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Drying Up the Streets

(They're Drying Up the Streets)

Year: 1978
Language: English
Format: 16mm Colour
Runtime: 86 min
Director: Robin Spry
Producer: Ralph Thomas
Writer: Anne Cameron
Cinematographer: Kenneth Gregg
Editor: Myrtle Virgo
Sound: Erik Hoppe
Music: Patrick Russell
Cast: Don Francks, Jayne Eastwood, August Schellenberg, Len Cariou, Calvin Butler, Sarah Torgov, Frank Moore
Production Company: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Moviestore Entertainment

While drying out in a Vancouver hospital after nearly dying of a drug overdose, former pharmacology professor and sixties hippie Pete Brennan (Don Francks) is visited by Larry (Len Cariou), a member of the RCMP drug squad. After showing Brennan lurid slides of young girls forced into the sex trade to support their drug habits and suggesting one of them could be Pete’s runaway daughter, Larry tells Brennan the police will help find his daughter in exchange for his help breaking up a drug ring.

Brennan agrees and goes to Toronto, where he enters the street world and reports his findings to Larry, who poses as a doctor in a methadone clinic. Brennan meets Nick (August Schellenberg), a dangerous hood, and Sam (Frank Moore), who he later discovers is an undercover policeman. He also meets a young middle-class runaway named Anne (Sarah Torgov) who, under the care of a pimp named Jim (Calvin Butler), sinks rapidly from waitress to topless dancer to addict and prostitute. Brennan begins to feel for Anne the fatherly concern he never showed his own daughter (who, it turns out, has been adopted by a solid family).

Anne is protected for a while by a prostitute named Sheila (Jayne Eastwood), but Sheila is killed by Nick because Jim believes she has betrayed their child pornography racket to the police. When Brennan meets the leader of a drug gang and agrees to test and cook a shipment of heroin for them, the gang takes Anne hostage to ensure his co-operation. The police arrive to seize the shipment, Pete races to rescue Anne and, with Sam’s help, stops Nick from killing her.

This underrated film, one of Robin Spry’s best, is a kind of sequel to the director’s Prologue and Flowers on a One-Way Street, and even Don Owen’s Nobody Waved Good-bye. It re-examines the issues raised in those earlier films by addressing the question; What happened to the hippie movement of the sixties? Working from a brilliant script by West Coast writer Anne Cameron (credited in the film as B.A. Cameron), Spry creates a gothic vision of a world in which organizations (the underworld and the police) manipulate and exploit people for their own ends.

Full of memorable sequences – the direct cinema style of the opening, the manipulative slideshow that conditions Brennan to accept his role, Brennan’s treks through the streets of Toronto, his conversation with Anne (during which she mouths typical sixties clichés), the sharply composed and edited scenes in the night club – Drying Up the Streets exemplifies the possibility of using form and style to make socio-political comments without ignoring entertainment values.

Originally designed as a sixty-minute drama for the CBC, the film was expanded to feature length during production. Theatrical and non-theatrical release was planned to follow its initial television broadcast (February 28, 1979, though it was premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival the previous August). However, it had few screenings apart from its airings on television.

By: Peter Morris

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