poet and fiddler George Morrisette taunts the audience at the Festival du Voyageur by reciting a political poem and strides off, a rebel challenging the norm. It could be said that these works reflect the personality of the maker Leon Johnson: individualistic, stubborn, and completely dedicated to artistic integrity.


A portrait of the filmmaker’s brother-in-law Steve Jackson with psychedelic photograph animation synchronized to music performed by Chuck Aliamo.

Christmas In Brandon
Christmas Eve, Brandon, a bottle or two of Tia Maria and the warm smile and demeanour of poet and actor Randy Woods as he tells of their combined intoxicating effects.

The second in Leon’s proposed trilogy. A man can’t quite remember if he has forgotten something and treks back to his car just one more time to check. Did I forget…or did I….remember ??? Featuring comedian Randy Woods as the central protagonist.

Le Metif Enrage
St. Boniface poet George Morrisette in a devilish mood tricks the audience at a fiddle competition. Instead of playing his violin at the dance he recites a poem in French about themselves and the Métis French. The crowd turns against him sparking a dramatic confrontation.

Good Afternoon Royal Tower
In this experimental documentary video, we spend the day in the cramped and busy office of a woman who manages a rental housing agency. Telephones ring incessantly, there is always someone hanging around her door and there is always someone who can’t pay their rent. The manager is tough and cynical but not without a sense of humour. A subtext on work and power unfolds as we see that her job often involves trying to get money out of people who don’t have jobs. As she says: “People should see what this job is like”.


From Uptown Magazine April 22, 2010:

It’s all in the little things…
The work of Winnipeg independent film pioneer Leon Johnson proves that true artistry can be found in simplicity

A static camera is equally capable of presenting the full range of human experience.

Just check out the films of the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, such as Tokyo Story. Or consider two films in particular from the Cinematheque retrospective Okeedoke Mr. Johnson: The Films of Leon Johnson, which collects five films by one of Winnipeg’s independent film pioneers.

First, there’s Good Afternoon Royal Tower, which at first appears to be scripted drama, only to gradually reveal itself as the quintessential fly-on-the-wall documentary. It chronicles a day at a busy rental housing agency.

The seminal playwright Bertolt Brecht once said nothing is more interesting to watch than a man trying to untie his shoelaces; in other words, we’re all engaged in our own little dramas every day (although perhaps some more than others).

This little doc encapsulates that sentiment, presenting a dynamo of a woman who spends all day juggling phone calls with prospective tenants, complaining tenants, and tenants behind on their payments. Amazingly, the film is 25 minutes along; it feels about half that length.

Then there’s Park, featuring comedian-actor Randy Woods in a classic clown bit as a man who can’t coordinate the moving of a package from his car, locking it behind him, and retaining possession of his keys.

Again, the camera never moves — nor is there a single cut. The simple elegance of this film is reminiscent of a graceful Jacques Tati comedy. The classic Play Time springs to mind.

There’s also the hilarious Christmas in Brandon, also featuring Woods, which is simply a monologue delivered directly into the camera detailing a drunken night’s escapades. It illustrates the principle that cinema is as much about what you put in front of the camera as where you put the camera.

Despite this recurring approach, the films on hand here nonetheless showcase a diversity of style as well as content. Le Metif Enrage is at least partly a slice-of-life doc capturing the festivities at a Festival du Voyageur venue.

The film follows an antagonist, however, in the form of St. Boniface poet George Morrisette, whose politically charged words elicit hostile boos from the crowd. There’s a palpable tension as the (to us) endearingly upstart Morrisette is jeered right offstage.

The avant-garde is also represented by Okeedoke, an animated short utilizing the same several recurring images in varying intervals of time. The psychedelic aesthetic marks the film’s period, yet it doesn’t feel dated, and this very quality makes it kind of funny in an absurd way.

The most outstanding thing about this programme is the creativity on display. It reflects the best of local, independent, Winnipeg Film Group filmmaking: making the most of limited yet accessible resources, with artistry. Park in particular is so incredibly simple, yet so delightful, and even universal. It’s a lesson that bears repeating.

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on April 8, 2010.

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