“If there’s one thing that really sums up Aim For The Roses,” composer Mark Haney explains, “it is putting far too much effort into minute details…”
Haney, the Vancouver-based double bassist at the center of director John Bolton’s film of the same name, revels in those small things. His 2008 experimental album Aim For The Roses is a high concept musical ode to stuntman Ken Carter’s 1981 attempt to jump the Saint Lawrence River in a rocket car. Sounds weird, right? It gets weirder. The album, which employs mathematical constants and ratios as its framework, uses interviews with the daredevil and his stunt team as lyrics, picking apart every aspect of Carter’s life in the process. Why is this a thing? Who would create an album like this? Bolton’s film is both a chronicle of the circumstances which led Haney to record the audacious album and the truly insane stunt that inspired it.
Aim For The Roses is, for lack of a better term, a musical documentary. It’s a combination of talking head interviews with Haney and others, archival footage of Carter and his exploits, and elaborately staged reenactments of the events surrounding the famous Saint Lawrence River stunt. It’s one part music video, two parts dueling portraits of very different men who find themselves at a crossroads in their respective lives. It’s an odd mixture to be certain, but the film quickly grew on me as I watched it. Both Haney and Carter make for fascinating subjects, the former an enigmatic artist exploring the limits of his craft, the latter a delusional driver obsessed with setting a world record even if it kills him. Bolton balances the two halves of the film perfectly, making Haney’s music and story an integral part of telling the wild tale of Carter’s rocket-powered opus. Unsurprisingly this isn’t the first documentary to focus on the Canadian daredevil; the stuntman’s attempt to jump the river was also the subject of the 1981 NFB doc The Devil at Your Heels, the source of much of the archival footage used in the movie.
If you enjoy understanding musical process or watching fast cars fly off ramps (or both!), there’s something here for you. If you like interesting stories told in ways that push the boundaries of the medium, this movie should be high on your list of must-sees at Hot Docs 2016. Aim For The Roses is one of the most unusual and strangely charming films to grace the festival in years.
Sunday May 1, 7:15pm, Scotiabank Theatre 7
Monday May 2, 1:15pm, TIFF Lightbox 3
Friday May 6, 1:00pm, Scotiabank Theatre 13