Clubland (2009) dir. Eric Geringas
By Alan Bacchus
Every year at this time much is made of the annual Queen’s University Homecoming extravaganza when thousands of students descend on the campus and carouse in the streets intoxicated like typical restless youths. The student arrests, minor scuffling, skirmishes, and general public disturbance of this weekend always seems to spark nationwide debate. Well in Toronto, this happens every Friday and Saturday, in the city’s notorious ‘Entertainment District’ – 1.4 square KM area in the heart of the city where nightly 50,000 young people inhabit 60 nightclubs for four hours and then emerge into the streets after last call for even more drunken rowdiness.
All major cities and specifically ‘college/university towns’ have this phenomenon to some degree. And so it’s not unique to Toronto, but the fact it’s a grossly exaggerated and heightened event weekend after weekend indeed makes it one of the ‘unofficial’ attractions of Toronto. You won’t see it on listed on tourist guides, or in subways ads, but 3am on a Friday night at Richmond/John, for good and bad, it’s something to behold. Violent? Yes. Debauchery? Yes. Utterly fascinating like a trainwreck? Yes.
This is the subject of Eric Geringas’s one-off hour long doc “Clubland” which played at Hot Docs this year and now premieres on television tonight at 8pm on Global. Geringas serves the subject matter adequately showing us several angles of this Toronto experience. We get to see the clubgoers who drive in from the suburbs in droves, bribe the bouncers to get past the monstrous line-ups, spend hundreds of dollars on overpriced bottle service tables and navigate the tricky game of picking up. There’s the nightclub owners, like veteran Charles Khabouth, Toronto’s club king and the one who famously brought Paris Hilton to town to promote one of his venues. There’s the policemen who strap on riot gear and patrol the streets nightly like it’s a G20 summit meeting. And there’s Adam Vaughn the city counselor who represents the interests of the residents (thus the voters) of the area, locals who, of course, resent the ritualistic disturbance.
Geringas’ visual palette compliments the electricity of these nights. Eye candy is all over the place – spotlight, lasers, and neon of the nightclub interiors, good looking young people dressed to the nines and acting like drunken ragdolls. The bright lights of the nighttime streets are so well lit up it becomes a natural expressive lighting for his cameraman. Even the camera light offers a fluorescent softness to the interviewee’s faces blending them in with the general look and artistic design of the clubs.
While it all works for a one-off, the film doesn’t get much deeper than the surface of the issues. We’re told nothing we don’t know already from the frequent nightly reports on local news and even our common sense of the issues – the residents complain, the business owners scoff back, nothing solved. The characters are mildly interesting and represent an adequate slice of the modern club scene, but we don’t spend enough time with any of them to really get to know them. With commercial breaks the film clocks in at 42mins or so, so that’s about all we can expect. With 90mins our expectations change drastically.
“Clubland” is thus successful and provides us a fun glimpse into this world I have long since bypassed, but like to get a taste of every once in a while to remind myself that little has changed, or will change, about how young people party.