(Garth Drabinsky, from the TIFF website)
Stop the Show, I Want To Get Off!
It's very hard not to be ambivalent about Show Stopper
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
There are those who like Garth Drabinsky, the theatre and cinema mogul convicted of fraud, and there are those who hate Garth Drabinsky. Representatives of both groups are interviewed for Barry Avrich's documentary, Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky. However, how you feel about both subject and film may have much to do with your own leanings towards praise or dislike of the documentary itself.
As a dyed-in-the-wool pinko, I saw the downfall of the showman as just another case of a gross, capitalist crook getting less than his just deserts. That he hung about with Connie (the Con) Black made him just that little bit grosser and seem that little bit more crooked. Morevoer, until he produced two grand masterpieces (Show Boat and Ragtime), I thought he was just another money-grubbing weasel who didn't know art from his arsehole; his movies (The Silent Partner, Tribute, The Changeling) stank, his hand in making cinema like TV (oh! God the multi-plex) and some of his bloated early shows (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman) just made me dislike him all the more.
Christopher Plummer jokingly called him "Garth Vader" except it turned out to be not all that funny.
But then, as I said, there was the good stuff. But, as Avrich makes clear, the good stuff itself was part of a cook-the-books scheme that created enemies and fiscal victims on all sides of the US-Canada border. Christopher Plummer jokingly called him "Garth Vader" except it turned out to be not all that funny.
There are a few other things which will decide how you view both film and subject. Do you revere producers? (I don't.) Do you see childhood suffering (Drabinsky had polio) as a fountain of creativity? (I don't.) Also, are you an investments geek, enjoying the forensics of accounting? A good deal of the film details numbers, deals and contracts gone whacko.
All this being said, and setting aside my wounded-pinko feelings, there is no doubt that Avrich has chosen another fascinating subject. Like his Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project, the person at the centre is meant to make you feel confused and pose existential questions about the unholy alliance of art and money and how bringing the two together creates monumental figures who reek of hubris. (For instance, Drabinsky's miracle - Ragtime - was destroyed because he insisted on running it against Lion King.)
What Avrich does best - and this is a compliment - is create a nice stink and then shows smart people - like Plummer, Martha Henry, Richard Ouzounian, Elaine Stritch - who sniffed the stink, grimaced and then smiled.
Many of these people would work with Drabinsky again because, as Brian Johnson points out, "The ego was massive, but that's what was attractive about him." That, I feel, is the fundamental tragedy at the core of Show Stopper; not that Drabinsky was a con man, but that he could con his way back onto our stages again.
Show Stopper is in rotation on the movie networks.