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Hard Core Logo

Year: 1996
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 96 min
Director: Bruce McDonald
Producer: Christine Haebler
Writer: Noel Baker, Michael Turner
Cinematographer: Danny Nowak
Editor: Reginald Harkema
Sound: Bill Sheppard
Music: Shaun Tozer, Swamp Baby
Cast: Julian Richings, Callum Rennie, Bruce McDonald, Hugh Dillon, John Pyper-Ferguson, Bernie Coulson, Brian Dennis
Production Company: Shadow Shows, Terminal City Pictures

Charismatic, volatile rocker Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon) manages to reunite his former band – the legendary Vancouver punk outfit Hard Core Logo – for a special benefit concert in honour of punk pioneer Bucky Haight (Julian Richings). Fuelled by the show’s success, the band members decide to give it one last go and set off on a reunion tour of Western Canada. A documentary filmmaker (Bruce McDonald as himself) and his crew follow the band as they travel in their van from city to city to a variety of dingy clubs, capturing the ups and downs of life on the road.

Time has only intensified the rivalry between Joe and his childhood best buddy, lead guitarist Billy Tallent (Callum Keith Rennie). A punk purist who loathes nothing more than selling out, Joe resents Billy for being on the verge of signing with a hot L.A.-based band. Bassist John Oxenberger (John Pyper-Ferguson), who has only recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, misplaces his medication shortly into the tour and rapidly begins to lose his mind. Manic drummer Pipefitter (Bernie Coulson), the quintessential rock ’n’ roll animal, doesn’t seem to have much of a mind to lose.

The Calgary concert adds to the good vibe of the Vancouver benefit show. But in Regina, Billy meets an old fan who now has a child he suspects may be his, and Joe has a fling with two hookers who steal the band’s money. In Winnipeg, the club they’re booked into has been shut down, so the boys decide to pay a surprise visit to their old friend Bucky Haight – who has an even bigger surprise for them. By the time they get to Saskatoon, the band’s nerves are frayed and their patience is spent. The prospect of a big show in Toronto leads Joe and Billy to reunite on their own, but L.A. comes calling and Billy betrays Joe, leading to their final, tragic confrontation on the last night of the tour.

Billed as the closing piece in McDonald’s trilogy that includes Roadkill (1990) and Highway 61 (1992), Hard Core Logo is part psuedo-mockumentary (or "rockumentary," as the case may be), part road-trip movie, part music-industry parody, part character study. Mostly, though, it is a remarkably sensitive portrait of the rock band mentality, depicting it as the only way men mired in a state of stunted adolescence can experience love. McDonald’s description of the film as "Spinal Tap’s mean little brother" sounds somewhat glib when one considers the real depth of melancholy, introspection and character intimacy at the core of the film. McDonald’s strongest cinematic work to date, Hard Core Logo is imbued with the same spirit of low-budget bravado, punk determination and DIY inventiveness that distinguished his early work, yet it ultimately achieves a kind of romantic elegy to the punk rock movement.

Noel S. Baker’s dark, bitingly funny and surprisingly poignant screenplay retains key elements from Michael Turner’s pictorial novel and makes it all work onscreen. (Baker later released a book, Hard Core Roadshow, that details the making and marketing of Hard Core Logo in much the same satirical vein as the film.) McDonald, who includes cameos from punk legends Art Bergmann, Joey Ramone and D.O.A., builds the film’s uncanny sense of authenticity by combining documentary-style footage and clever effects shots with a driving, hard-core soundtrack. Real-life rocker Dillon delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the defiantly insolent Joe Dick, while Rennie, Pyper-Ferguson and Coulson hit all the right notes in their perfectly fleshed-out characters.

Hard Core Logo was a major critical success (John Griffin of the Montreal Gazette hailed it as "the best rock ’n’ roll movie in the history of rock ’n’ roll movies") and is widely regarded as McDonald’s best film to date. It was distributed in the United States by Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures and was well-received by American critics. Nominated for six Genie Awards after being named Best Canadian Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Hard Core Logo met with disappointing box office returns in Canada and the United States – but has since become a cult classic.

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