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Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s. Read about Andrew Burke's brilliant new book

English


Analogue Memories

English Department Chair Brandon Christopher interviews faculty member Andrew Burke about his book Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s, recently published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

BC: So what is Hinterland Remixed about?

AB: Well, at heart, Hinterland Remixed is a book about cultural memory and the Canadian 1970s. I ask what we remember from the period and how we remember it. The central gambit is that while bigger events – like, for instance, the oil crisis or the Summit Series between Canada and the USSR in 1972 – tend to occupy the key places in official national cultural memory, minor, more banal, everyday things – such as the Hinterland Who’s Who shorts or a stray sketch in an episode of SCTV have a less official, but no less tenacious hold on those who experienced the period watching TV in Canada. In this way the book is also about the uncanny circulations of this older cultural material and how the media that facilitates this circulation shapes our affective experience of it. It takes seriously the idea that the Canadian 1970s is remembered, to a certain extent through and in the poor quality of earlier forms of video or highly saturated 16mm film stock.

BC: You have a PhD in Victorian Literature – how do you get from there to a book like this?

AB: I know that it must look from the outside like a fairly dramatic pivot, yet I have always felt there’s real continuity between my work on the nineteenth century novel and the way I think about film and television. I have read enough Raymond Williams to know the analysis of any cultural object is best done with close attention to the material conditions of its production. And I have always adhered to that bit in Walter Benjamin where he encourages us to think about the cultural artefact as a thing that has the remarkable ability to transport the past into the present. It condenses and stores all kinds of social, economic, affective, and geopolitical information about its time and place and makes it accessible in distant times and places. Both of these ideas, I think, hold true whether you are reading a novel about the miseries of factory work or watching a 60 second Parks Canada spot on Point Pelee National Park. During my PhD, I was constantly teaching film classes, and, weirdly, I think the story of my career is that my side hustle has become my main hustle.

BC: The scope of your book seems like it could have been overwhelming. How did you determine what you would focus on in particular?

AB: There’s a reason why you have never asked me to teach the methodology course and that’s because I have a terrible methodology. I didn’t realize until quite late in the process that Hinterland Remixed was a book. In my mind I was writing a series of articles on things that fascinated me or caught my attention for one reason or another. What bound this stray assortment of essays and papers together was they were either about 70s material or about contemporary works that remediated and remixed material from the 70s.
 In the Hinterland Remixed chronology, what came first was the chapter on L’Atelier national du Manitoba’s Death by Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets, which I wrote in part because I really liked a line from the film by Winnipeg’s greatest actor, Rob Vilar, and wanted to write a paper around it – “Winnipeg is losers. Winnipeg is the worst. Winnipeg is a shit-cake of broken dreams.” The title changed, but it really was the catalyst. After that I wrote a piece on SCTV and then on Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale, after being blown away by a screening of it at WNDX, Winnipeg’s experimental film festival, that Snow was here for. Then, after seeing Caroline Monnet’s incredible Mobilize and being a huge fan of Geronimo Inutiq’s ARCTICNOISE, I knew I wanted to write about the way that Indigenous artists and filmmakers are at the forefront of remediating, transforming, and revolutionizing already existing cultural material. Hinterland Who’s Who, as much as it seems like it is central to the whole book, is the part I wrote last.

BC: For those of us who grew up in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, this book is going to bring up a lot of long-buried, mostly fond memories, I think. How do you, as someone who grew up in that period, avoid getting trapped by the very nostalgia that you’re describing?

AB: I think it is important to guard yourself from falling into a nostalgia that is conservative and reactionary, that is “restorative” in the way that Svetlana Boym describes, in wanting to return to, or recreate, a past. That’s obviously nonsense and politically regressive in every way. But I also firmly believe we can’t, out of fear of being accused of being nostalgic, simply concede cultural memory to the right. The book, I suppose, is an effort to imagine a kind of politically progressive nostalgia, one that understands our relationship to the past as incredibly complex and not necessarily taking the form of an uncritical celebration. Precisely what is interesting about the 1970s is that they were messy and imperfect. I don’t want to return to them, but I don’t want to fall into the astounding historical arrogance that thinks the present has nothing to learn from the past, or that is in every way better than it.

BC: Now that this book is out in the world, what new research topic has your attention?

AB: I have a couple things on the go right now. I am part of the incredible Archive/CounterArchive project, a SSHRC Partnership Grant led by Janine Marchessault from York, that is asking the big questions about the importance of preserving, restoring, and recirculating independent Canadian film and video works from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. These works form a “counterarchive” that has the capability of overturning commonly accepted narratives about cinema and visual arts, as well as culture and politics more broadly, from the period. I’m working alongside the Winnipeg Film Group’s Monica Lowe and Stephanie Poruchnyk-Butler on a case study examining the key, but sadly under-discussed, role that women filmmakers have played in the history of that organization.
 I am also working on my own project, called “Cinema and the Object World of Modernity,” which looks at cinema produced worldwide in the 1960s and 70s to trace and track the circulation of objects on a global scale. It is a project totally borne out of my fascination with graphic and industrial design from the period. Film has an incredible ability to capture and preserve images of made objects dispersed in the world, whether as part of a designed film set or caught incidentally during location shooting. My wager is that there is a way to tell the story about the growth and extension of post-war commodity capitalism by identifying these markers of modernity as they turn up in the backgrounds of films. On a practical level, that means I have been watching a ton of films from the 1960s and 70s not really paying attention to what is going on plot-wise, but trying to see if there are any Tetra-paks, mokapots, Danish mid-century furniture, or Toyota trucks in behind all the actors cluttering up the foreground!

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To watch a selection of material discussed in Hinterland Remixed, visit the HR YouTube channel.

Author interview, Information Radio - MB with Marcy Markusa, CBC Radio: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-29-information-radio-mb/clip/15745907-hinterland-remixed-media-memory-and-the-canadian-1970s

Author interview, Blue Sky - CBC Radio Saskatchewan: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-189-blue-sky/clip/15746294-hinterland-remixed-media-memories-from-the-70s 

Excerpt, NiCHE Canada: https://niche-canada.org/2019/11/20/nation-nature-and-nostalgia-hinterland-whos-who/ 

Winnipeg Free Press review by Gene Walz: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/canadian-culture-entwined-with-vintage-tv-568104592.html 

 

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