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Film Review: Long Time Running

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Film Review: Long Time Running

How much more emotion can you possibly squeeze out of Tragically Hip fans?

If you’re the people behind new documentary Long Time Running, chronicling the Hip’s last-ever Canadian tour in 2016 (or so we think), there’s just enough toothpaste to brush your teeth one last time before throwing out the tube.

Sorry if that comparison offends anyone, but nothing beats the feeling of a clean mouth with shiny teeth and healthy gums.

“Health”, not surprisingly, is the dominant theme that runs all through Long Time Running. If for some unfathomable reason you’re one of the few individuals not familiar with why this was so significant, directors Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier do a good job rehashing how charismatic frontman Gord Downie was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer (glioblastoma if you want to get technical), the surgery that should give him a handful more years to live, and the weighty decision to try to pull off the Man Machine Poem tour, which turned into a summerlong celebration of our country’s most iconic and enduring band.

Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival before a theatrical run in over 130 cinemas, followed by what’s sure to be a big-deal broadcast on CTV, this doc goes straight for the heart of its core audience – namely aging Gen-Xers who have seen their favourite band numerous times live, mostly in their ’90s heyday.

I must admit to scratching my head when LTR was first announced, not so much wondering why it was made; more the timing. What’s the rush to get it out now when the Hip’s last likely concert is still pretty fresh in the minds of 12 million people. As far as newsworthy events out of the Great White North, it was the only thing “yuge”r than Donald Trump and the US election in 2016. At the risk of accusing everyone involved of “milking it”, there are plenty of nuggets to warrant a viewing, whether you’re a hardcore devotee or curious onlooker as to why they’re a part of Canuck folklore.

Not to spoil the experience for anyone who wants a good cry again, but some of the tidbits I didn’t know included the Bee Gees being Downie’s secret music shame, the neckpieces he wore were actually socks stitched together, as well as how BFFL Paul Langlois assembled all the setlists at the singer’s request to make sure the Hip played “all the records”. 72 songs in total were performed over the 15 shows (which have been compiled into a handy dandy Spotify playlist). Some hadn’t even been practiced in years, not that Downie could “remember a damn thing” at his first post-operation rehearsal, looking like current day Michael Stipe with his woolly beard and soon-to-be famous JAWS T-shirt.

Maybe it would have a profounder impact if we were to let time run a little longer so to speak. Long Time Running‘s strength however is in how it balances probably-never-see-them-again concert footage with candid interviews from band members (who are “each other’s family”), medical professionals and random enthusiasts alike. Kevin Drew and Craig Northey from Broken Social Scene and Odds respectively make special appearances, as does deep-voiced sports journalist Stephen Brunt and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling the Hip a “cultural force” and…goddamn is he ever gorgeous.

All I want to really add is there’s a smile and wink Downie gives about a third of the way into the movie that is all I’ll ever need from him again. Near the end he conveys to the camera he told Bobby Orr how grateful he was for him and that he loved him; I know I speak for a great deal of Canadians when I say we love you too Gord.

Long Time Running has its first of three gala TIFF presentations on Wednesday, September 13th.


Gilles LeBlanc literally fell into “alternative rock” wayyy back at Lollapalooza 1992, where he got caught in his first mosh pit watching some band named Pearl Jam. Since then, he’s spent the better part of his life looking for music to match the liberating rush he felt that day, with a particular chest-beating emphasis on stuff coming out of his native Canada. It took him awhile, but Gilles now writes feverishly about all things that rock (and or roll) through his ROCKthusiast alter ego.

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