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culture

Reel Toronto: Canadian Bacon

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
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There are people who believe Michael Moore is a brilliant satirist, shining a light on the hypocrisies of America, while others think he’s a moronic blowhard who simplifies complex arguments and takes a series of cheap shots. But on this one thing all people agree: his sole feature film, Canadian Bacon, sucks. It won’t shock you that Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down.


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If you don’t know the plot (and why would you?), in Canadian Bacon a fictional U.S. president decides to invade Canada to distract American citizens from something or other. This means the Toronto and Niagara Falls areas get to play themselves, most of the time.
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Indeed, the film opens with some rather lovely shots of the falls.
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Later on, there’s a break-in at this hydro plant, which is played by the Robert Moses plant on the American side of the river. (Though this shot was likely taken from the Canadian side.)
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This scene, where wacky Americans try to cross the “Niagara River,” was actually shot in the calmer waters of Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines.
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Slightly closer to home is this scene featuring a defence plant, shot at Hamilton’s Dofasco.

One could argue Moore was trying to skewer Americans by employing Canadian stereotypes, but he doesn’t cut too deeply. Here, for example, is a scene in which Canadians get upset because an American makes fun of their beer. Get it? ‘Cause our beer kicks their beer’s collective ass. Then there’s a hockey fight, since that’s the other thing we do.
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The whole melee takes place during a hockey game shot at the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena. As you can see from their jerseys, yes, the team is called the Ontario Beavers.
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They cheaped out on the White House, using some careful framing to disguise the fact they’re actually at Billy Madison‘s house, Parkwood Estate, both outside…
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…and in.

Eventually, of course, we actually get to Toronto. The arrival takes place in this geographically incongruous scene when John Candy and his crew get their first glimpse of the skyline from the Leslie Street Spit.
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Then we finally get some Toronto-as-Toronto shots, including the Princes’ Gate…
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…and Queen’s Park Circle’s western side…
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…panning over to the legislative building.
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Then they drive (the wrong way) down Adelaide Street
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…stopping to talk to this girl (carrying ice skates, natch) at Simcoe and Pearl streets, just south of the Enwave Building.
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Part of the gag (such as it is) is that Rhea Pearlman’s character thinks there’s some big Canadian defence computer hidden inside the CN Tower, so we get lots of shots of the tower from top….
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…to bottom.
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Moore also steals (ahem, pays homage to) gags from a bunch of other films, such as this CN Tower–riffic take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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…this “where are they now?” montage, straight out of Animal House

…and Dan Aykroyd in an amusing cameo as an OPP officer, which is really just a riff on a gag that was far funnier in The Life of Brian.

Canadian Bacon grossed an astoundingly low $178,000 on an eleven-million-dollar budget, but that’s not to say it’s a total loss. You can’t make so many jokes without something being funny. And that something is Steven Wright’s scene as a Mountie. There are a few chuckles in this clip, but the Wright bit starts at about 5’30″.
The credits are a gold mine of random trivia, from the fact that the Niagara Falls footage was shot by another company, to the amazingly long list of stock footage companies that contributed to the movie. The “thanks” section mentions Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and the guys in R.E.M. (the final credits segue from their “Only in America” into Anne Murray doing “Snowbird.”) But the best is the absolute final line: “To Johnny LaRue—thanks to you, we got our crane shot.”

This was the great John Candy’s final full film. He’d pass away in the middle of shooting Wagons East!, which is arguably an even bigger cinematic tragedy. It seems only right to cleanse the palate and end off with a fast reminder of just how awesome he was.

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