Reading Peter Behrens’ The O’Briens, I was reminded (because of the novel’s character of Mick Heaney, a drunkard and a degenerate, and an Ottawa Valley fiddler) of a film I watched many years ago: The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar.
Not that Emery Prometer (the main character of the film, and also a hard-drinking Ottawa Valley fiddler) is anywhere near as awful as the lecherous and child-molesting Mick Heaney. Prometer is not awful at all, really (or not like that, not like Heaney), though he’s certainly an irresponsible husband and father. The film depicts him as a lovable ne’er-do-well, a sympathetic, though obviously flawed, character.
I was just a kid when I first watched (only the first part of!) this film, and, appropriately enough, I was at a cottage on the Ottawa River, in Pontiac County, near Sheenboro, when I first watched it. This was in the days before VHS players,1 when watching a movie at home (or at the cottage) was fairly unusual, and a pretty big deal. But the cottage owner, a very dear friend of the family who had gone to school with my father at St. Pat’s in Ottawa, was a high school teacher in Pembroke who had access to film equipment and to NFB films, and he set the whole thing up.
We all (grownups and children alike) gathered together in the main living room of this cottage, in front of a borrowed tripod screen, to watch The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar. The adults were expecting something lighthearted and folksy and frolicky, a hooley-in-the-kitchen-type celebration of Ottawa Valley fiddling and step dancing, and so on and so forth, or they never would have let us kids watch even a part of the film reel. I mean, when I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t let me watch Perry Mason reruns, if you can believe it, because of the adult themes of: 1). murder; and 2). divorce (and divorce was at least as bad as murder, if not worse! … ).
So then, my parents were not prepared for the gritty realism of The Best Damn Fiddler — the bleak poverty; the sex; the violence — and at some point in the showing, probably fairly early on in the film, my mother said “John?” to my father in a certain tone, and that was the end of that, and we children were sent outside, to go down to the river and go swimming.
I recommend the film, and not only for the performance of a very young Margot Kidder as Rosie Prometer. Chris Wiggins as Emery Prometer, and Kate Reid as his long-suffering missus, are just excellent. The screenplay was by Joan Finnigan.
- Or maybe VHS players had already been invented? But nobody we knew had one, and certainly nobody at Sheenboro. ↩