Long Time Running
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier
Rated: PG for coarse language
Runtime: 97 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon (North Edmonton and South Edmonton) and Landmark Cinemas 9 City Centre
The Tragically Hip, now recently appointed as members of the Order of Canada, are a national treasure. Last year, the band announced lead singer Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis as they were preparing to take their new album out on tour. While they wouldn’t come right out and say that it would be the last tour, everything else about it screamed the message that they were going out to thank the fans with a whirlwind cross-country wrap-up, the likes of which no one had ever seen. When they landed in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario for the very last show, people packed the streets and it was televised to an audience of millions.
Long Time Running, the documentary film that followed The Hip (Downie, Gord Sinclair, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, and Johnnie Fay) on that journey has just been released to theatres. It’s the ‘behind the scenes’ view that no one has ever seen and likely never will again. It’s a pretty dense document too, with tons of songs as they were performed on each of the stages plus tons of backstage looks at the machinations of such a tour. You’ve likely never heard Sinclair, Langlois, Baker, or Fay’s voices until now.
Similarly, documentarians Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier talk to Downie’s health care team, the band managers, the tour managers, the head of security, some of the many fans, even the haberdasher and Downie’s pants-maker. If you’ll remember, he had some flashy metallic attire for Man Machine Poem. He said it was to take people’s minds off of things.
But people then didn’t really know about what he was going through: the chemo and radiation treatments, the memory loss, the threat of further seizures, the temporal lobectomy. We see that now, well … some of it. A tour of this nature seemed improbable to most who were intimately involved in its production. This film goes into some of those struggles – heavy stuff – while making sure to keep it light enough to not burden down the great music. We see him shine his shoes while sitting in his underwear. We watch him in rehearsals with a full beard that makes him otherwise unrecognizable (if it weren’t for that Jaws T-shirt). We hear him talk about his secret love of the Bee Gees – gasp – before he warbles out a few verses of one of their songs. We learn how he needed six teleprompters on stage just to make sure he didn’t miss a line in the middle of any of the songs.
We also learn how The Hip came to that tour with a different set list every night, holding down an impressive 90 songs from their catalogue to make sure that no one was left disappointed, least of all themselves. If anyone had any doubts about Downie’s stamina or his determination to go out with a bang rather than a whimper then Long Time Running will dispel all of that. It’s an impressive look at an even more impressive band.
Make certain to bring your kerchiefs.