The first time Carole Pope sees someone else step into her shoes — outside of a drag show — she hopes for a talented, edgy up-and-comer, someone able to pull off her huge stage persona and crucially, not be afraid to make out with chicks.
This as of yet unknown actor will be called upon to revisit the late 1970s and early ‘80s, a period of explosion in Toronto’s art and music scene in which Carole played a vital component.
Loosely based on Carole’s autobiography, Anti-Diva, published by Random House in 2000, the upcoming biopic will be titled Rough Trade after the iconic new wave band which Carole, along with Kevan Staples, founded and made famous.
Producer Jan Nathanson’s passion for the project bleeds into her voice as she explains why she was drawn to it and why Carole still matters.
Jan recalls the Canada of her childhood as being an incredibly conservative place. She speaks of growing up in Cape Breton and seeing Rough Trade on television, with its aggressive, androgynous and undeniably talented front woman singing about creaming her jeans.
“The most amazing, terrifying incredible woman I had ever seen, 13 years old sitting in my parent’s den wondering what the big world looked like. In my mind, it looked like Carole.” she says. “She brought in this sense of modernity, and she didn’t do it in a polite, genteel Canadian way.”
Carole was outspoken about who she was, what she did and who she slept with. Rough Trade as a band, through Carole’s lyrics, was a vanguard of the movement of queer visibility in Canada, as she publicly pointed to herself and said this is who she was, she wasn’t going to change and she certainly wasn’t ashamed. High School Confidential, released in 1981 was one of, or perhaps the first, explicitly lesbian-themed songs to hit the Top 40s chart, with utterly unsubtle lyrics sung in Carole’s trademark low, deep growl. Rough Trade was active until 1988, releasing 6 feature albums.
Jan left Alliance/Alliance Atlantis where she was Director of Production, Development & Acquisitions and was in Halifax, searching for a new project to dedicate herself to. She now cites Christine Vachon (signed on as an executive producer for the movie) as one of her key role models, a prolific producer behind films like Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Velvet Goldmine (1998) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2002).
“I didn’t know where to start, but I kept repeating to myself, ‘What would Christine Vachon do?’”
As Jan sat repeating this mantra, she saw Carole Pope on the cover of a copy of Coast Magazine that lay on her floor and knew then what Christine Vachon would do. “She would make a film about Carole Pope of course!”
The filmmakers approached Carole, who needed little convincing to get on board.
“I can’t wait for it to happen,” she says with a laugh. “It’s been in development since 2006, so come on already.”
With Carole consulting along the way, Jan, Andrew Boutilier (co-producer), Stephanie Weber-Biron (director/writer) and Tamara Faith Berger (writer) have worked for a number of years to finish a script that accurately captures Rough Trade, and the new wave scene in Toronto. They’re hoping to film in Ontario. An IndieGoGo campaign has been launched with a goal of $25000 to help offset casting costs and to acquire rights to the music necessary to bring this dramatic feature to life. According to Jan and Carole, the response, especially internationally, has been encouraging.
While biopics about country-or culture-defining musical icons are commonplace — notably Control (2007) in the UK to The Runaways (2010) in the US — examples of movies about our own artists, particularly female artists, don’t spring so easily to mind.
“[We want to] celebrate Carole, a female icon. When is that ever done in [Canada]? We celebrate hockey players, we even celebrate female athletes, but when was the last time we celebrated an outspoken kickass, take no prisoners, in your face lesbian artist?” Jan says. “When have we tipped our hats to the cultural side and said thank you for what you did? You helped change who we were. I truly believe that Carole did that.”
While Carole is less effusive about her personal impact, she speaks excitedly of the specific era that the film will capture and honour, a period that came between the free love psychedelia of the ‘70s and before the AIDs epidemic that laid extensive groundwork for important conversations about identity politics and for the sexual expression and queer visibility that we now take for granted.
“Everybody in the arts was supportive of everyone else, and we were all hedonistic pigs and we were always jetting off somewhere… the music, the androgyny, and the sexual freedom [made the early 80s important].”
Carole Pope is still an impossibly cool older sister for young queer Canadians, even if they aren’t familiar with her music. Culturally we have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years towards queer acceptance, particularly in the arts, but it’s a mistake to believe that those shifts in thinking have happened organically — we’ve changed as a country and a culture because groundbreakers like Carole refused to sit down and stick to the status quo. It’s high time we started celebrating that.
Jan says, “as a culture, we don’t push. Carole pushes.”
Help Rough Trade become a reality by donating to the IndieGoGo campaign.
Check out Carole Pope’s new EP, Music for Lesbians on iTunes, including her (hilarious) collaborative effort with Peaches, titled Lesbians in the Forest.