Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Another Short Film I Wrote"

In the early seventies, I wrote two short films – and by short I mean eight or nine minutes long – for a show called the Hart And Lorne Terrific Hour, Hart being my older brother and Lorne being his partner Lorne Michaels and the show being one of a series of comedy specials they wrote, produced and starred in for the Canadian national television network, the CBC.

That was a long sentence, wasn’t it?  Though chock full of information, you will agree.  Still, I apologize to anyone who became lightheaded reading it, due to an insufficiency of oxygen.  I shall now pause for a moment, so you can catch your breath.



The more well known of the two mini-movies – both structured as mock documentaries, was called The Puck Crisis.  You know how hockey-mad Canada is.  (Try not to think, “What else have they got?”  It’s insensitive.  Without being entirely incorrect.) 

Anyway, I responded to my home and native land’s passion for the game by delivering a “Special Report” courtesy of the CBC’s News Division, announcing that the hockey pucks growing in the fertile “Puck Belt” of Southern Ontario had contracted “Dutch Puck Disease”, the contagion having been brought in on the sticks of a touring Dutch hockey team.  Boring into the fundaments of the current crop, the bacteria, or pucktacoccai, had contaminated the entire harvest, placing the upcoming hockey season, due to a severe puck shortage, in imminent danger of cancellation. 

(See if there is anything in that scenario you would adjudge to be believable.  Amazingly, during the unscripted “Man in the Street” segment of the documentary, some “typical Canadians” appeared scarily unnerved by the possibility.)  

As a result of the “Puck Crisis” filmette’s scoring with the public, I was asked to come up with another “mock-doc” on a different subject.  (Retooling the concept but replacing hockey pucks with lacrosse racquets was rejected as being “not different enough.”)

I came up with was a story, which had been generally ignored by the media (arguably because it was entirely made up.)  It concerned Baffin Island, an, at the time, desolate and wind-swept Canadian protectorate way up in the Arctic Ocean. 

What happened was that the residents of Baffin Island felt they’d been insulted by the Canadian government when, after the island’s letter carrier’s hat blew away in a powerful, Arctic gust, the Baffin Island Postal Service applied for a replacement hat and was sent one that was four sizes too big.  The hat was returned with a request for an appropriately fitting replacement, which arrived in due course.

The replacement was even bigger. 

Some joke, eh?

Bristling at this display of governmental disrespect, a referendum is held, the results of which, by a wide margin, leads to the decision that Baffin should immediately secede from the Dominion of Canada.

The letter sent to Ottawa informing them of their departure was never responded to, due either to monumental indifference, or it fell out of the Delivery Pouch and was eaten by a walrus.  In any case, preparations got under way for the establishment of the independent nation of Baffin Island.

The first order of business was a contest to pick Baffin Island’s national flag.  The winning submission was a flag-sized rectangle of bed linen (only a prototype, it would be replaced by authentic flag material later), symbolizing the island’s preeminent characteristic:

“Snow on a white background.”

It was perfect.

Next, another contest.  That was how things were done.  No “top-down” decision-making here.  Direct democracy was the order of the day, with “open-to-all” competitions, with prizes, generally, homemade pies, or a side of caribou meat.

This competition involved a search for the newly minted country’s national anthem.  An early frontrunner for the honor was a reworking of Woody Guthrie’s classic, This Land Is Your Land, that went,

“This land is your land

This land is my land

It isn’t Thailand

No, it’s Baffin Island…”

The runner-up was an adaptation from Broadway:

(To the tune of “Oklahoma.”)

“Baaaa-a-fin Island

Where the wind comes right behind the snow…”

The winner , simple yet classic, reflected the island’s original British roots?

(Sung lustily, to the tune of “God Save The Queen”)

“Ba-a-ffin I-island

Ba-a-ffin I-island

Baffin Island.

Bum Bum Bum Bum…

Ba-a-ffin I-island

Ba-a-ffin I-island

Ba-a-a ffi-in I-island

Ba-a-ffin Island.”

With their snowy white banner (not to be confused with a flag of surrender) waving proudly from the flagpole and Baffin Islanders belting out their semi-original national anthem for the first time in history, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  (Those tears did not melt until early summer.)

Consistent with their preference for adaptation over innovation, when creating their native tongue, Baff-Lang, it was decided that, instead of inventing an original lexicon, Baff-Lang would be made up of words the people already knew – English words.  These words, however, would be given entirely different meanings. 

Re-education classes were provided, in which the citizens were given rigorous training in Baff-Lang “Word Conversion”:

TEACHER:  Listen carefully, class.  “The man put the pen on the table” is now:  “The chair put the shoe on the banana.”  Repeat?


TEACHER:  Very good, class.  Or, as we say now, “Mighty hat, snowshoe.”

Finally, a national industry was established, to generate much-needed revenues.  The question arose, “What does Baffin Island have more of than anything else?”, the question being virtually rhetorical, since the answer unquestionably is “snow.”

The final scene of the documentary, filmed in a large, refrigerator locker in Toronto’s meat packing district, chronicled workers boxing up various products manufactured from Baffin Island’s chief export. 

Conveyor belts delivered individual snowballs, which were packed twenty-four to a case in specially insulated boxes, and shipped to desperate suitors from tropical countries tested by their Beloved’s father, telling them, “Bring me a snowball, and you may marry my daughter.” 

Another big seller was to-be-assembled “Snowman Kits”, popular for Beverly Hills children’s Christmas parties which included instructions saying, ” PLACE CARROT NOSE HERE.” 

And, of course, there was the country’s biggest seller, glacier pure bottled water, which at the “Point of Shipment”, wasn’t really water, it was ice.  When it reached its destination, however, it was water.

The “Report” ended pondering whether an independent Baffin Island could possibly endure.  That question is still to be answered, but two things are no longer in dispute:

The Baffin Islanders are a proud and independent people.

And their letter carrier’s hat fits like a glove.

(Though it still, occasionally, blows away.)


Anonymous said...

The idea of selling bottled water was certainly way ahead of its' time. Such financial gain would, today, see all Baffin Islandites wearing well fitted touques in perpetuity.

Earl, I believe that Dutch Puck Disease, although in a mutated form, is alive and well in Toronto. It has resulted in The Leafs failure to bring home the Stanley Cup since 1967.

Thanks for retelling your short films in blog format.

Anonymous said...

I often refer to "Dutch Puck Disease", having seen the short several times during the seventies. Is this "mockumentary" extant in some form? Every so often I google it to see if some aficionado has gone to the trouble of posting it on YouTube. As I recall, it was scheduled just before the 6 o'clock Canadian news. I'll never forget the image of blighted pucks on the trees, and even heard some of my duped relations exclaim, "I didn't know pucks grew on trees!" I'd certainly love to be able to show this video to my children; they've heard about it enough times.

Greg Wooley said...

Earl, these films were brilliant. I was about 10 at the time I saw them and was just developing a sense of satire and understated humour, and these were formative. Presented totally deadpan, as "CBC Special Reports", it took a couple of minutes to realize that you were having us on, which added to their appeal. I recall the Baffin Island flag competition included one person in a plaid shirt who had a bolt of material left over = their entry in flag competition, and have sung the national anthem and runner-up time and again (mostly in my own mind, but occasionally aloud). Thank you for these memorable wee flicks and for bringing them to mind again.