Long Time Running (2007)
The Tragically Hip
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicolas de Pencier
Netflix (outside of Canada)
I am probably a rarity when it comes to The Tragically Hip. I am a casual fan. OK, maybe a little bit more, but they are a band that are loved for everything they did, or completely ignored. That usually correlates to how Canadian you are, and a teenage (pretentious) exploration of Canadian music led me to them, the biggest band in Canada. It also helped that they were on Warners, where I worked for a while. In Australia, we valiantly tried to release singles like My Music At Work to deafening indifference.
This documentary tells the story of one moment in the band’s history – the final ones. Lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie was diagnosed with a brain cancer. Against the odds, the band rallied for a bunch of farewell concerts around Canada, which became huge, national events. Downie died, shortly after the documentary was released.
There’s a lot of story to tell, and the film takes us through the personal rather than the musical. There’s a lot about the sickness, the decisions made, the effort to learn songs, and the feelings of everyone involved. Only in the very last minutes of the film do we get anything close to a performance of a full song. This is not a way to discover the band’s music. This is also a loving portrait, not a critical assessment. Don’t expect skeletons here.
Where this documentary works best is the feels. At one point, Justin Trudeau turns up, and he is emotionally overwhelmed (Trudeau was in tears when he announced Downie’s death). There’s seas of fans singing along to every song, saying goodbye to their hero. This was a band that had their rabid fanbase, and this film is for them.
The other important part of this film is serving as a portrait of Gord Downie. His lyrics, and his worldview, is much of what gives the band their special flavour. And we get a lot of time with Gord, and him being Gord. We get to see him get dressed, with two socks sown together as a neck tie. The way he kisses and hugs his band mates. And in a touching interview for this film, talks long about life and mortality. He is a special man.
The film takes us through the decision to tour, the planning of the tour, then the tour itself. It ends with their final show in Kingston, a huge event beamed into public parks throughout Canada. There’s lots of tears fans singing along to the big hits when they finally come, like Grace, Too and Ahead By A Century.
This is a special moment, captured. Very few people get to face their death head on, and even fewer have a platform like being the biggest band in their country. It’s not a great place to discover the music, or hear some great music.