“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.