The Italian Machine
channel4.com is hosting streaming video of an early David Cronenberg short film titled The Italian Machine [ED:Sadly the film is no longer on the site :P].
It's central character is based loosely on real 'legendary acid and pot dealer', general trouble maker, writer and photographer, Lionel Douglas [played in the film by Gary McKeehan], who was killed in a freak motorcycle accident in 1979. It features an array characters all to familiar to me, and displays Cronenberg's classic off beat approach to his subjects.
"When motorbike fanatic Lionel learns that a rare and prized Ducati has been bought by a rich art collector purely for the purpose of display, he enlists the help of his friends to liberate the motorbike."
Now while I am a Cronenberg fan, my reasons for being hyped about tracking this down are a tad more personal. The real Lionel was my father. This version is an exaggerated caricature, but I recognise the source material.
I'm told that the premise may have been influenced by a true story about a bike being displayed as art and Lionel's reaction to the idea "how can they not want to make it go!!". The other guys in the film with him are loosely based on people who shared a garage with my father in behind his house. I remember bikes in parts, being worked on all the time, made to go a bit faster and bit smother, tuning till they hummed like instruments. Always lots of talk and laughter. And the smells of metal, oil, cleaners and gas. That garage, and him talking with other people around the kitchen table about all sorts of crap, astrology to philosophy, these are probably the most common icons in my memory of my father.
He and Cronenberg were close friends I'm told, they went to university together and rode bikes out at mosport speedway a bit one summer. My grandmother says there was a time when the two were inseparable. This film was meant as a little tribute to him. Lionel was a larger than life kind a guy; he left his mark on a lot of people. Every once in a while someone comes along whom knew him, and when they find out that I'm his son their behaviour towards me tends to change, suddenly I get these wired reverent looks. When Ron Mann made his short documentary about Rochdale College called Dream Tower (1994) he contacted us about looking through my fathers photos for stills to use [a number of which ended up in the film]. In researching the film he told us, every one he talked to told him look up Lionel Douglas, he's the guy you should talk to, until he found someone who told him Lionel had died. So then he tracked us down to get permission to use his photos.
He had watched some film of my dad giving speeches at the collage found with the reels of old film he dug up on Rochdale, and he showed up in some early CityTV footage apparently. And even with that, not having met him in person, Ron talked to me about him with the same kind of mythic aw as everyone else did. I've never seem much of that footage Ron told us about, except a short bit that appeared in the film [He explains for the camera how they conducted security checks at the door of the building after Yorkville imploded].
For a long time this was all very strange and odd for me. Sadly I hardly remember the living Lionel now. I was 8 when he died, it knocked me for a loop as you would expect. When I came out of that emotional coma 10 years later I barely remembered him any more. I have his photos, a trunk full I'm planning to make a book from some day. And there is a small chap book sampling his poetry, text and photos his friends put together after he died.
My two copies are both raged and dogged. One, that I've had since I was a kid, is marked with tabs so that I can flip right to my favorite poems. Over the years I've tried to tease more of him out of my head by digging up more of him out there, so I'm always happy to find another bit of him floating around.
Bellow is a selection of some of my favorite bits of his book. I think you might be able to still get it here.
In the middle of the book is a piece between the poetry and the photos simply titled 'Prose'. It was a bit of a philosophical guide through some parts of my life, my teens for sure. I made an audio file of my laptop reading it, you can grab that here.
posted by max at 5/21/2004 09:05:00 a.m.