When Ben Affleck made Argo, the criticism was that Canadians couldn't tell their own story too well. The story of Ken Taylor and the Canadian Embassy staff in Iran was an amazing story that certainly deserved better than Argo.
This pattern entered my head when I watched part of Gross Misconduct: The Life of Brian Spencer, a made-for-TV movie about the life of Brian Spencer, a NHL player that could have been the inspiration for Goon who died at the very young age of 38.
Atom Egoyan directed and Paul Gross wrote the script. They stretched out the most amazing and sadly true story not of Brian Spencer but his father Roy Spencer.
A central theme is that father and son were both angry men, so the son's violence is reflected in his fathers violence.
Spencer came up with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1969-1970 but really got going in the 1970-1971 season.
On the surface, December 12, 1970 was going to be a phenomenal day for the Spencer family. According to the movie, Brian Spencer's wife was going into labour and would give birth to a child that day. Spencer was going to be the intermission guest on Hockey Night in Canada after the second period.
The movie shows Roy Spencer attaching an antenna in the family home in Fort St. James in British Columbia earlier that day.
So Toronto was hosting Chicago that night. Before the fall of 1970, Hockey Night in Canada featured either Toronto or Montréal on a Saturday night. The idea of a late game wasn't even a factor.
The Vancouver Canucks started up in October 1970. The Canucks belonged to Western Canada but especially British Columbia. Vancouver was hosting the California Golden Seals that night in Vancouver. The NHL placed Vancouver in the East Division in 1970; Pittsburgh was in the West Division.
For reasons that might have been clear in 1970, the Canucks game was on at the same time as all the other games out east. So CBC in that area showed the Canucks instead of the Maple Leafs that night.
Roy Spencer, upset that his son's appearance wouldn't be on TV in British Columbia, drove down 135 kilometres (84 miles) to CKPG in Prince George to get them to show the Maple Leafs game instead.
Spencer walks into the CKPG studios with a gun. The movie shows Spencer attacking the front desk and taking the receptionist into the back. Spencer convinced the staff to switch games, according to reports.
The movie shows Spencer leaving the station. The RCMP officers surround him, there was a stand-off and Roy Spencer was shot and killed that night.
December 12, 1970 marked the birth of Brian Spencer's first child, being the intermission guest on Hockey Night in Canada, and having his father shot and killed. If you were pitching this as a fiction film, even a film that took place on one calendar day, no one in Toronto or Hollywood would buy that script.
Vancouver should have been admitted to the NHL in 1967 but Toronto and Montréal didn't want to split the money with Vancouver. The Montreal Canadiens also played that fateful day, splitting the audience further.
The modern thought process would be that CBC might be sure to air Brian Spencer's appearance in some form on its British Columbia affiliates, or he could watch this online. But this is 1970.
Egoyan and Gross make a good movie for television by the standards of 1993. The surprising thing is that a made-for-TV movie even back then features topless female nudity. They create cards that introduce the scenes, especially the Roy Spencer material about the things he did on his last day on Earth. The younger Spencer suffered a similar fate being shot and killed at an even earlier age.
The way Egoyan and Gross tell the story shows that Canadians can tell unbelievable yet true stories. Maybe Canada should take a chance on the Ken Taylor story and other undertold stories about their country.
photo credits: Gross Misconduct: The Life of Brian Spencer film; CBC Sports