Aim for the Roses

“It’s going to be a long 102 minutes”. This was my first impression of Aim for the Roses, which made its world premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto.

John Bolton’s documentary opens on a reenactment of Ken Carter (played by actor Andrew McNee with a yellow jumpsuit and terrible 70s beard) proclaiming his destiny to become the greatest of all daredevils. I was disoriented at first by the double bass player standing next to Carter on the fake ramp but his presence would still be explained.

Apart from a single reference to a Roger Waters concept album, Aim for the Roses is about as Canadian as it gets. In 1976, Montrealer Ken Carter declared his crazy ambition to jump over the Saint Lawrence River (literally from one country into another) in a rocket-powered car. In 2008, Vancouver-based composer Mark Haney got the crazy idea to make a double-bass concept album to pay tribute to “the daredevil stunt to end all daredevil stunts”. Finally, filmmaker John Bolton got the crazy idea that all this would make a good documentary. Basically, Aim for the Roses is a movie about Canadians doing crazy knuckleheaded things.

Visually, Bolton (the filmmaker) has a bit of a problem. There doesn’t seem to be nearly enough archival footage of Carter (the daredevil) to fill a whole movie and, as interesting as Haney’s music may be to listen to, it obviously doesn’t give us much to look at. Bolton’s solution is inspired. He turns Haney’s album into a music video, playing it over a reenactment of Carter’s feat filmed on a reconstruction of his takeoff ramp.

Bolton’s reenactment is bizarre. Maybe a little too bizarre. Haney’s soundtrack doesn’t help. His concept album has already been called “utterly amazing and completely fucking ridiculous” by the Georgia Straight. Passing off exposition as song lyrics, his music- as haunting as it is- can seem a little silly. But featuring McNee in that costume on a fake takeoff ramp with Haney playing base behind him is a little too much.

Fortunately, you don’t have to like Bolton and Haney’s musical to be fascinated by this documentary. Aim for the Roses is about the people who come up with crazy ideas and stubbornly pursue those ideas no matter how many puzzled looks they get. Haney , who is interviewed extensively in the film, is quick to point out the parallels he sees between his own life and that of Carter’s. He suggests that making the most ambitious concept album of your career is a lot like jumping a rocket-powered car over a river. It doesn’t matter what your ambition is. The best daredevils are artists and the best artists are daredevils. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bolton feels a certain kinship with these two men himself.

 

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16 thoughts on “Aim for the Roses

  1. Lara/Trace

    OK, the likelihood of me seeing this is not good – so did he make the jump successfully? I’m dying here.

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    1. Matt Post author

      I forget the details but the organizers of the event chose to send someone on a test run without telling Ken about it and the car broke apart in midair almost immediately. The guy had lots of broken bones but I think was fine. Unfortunately, a few years later, Ken finally got to try a similar jump and overshot the landing and was killed.

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    1. Matt Post author

      No, the film actually shares its title with Haney’s concept album. Haney does reference one Roger Waters album that heavily influenced him on this project though. I wish I could remember the name of it.

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      1. ninvoid99

        Oh, that one. I was confused. I haven’t heard that album in a while. It’s one of my favorite Floyd solo albums along with Waters’ Amused to Death and The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett.

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  2. Jay

    This movie just strikes me as more bizarre every time I hear about it. I love people who are out in the world just thinking up weird shit.

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  3. GliveCo

    Hello, the story of Ken Carter & The Morrisburg Superjump was recorded real-time in the 1970s and 1980s by filmmaker Robert Fortier. The footage was then condensed and turned into the documentary film The Devil At Your Heels released in 1981.

    The film won several awards and can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube. Although many will view the movie just for the stunt, it’s important to note just how fun and simple Carter was. He was an every-man for sure. It’s hard to remember that the movie is a documentary and not a work of fiction as some of the things that happen are outrageous.

    As for Aim For The Roses, I think it’s a musical obituary and celebratory film of Ken’s life and a person’s dream. I can’t say much else about the film, because I’m in it.. but I hope you enjoy it.

    @Lara all your questions and more are answered in the film The Devil At Your Heels

    *spoiler below*

    @Matt The car was not destroyed during a test run, but instead the financial backers behind the stunt decided Ken was too particular about safety concerns and the likelihood of success, the backers suffering from Go-Fever decided to put Carter’s stunt protégé in the car and send him off, almost to his death.

    For any more info on Carter and the stunt visit Facebook.com/TheMadCanadian

    OR info on the film

    Aimfortheroses.com

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