No one has the time to see every film ever made, just as those celebrating the 200th anniversary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s birth may have yet to hear all of his string quartets much less 104 symphonies.
Seeing Nobody Waved Goodbye for the first time since it was released 45 years ago, with the director/writer present and as part of HotDocs’ Spotlight on the National Film Board of Canada at 70 program was hugely disappointing. As Don Owen confessed and recalled to the crowd, “It was totally improvised … I had to solve every problem right on the spot.”
Unfortunately, the biggest problem was never addressed: nobody cares what happens to Peter (Peter Kastner with his boyish good looks and banjo-playing skills is totally at odds with many of his character’s actions).
And let’s be clear, this film can’t hold a candle to Rebel Without a Cause (cross-reference below) and shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath much less touted as the Canadian reply to the real masterpiece of teenage angst.
Rebelling against one’s parents and money-oriented society is fine; an overabundance of bad manners and rude behaviour is not (Peter’s interview with his future brother-in-law, trying to make the point of lost happiness due to systemic worship of all material things is overwhelmed by the tactics and tone of a spoiled brat who never learns how to respect himself let alone the people around him).
Going on a forbidden joy ride in his father’s (Claude Rae) company car, running a pair of red lights and ending up in the slammer does fit the profile of angry youth hitting back hard at incomprehensible family values—it’s the best sequence of the movie. But when that calamitous event (resulting in a weekly visit to career dead-end probation officer—John Sullivan—is soon followed by successfully stealing a paperback from an innocent, non-preaching bookstore (the mirror image to being caught red-handed weakening Wendy and Lucy, cross-reference below), Peter’s persona slips from rambunctious rebel to dime-a-dozen petty thief and never recovers.
The only other scene that scores high (due in no small measure to Eldon Rathburn’s discreetly crafted score) comes during the canoe ride with Julie (Julie Biggs). Their obvious love and affection is beautifully captured but those marvellous moments are soon overrun by an unrelenting avalanche of lies (to parents, co-workers and finally—desperately—themselves) and larger crimes (chronic short-changing of customers leads to blackmail from the boss and grand theft auto to escape everyone and everything).
One of the first fiction features in Canadian cinema, this production did more to pave the way for other filmmakers than become a milestone in its own right. Not surprisingly, no sequel followed: once Peter took his final decision, nobody cared what became of him next. JWR