The Degraded Edges of Canadian Visuality

Curator's Note

Golden Apples of the Sun was made in the early 1970s, by Canadian filmmakers looking to move from the National Film Board of Canada into the world of commercial, feature movie making. Much mocked on websites for its hippy conceits and almost unbearable slowness (as one critic suggests, it’s the only film to show a camping trip in real time), Golden Apples invites us to reflect on the decay of national cinemas after the high moments of the mid 1960s.  


Early 1970s cinema became a graveyard for many of the innovative stylisic gestures invented a decade earlier, in the New Waves and Cinéma Libre movements of such places as Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and Quebec.  Dissolves, zooms, and refracted sunlight now served, in soft-core porn films, lurid thrillers and bloody horror films, as visual short-cuts for producing suspense or suggesting sensual abandon. Golden Apples of the Sun takes a key theme of the 1960s counterculture, the opposition between city and pastoral rural landscape, then lets it get lost within a fanciful tale oftwo naive Anglo-Montrealers stalked (and then held prisoner) by philosophical Viet Nam War vets who play and sing folk songs.


Golden Apples of the Sun betrays the awkwardness of well-meaning filmmakers flirting with commercial, sensational genres in which they clearly do not feel at home.   In the very same historical moment, filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah (with Straw Dogs) or John Boorman (with Deliverance) used the motif of the displaced city dweller to conconct horrific tales of rural violence and ineffectual masculinity.   In Golden Apples, the menacing strangers from the United States are too friendly and charismatic, and the endangered Canadians too tiresome, for any real sense of horror to settle in. 


In the early 1970s, Golden Apples of the Sun was bought by an American distributor and renamed Caged Terror, the title under which it now turns up on cheap DVDs or second-hand VHS tapes. Like the 1970s Italian thrillers and Phillipine horror films gathered up in budget DVD boxed sets, Golden Apples of the Sun/Caged Terror will circulate forever as a degraded cultural commodity, cut loose from a Canadian cinema it had once hoped to help liberate. 


First of all, great title Will.


I'm wondering how/if this film "fits" into the history of Canadian horror cinema and if we could read it alongside some of those films.

I'm also wondering how you might think through the juxtaposition of GAS with the two better known US films (above). Do you think that the dilution of the themes in GAS is related to an attempt to emulate the American films from a more "Canadian" perspective?


Finally, the image of this film—and a million others—"circulat[ing] forever as a degraded cultural commodity" is really vibrant. I'm thinking about what you wrote in Residual Media about texts and their increasing capacity to be present in the present and future as kind of personal, accessible archives. But I also really like the second image of this film "cut loose." Is this what happens when texts stay in circulation but become untethered from any overt reference to their original points of production?

Great clip and comment, Will. The revised American distribution title of Caged Terror vs. the original Golden Apples seems to really sum up the differences between commercial ventures and the documentary tradition in Canada. There is something nostalgic about that moment of time and the discomfort in moving into the genre of suspense, action-adventure films a la Peckinpah or Boorman -- something so hesitant or reluctant in constructing philosophical villains who sing folk songs as opposed to the threatening rural 'other' of the banjo-playing Appalachian archetype. Although I'm unfamiliar with the film beyond this clip, it seems to reinforce the stereotypical Canadian emphasis on wilderness and the "natural" (I'm actually not surprised it was like a camping trip in real time).

Like Michele, I also wonder where this fits into the Canadian 'horror' genre. It immediately struck me that Black Christmas, of the mid-1970s, could be the sensationalized, commercial cousin of Golden Apples. Not only did it predate (if I remember correctly) both the Friday the Thirteenth and Halloween Hollywood franchises, it continues to circulate as a cult favourite despite the flop of its recent remake.


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