(note – this is not regarding the UK election in the slightest)
I found out quite by accident that “Stand!” was playing at our local Cineplex on the last weekend of November for a limited run. During a caucus break in our bargaining day, someone asked me “Are you going to stand?” and my initial response was “For what?”, assuming an election of some sort was looming and a potential candidate draft was on. My fellow worker then explained that “labour” were sponsoring viewings of “Stand!”, a movie based on the popular-in-certain-circles musical “Strike!”, which tells the story in song of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Labour wanted to do something special for the 100th anniversary of this nation’s most memorable mass industrial action, which (judging by the credits) led to some heavy bankrolling of the film beyond the requisite government grants. Securing a significant block of time in mainstream big box theatres across the country would also have been a massive investment but did the cash outlay pay out any tangible dividends?
I coaxed my partner into watching the preview and she agreed to come along, as it had a “Murdoch Mysteries” enough feel to it for her to commit some of the afternoon to. I also promised to spring for the tickets, the post film burritos and at least one round of Dance Dance Revolution, proving that sitting at a negotiating table over the years can teach you some transferable life skills. Musicals are definitely not my thing in any way, having made exceptions for Les Mis, The Book of Mormon and Rent but overall there aren’t enough edibles available in the province yet to adequately numb me up for all things Gilbert and Sullivan or Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber. Considering the story behind and the effort that went into Stand!, I felt a tinge of an obligation to go. It’s the same pang that I had when I was told I should watch Downton Abbey because it had a socialist in it, knowing full well that Tom would eventually sell out as any rebel in his shoes would do. I expect nothing less but wish for so much more out of our token period piece pinkos, knowing that disappointment will prevail nearly every time.
Stand! is worth checking out if you can find it, I’d give it a soft 7 out of 10 but if you like musicals it might clock in at an 8.5 for you. I also have a very low tolerance for bad accents but this cast managed to keep them to a Canadian Moment level of “well it’s almost there so we’ll let it go”. No one attempted a Scottish one thankfully. The leads were handsome and gorge with great voices and enough of the actual message seemed to slip in there that one did leave the theatre with the feeling that worker solidarity is critical to our continued survival and that the world changes one heart at a time. There were two glaring disappointments however, in that the famous tram car smashing didn’t make the cut and that theatre Nine was nearly completely empty. A grand total of seven people were in attendance for a movie that was being pitched as “the next Norma Rae”. The majority of people who saw “Norma Rae” back in the day likely watched it on a rented video tape, which was the world’s You Tube at one point fellow kids. It’s bittersweet yet painfully true that more people are likely watching the 40 year old “Norma Rae” via download in North America on any given day compared to the total viewing audience that Stand! had in theatres in 2019. It could have been different.
This is the end result one should expect when any bureaucracy makes blanket decisions, coupled with what seems to be a lack of a grasp of modern communications. There were four showtimes to choose from on the day we went and I strongly suspect that Stand! played to dust mites and the cola ick on the floor for most of the run. In reading the on line reviews of Stand! (all internal to labour), the UFCW revealed that they are making a half a million digital downloads of the movie available to Canadian students. This is getting closer to where and how Stand! should have been distributed from the get go, with a healthy scoop of promotion to back the effort up. Netflix would have most certainly picked it up and may yet still. Our local rep cinema was showing “The Irishman” for the week, a film that also has a labour story (albeit not a feel good one) but something on the scale of Stand! would have been better placed in smaller, tighter, cozier venues as the original musical would have played in initially. At least they aren’t cranking out VHS and Beta tapes for all locals and labour councils to share. Let’s hope not.
My partner also enjoyed the film, even if Detective Murdoch or Dr. Ogden didn’t merit so much as a cameo. Other than having to endure my run throughs of “Solidarity Forever” wafting up from the basement, she is generally not exposed to the labour realm in her day to day. On the way home she randomly asked me “Why don’t the unions build houses? Renting all those empty theatres could have built a nice apartment somewhere.” and I didn’t have a good answer to the question because there isn’t one. I’m fairly certain that it was this comment and not the film Stand! that put a tear in my eye at the end of it all. OK labour?
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