CBC's superb 2-part dramatization of Canada's legendary Prime Minister covers four periods of Pierre Trudeau's political life: the high-energy late sixties, fervently enriched with public adulation and optimism, and affectionately termed the "Trudeaumania" years; the shock and horror of Pierre Laporte's murder during the FLQ/October Crisis and Trudeau's use of the War Measures Act; the gradual breakdown of Trudeau's marriage with wife Margaret; and the Constitutional battles which ultimately gave Canada its own Charter of Rights.
Each of these segments are given different visual and stylistic approaches by director Jerry Ciccoritti, covering the pace and visual techniques of directors Richard Lester, Costa-Gavras, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Alan J. Pakula, respectively. Once the scenes had been edited into a chronological rough cut, Ciccoritti and editor Dean Soltys played around with jump cuts, digital effects and transitions, and reshuffled several scenes to maximize the teleplay's dramatic structure.
In his commentary for the three hour film, Ciccoritti provides an excellent set of observations on the production's history - begun September 10th, 2001 - covering script, casting, and filming stylistics - including his decision to approach each of the four Trudeau periods with the influence of the aforementioned directors. It's interesting to note, as more contemporary directors provide commentary tracks, that many find great inspiration in the works of sixties and, to a greater degree, seventies films, and the works of older generations, which have been imitated and pillaged over the years, seem to become less influential.
Ciccoritti's best comments concern shooting an epic biography on a limited television budget: re-using the same location from different angles with new dressing, to cheating with the effective use of stock footage from TV and film sources, his creative decisions overall are spot on, and maximized the script's focus, offering slices of Canadian political history with a sense of humour and respect for each historical figure.
The same respect is evident in the DVD's other commentary track, sharing views from editor Soltys, writer/executive producer Wayne Grigsby, and executive producer David MacLeod. Ciccoritti, a fan of DVD commentaries, left the script and historical minutia up to the secondary track's participants, who together fill in the remaining details and complete a fairly exhaustive investigation of "Trudeau."
Digging into the CBC's immense archives, all kinds of little gems - the old Colour TV logo, the Quebec Referendum news graphics and tableaux - were used in "Trudeau" to evoke a feel of each period, and clever split-screen effects and transitions give the TV biopic a refreshing edge. Ciccoritti also adds little history montages, so viewers unfamiliar with Trudeau's legacy get little audio/visual definitions of the militant FLQ, and the weight of the word Referendum.
Visually, the transfer is very good, maintaining the quality of the diverse media used by Ciccoritti and his editor, and preserving the deliberate grain in key sequences to reflect Trudeau's psychological strain from work and a difficult marriage. The 5.1 Surround mix is fairly restrained, although a series of deliberate and near-subliminal effects make good use of the surround field. Both original score and the numerous period songs come through prominently, with smooth edits and transitions.
Like "Dieppe," this DVD is a first-rate package that entertains and, perhaps more importantly, educates viewers, drawing from archival footage and vintage retrospectives.
"The Many Lives of Pierre Trudeau" is a vintage Q&A documentary made at the time Trudeau was just a Minister of Justice, and follows him through his stomping ground in Ottawa during a work day, at night, and a lengthy interview session on a train between Montreal and Ottawa, where Trudeau's world views come in to play. Having traveled around the globe during the 40s and 50s, Trudeau's observations from visiting major hot spots - China and Palestine in particular - clearly influenced his views for Canada in wanting a land bereft of racial hatred and nationalistic rancor.
The second vintage CBC documentary, "The Style Is The Man Himself," covers the political campaigns of each candidate for leader of the Liberal party, ending with Trudeau's famous "Just Society" speech. A bit overlong, dry, and covering politicians that have long left the limelight, the doc nevertheless captures the nervous excitement of a campaign that became an emotional rollercoaster ride for the main participants.
Both vintage docs are in miserable condition: the first is from a nasty kinescope, and the second is a print made from 16mm and kinescope footage. For both, the sound is rather muddy, and the visual clarity resembles an algae-infested aquarium, but each offers excellent insight into the early political steps that precede the teleplay.
The "Making Of Trudeau" special duplicates some of the information in both commentary tracks, but offers plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with most of the production's actors and ace crew, including the set designer, who achieved a look that belied the tight budget; and composer Sandy Moore at work, recording one of his moving cues with a small chamber orchestra. Only grumble: none of the documentaries contain chapter indexes, which makes it very frustrating to access key sections. Given these programs will likely never receive individual releases on DVD, it makes sense to organize breaks, so viewers and educators can jump to relevant material instead of lengthy shuttling. Next time.
The Cast & Production Team Bios are quite informative, offering filmographies and brief descriptions of the diverse talent - particularly the excellent French Canadian actors, many less-known outside of Quebec - who participated in the production.
Five Deleted Scenes finish up the set, containing three short scenes obviously unnecessary to the final version, an alternate black & white wedding flashback for the beginning of Part 2, and an unedited take of Colm Feore readying himself and performing a final scene for the teleplay's alternate ending. All are Avid-dub quality, with timecode burnt-in at the bottom.
Note: While the teleplay is presented in widescreen, director Ciccoritti occasionally plays with titles and captions which often appear over the 'black bar' areas.
Writer Wayne Grigsby later authored the follow-up series, "Trudeau II: Maverick in the Making," with Tim Southam directing.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan