In this week’s column, I’ll spare you April’s fool jokes and enigmas: I chose to entertain you with my ‘April poutine’. Beware to all chefs and weekend cooks: this column will not be a literal culinary experience, but a figurative one. A ‘poutine’ is an old French-Canadian recipe from the 1950s of which the basic ingredient is potatoes in the form of French fries; soon, other elements were added: first, cheese curds, then a gravy, and eventually any leftovers or any other add-on at your heart’s content. My ‘April poutine’ is a mix–and-mess of everything and anything that I could focus my attention on this Monday morning: Easter, movies and movie theatres, the Oscars, Netflix, Covid (What’s new!), even church mass in latin!
I am originally from a small 99.9% francophone community on the southwest outskirts of Montreal; in fact, as a kid, my skills in English were so poor that a teacher might even push his appreciation as to say ‘non-existent’ or below the ‘F’ range; serving masses at the Catholic church to earn a few nickels, I would go as far as stating that my then second language was latin (since masses were still said in latin in those years and altar servers had to learn all replies by heart). Long introduction, I agree, but my recipe is brewing.
My community hosted a small village-type cinema/theatre: the LUX: square style-less building with a seating of about 150, no balconies or boxes, basic upholstered seats, restaurant (?); as kids under ten, my two younger brothers and I were granted the privilege of going to children’s matinees twice a year: when the feature movie was BEN-HUR (I guess my dad wanted Charlton Heston to become an ideal manhood-type for his boys) and when THE TEN COMMANDEMENTS came to town during Holy week. Unfortunately, those movies were not in French, but in some strange foreign language…’No problem! I’d tell my two brothers, I can speak latin, I’ll tell you what Moses said to the Red Sea…’ Using my own imagination to sustain theirs, going to the movies was always a wonderful annual experience: large screen, color pictures, Charlton Heston… eventhough we had seen it all before, from age 6 on until our teen ages. Since then, I learned a little English and found out that my picture-reading what quite close to the actual true English dialogues. And every year during Holy week, I’ll check the TV schedule to see when the TEN COMMANDEMENTS will be on and will snoop in to watch the scene of the Red Sea parting at Moses request… because I love movies and movie theatres!
Unfortunately, the LUX later closed its doors and was demolished as a result of television sets becoming more affordable and offering more features: color, variety of programming, channel options… Hawkesbury lived through the same pains as its two movie theatres closed their doors and were demolished within a few years of one another: in the 1950s, the OTTAWAN was located on Main street, southeast of William street intersection and offered children matinees for ten cents; a few hundred metres west on the same side of Main street, next to the Farmer department store stood the REGENT, owned by Oscar Legault, and was still in business in the 1970s; it actually hosted ‘The Exorcist’ when the hit movie was released and created quite a scandal all over the world!
Looking closely at the attached photo of the Ottawan which dates from 1956, you will notice the double-feature films that were featured that week: WORLD IN MY CORNER is about ‘Up and coming ambitious boxer Tommy Shea must choose between making dishonest money with crooked promoter Harry Cram or honestly winning a title, as advised by his manager Dave Bernstein; starring Audie Murphy, an American war hero.’; and STAR OF INDIA in which ‘Squire Pierre St-Laurent returns from wars in India to the 17th century provincial France to find his estate confiscated for back taxes by governor Narbonne and resold to Katrina, a Dutch Countess; she offers to return Pierre’s property if he will help her get possession of the ‘Star of India’, a fabulous sapphire held by Narbonne.’ Surprisingly, both movies were rated G for ‘general audiences’: 1950 kids could handle love scenes, war scenes and violent boxing scenes better than today’s kids I suppose… I can’t remember going then, but I would certainly go now if time could turn back; I’ll have to check if they are still available on Netflix or Crave or if they are beyond-vintage.
Since April is also OSCARS month, I then proceeded to the official Oscar site to see if any, either or both those movies were Oscar contenders; but they were not, although I still made interesting discoveries on the 1956 nominees and winners: song of the year was LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, which has become and still is a classic in that ‘love-song’ repertoire; musical movie of the year was OKLAHOMA! a musical play which is still performed occasionally (it was on the Hudson Theatre season a few years ago); and best animated was SPEEDY GONZALEZ!
But…in February 1957, guess what? Déjà vu! A new influenza A (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic (“Asian Flu”). It was first reported in Singapore, then in Hong Kong, and reached the coastal cities in the United States in summer 1957. The estimated number of deaths was 1.1 million worldwide, 116,000 in the United States and some 7,000 across Canada. It marked the first time a vaccine was prepared to fight a flu virus. It certainly affected attendance in public places and movie theatres, as it is the case today.
Theatres, movie theatres and cinemas are now experiencing a major financial blow through this pandemic with a governmental yoyo decision-making of full closures/partial closures/limited numbers/restaurant closure/popcorn exclusion; a return to normal business is far from granted before 2022.
On the other hand, thanks to specialty providers like Netflix, Crave, HBO, Disney and others for fulfilling our crave for significant and exciting programming, commercial-free, Covid reports-free, vaccination updates-free, and replay-free. We couldn’t get through ‘this’ without you! Bon appétit everyone!