This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is generally regarded as the quintessential rock 'n' roll mockumentary — a hilarious look at the inept trials and tribulations of a heavy metal band. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hard Core Logo (1996), a no frills, balls-to-the-wall adaptation
Retired for some years, legendary Canadian punk rock band, Hard Core Logo reunites for a one-off benefit concert in honor their mentor, Bucky Haight (Julian Richings), who supposedly had both legs amputated after being shot by a crazy fan. The gig goes so well that the band's charismatic lead singer, Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon), convinces everyone to go on a mini-tour across
Hard Core Logo is the third film in Bruce McDonald's informal rock 'n' roll road movie trilogy that started with Roadkill (1989) and Highway 61 (1991). The filmmaker grew up in the
McDonald had just come off the critically acclaimed Dance Me Outside (1995) and his friends warned him not to repeat himself with another road movie. However, McDonald did not see Logo as a repeat of previous films. “On the other films, they (the anti-heroes of Roadkill and Highway 61) go down the road and meet a nutty person and things happened. Here you’re with the same people throughout — and they are the nutty people!” Initially, McDonald and novice screenwriter Noel Baker were not sure how to adapt the book and finally settled on making a mockumentary.
What McDonald was not interested in making was a Canadian version of Spinal Tap. He even jokingly referred to his film as “Spinal Tap’s mean little brother.” Furthermore, he said, “We were not setting out to make a parody or satire. This is more of a true documentary voice — these are real people.” There is a certain raw vibe that permeates Logo and this is perfect for its rough around the edges subject matter.
The unrefined attitude is due in large part to the presence of Hugh Dillon as Joe Dick. McDonald had a tough time casting the role and had to persuade Dillon to do the film. “He was going ‘Wow, what if the movie is shit, then I’d lose all my fans from the band, I’d lose all my credibility!’” The director auditioned 200 actors for the role but “couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t posing or doing some fake-o rock-guy shtick.” He had used musicians in his before and Dillon had a small role in Dance Me Outside. However, McDonald wasn’t sure how Dillon would work with actors and so he consulted with Callum Keith Rennie. The actor and the musician got along famously. Not a professional actor but rather lead singer of the Canadian blues punk bank, the Headstones, Dillon's lack of formal training gives his performance a certain unpredictability that is perfect for his character. Dillon remembers, “as soon as he gave me freedom to make the screenplay more believable, I became interested. Bruce allowed me creative input and that’s what made it a special piece for me.” Dillon obviously drew a lot on his own real life experiences of being in a band and this makes everything he says and does that much more believable.
The interplay between the rest of the band is also very well done. Callum Keith Rennie plays the gifted, low key guitarist who has clearly surpassed his bandmates, Bernie Coulson is the crazy drummer who seems clueless but knows what to do when it counts, and finally John Pyper-Ferguson is the terminally burnt out bass player whose road diary provides the film's voice-over narration. The way these guys joke and argue with each other — like adults who refuse to grow-up — is so good that it feels like they have really been in a band together for many years. This was important for McDonald who wanted to realistically portray the dynamics of being in a band. “It’s a grueling career, struggling to keep a band together. A band’s a bit like a family — you can treat each other very badly and get away it. And because of those magical moments on stage, the band goes on and on.”
Armed with a $1.1 million budget, McDonald shot the bulk of the film in
McDonald keeps the film together with his solid direction. He has an excellent sense of pacing — the film never gets boring — and he instinctively knows that the essence of any good rock 'n' roll movie is, as he puts it, "extremely loud music and cool shots." Cinematographer Danny Nowak uses the shaky, hand-held camerawork that documentaries are known for and he also shoots the band in cool slow motion shots that emphasizes their iconic status.
Hard Core Logo had its world premiere at the 49th Cannes Film Festival with three screenings. McDonald remembers, “
Hard Core Logo was well-received by Canadian film critics. In his review for the Montreal Gazette, John Griffin praised the film as a “masterful exercise in edgy virtuoso film craft, subversive propaganda and exhilarating entertainment.” The Toronto Sun’s Bruce Kirkland praised the cast: “They’re all so convincing it is impossible to believe they’re not all the real thing.” In his review for the Toronto Star, Bruce Kirkland wrote, “Screenwriter Noel S. Baker has provided some of the funniest and deftest writing Canadian moviemaking has heard in years. But it can’t hide the bitter-sweetness just below the surface.” The Globe and Mail’s Liam Lacey gave the film a mixed review: “Though the jumpy, parodic, disruptive style suits rock music, the same techniques prevent viewers from investing deeply in the characters and the story. The ride is fun, but it doesn’t quite reach a destination.”
At the Vancouver International Film Festival, Hard Core Logo received the $40,000 CITY-TV award for Best Canadian Film and Noel Baker won the
Along with the aforementioned Spinal Tap and Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000), Hard Core Logo is one of the best fictitious rock 'n' roll movies ever made. It has a genuine appreciation for music and an acute knowledge of the conventions and clichés of the genre. Like Spinal Tap, McDonald's film is not afraid to make fun of these conventions and like Almost Famous, there is an authenticity to how the band is portrayed and the music they make.
If you decide to get this film on DVD, avoid the crappy, bare bones edition on Amazon.com and instead get the Special Edition here or go to Amazon.ca. Trust me, it's worth it. The SE has a great audio commentary with McDonald, Dillon and Baker along with music vids.
Here is a trailer for the film:
Here is an interview with Hugh Dillon around the time the film came out:
An excerpt from a Making of doc. on the film: